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When minimal is minimizing [Updated]

I recently ran across a discussion on Reasonable Faith from 2015 that represents, I'm sorry to say, some of the most problematic tendencies in presenting a minimal facts argument for the resurrection of Jesus and the truth of Christianity. I have discussed problems with this argument here, and this post will be a companion piece to that one.

The 2015 discussion, by Dr. William Lane Craig, is an answer to a question from a reader. The reader (Joe) suggests, in my opinion quite rightly, that we should argue in an apologetic context for the accuracy and reliability of the gospels rather than their inerrancy and inspiration. If we take "accuracy" and "reliability" in Joe's question/suggestion in a normal sense, this seems like a legitimate suggestion.

But Dr. Craig, in answering, writes as though he is agreeing with Joe but takes his answer in a very strange and (to my mind) incorrect direction.

One big problem with the answer is that "reliability" seems to be redefined rather radically, so that it clearly isn't at all what Joe meant in his suggestion. Here is part of Dr. Craig's answer:

The task of apologetics is to lay out a rational justification for the truth of the Christian worldview. By “the Christian worldview” I do not mean the entire body of Christian doctrine. I mean the broad outlines of a view that would merit appending the label “Christian” to that view. More simply, it is what is necessary and sufficient to believe for becoming a Christian. This sort of minimalist understanding of the Christian worldview is what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity.”

The central pillars of the Christian worldview, it seems to me, are the existence of God and His decisive self-revelation in Jesus, as shown by His raising him from the dead. If one comes to believe those two things, then one ought to become a Christian, and the rest is working out details.

Now, as you point out, in order to provide justification for those two beliefs, one needn’t affirm biblical inspiration, much less inerrancy. The arguments of natural theology for God’s existence don’t depend upon biblical inerrancy, nor does demonstrating the crucial facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, including his radical personal claims, whereby he put himself in God’s place, and the key events undergirding the inference to his resurrection from the dead.

Popular Christian apologists have long given lip service to this point but did not really take it seriously, as revealed by their resorting to implausible harmonizations in order to defend the Gospel accounts against any allegation of error. Such measures are unnecessary. The fact is that the central facts undergirding the inference to Jesus’ resurrection are granted by the wide majority of New Testament scholars today, even those who think that the Gospels are rife with errors and inconsistencies. For example, my Doktorvater Wolfhart Pannenberg argued for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and empty tomb, even though he thought that the empty tomb stories in the Gospels are so legendary that they have “scarcely a historical kernel” in them. I think that Pannenberg seriously underestimated the historical credibility of the empty tomb accounts, principally due to the work of the German critic Hans Grass; but never mind: the point is that he well illustrates how someone can have a historically justified belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection without a commitment to the inerrancy of the texts.

So I almost never argue with an unbeliever about biblical inerrancy. I’ll concede for the sake of argument virtually all the errors and inconsistencies in the Old and New Testaments that he wants to bring up, while insisting that the documents collected into what was later called the New Testament are fundamentally reliable when it comes to the central facts undergirding the claims and fate of Jesus of Nazareth. For the apologetic task it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which day of the week he was crucified, how many angels were at the tomb, and so on. So long as the central facts are secure, the unbeliever ought to become a Christian.

Notice that we have gone so far past arguing for inerrancy at this point that we are supposed to be conceding, at least for the sake of the argument, virtually all errors and inconsistencies that the skeptic wants to bring up, that the Gospels are "rife with errors and inconsistencies," and perhaps even Pannenberg's view that the Gospel resurrection accounts are so legendary that the empty tomb accounts contain "scarcely a kernel of truth."

Does anyone suppose that, when reader Joe suggested that we argue for the accuracy and reliability of the Gospels rather than their inerrancy, he had in mind conceding that the Gospels are rife with error and inconsistency and that virtually all errors and inconsistencies alleged by a skeptical scholar like, say, Bart Ehrman are really present?

Joe clearly meant just the opposite of this! In fact, Joe says this:

I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to convince unbelievers. In my study, a strange thought occurred to me. It does not matter if the New Testament is inerrant or even inspired - it only matters if it is true!

If the gospel writers accurately recorded what Jesus said and did, and if Luke preserved the history from about AD 30-62, and if the writers of the epistles wrote about what they learned from Jesus and the apostles, then we have all we need to become Christians and have a relationship with God.

Notice the reference to the Gospel authors as accurately recording what Jesus said and did.

So Dr. Craig's answer is more or less saying, "I'll see you and raise you five. Let's ditch not only inerrancy but also ditch much Gospel reliability, and then redefine 'reliability' so that it just means 'getting it right on some incredibly minimal set of facts.'"

The use of "reliable" here is apparently supposed to apply to the following statements, listed toward the end of the answer:

With unbelievers we should simply make the case that the documents collected into the New Testament are reliable enough to warrant the beliefs that Jesus understood himself to be the Messiah, the unique Son of God, and the Danielic Son of Man, and that his crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples’ belief in his resurrection are historically well-founded.

So the Gospels should be deemed "reliable" on the grounds that they were right about these few things, even if we concede virtually everything else negative that a skeptical interlocutor says about them. But this is just a strange use of the term "reliable." There is a huge difference between saying that a document, though riddled with errors and contradictions with other accounts, happens to get a few extremely minimal claims right and saying that the document is reliable! Craig here seems to confuse "getting a few big, minimal things right" with "being reliable" in a meaningful sense. Instead, one more accurately should describe this as the view that the documents are (for all one can tell, given the fact that we're unwilling to assert or argue anything to the contrary) generally quite unreliable but get a few big-picture things right despite being unreliable. Perhaps by accident, in that case.

I would say, speaking as an epistemologist, that it is open to doubt whether one can get the conclusion that the Gospels get even these few things right if one is willing to grant, even "for the sake of argument" that they are as riddled with contradictions and errors as the skeptic wants to claim. Try that with Bart Ehrman and see how far you get. If, as Pannenberg thought, the empty tomb accounts contain "scarcely a kernel of truth" because they are so legendary, one wonders why anyone should affirm the empty tomb. I certainly wonder why Pannenberg did. Once we start allowing "for the sake of argument" that the Gospels contain legend and embellishment, especially at the point of accounts of miraculous incidents, it's not at all clear why the empty tomb should be allowed to pass muster. In fact, Gary Habermas, who invented the "minimal facts" argument for the resurrection which Dr. Craig is pushing rather hard on here, makes quite a point of not including the empty tomb among the "minimal facts." He leaves it out on the grounds that it isn't acknowledged by a large enough consensus of scholars across the ideological spectrum. See here.

I note as well the rather careful statement of Jesus' "radical personal claims." One would normally have expected these to include the fairly direct claims to deity in the Gospel of John, such as, "I and the Father are one," but it's pretty clear that Dr. Craig is wording the claims in a more restrained fashion so as not to depend upon those passages in John and so as to depend instead on the synoptics alone--"the Danielic Son of Man," "the unique Son of God," etc. This is (I would strongly guess) because unfortunately even some evangelical scholars are prepared to doubt the historicity of the unique statements in John. So the Gospels must be granted to be so unreliable that even our statement of Jesus' "radical personal claims" has to be minimal.

It is also questionable whether, once the minimal facts are watered down this much, they provide a strong case for the resurrection. I have argued that in the earlier post and won't restate the argument right now. I will be giving a webinar on this whole subject on April 7 for Apologetics Academy and will go into that point again at length there.

Now, back to Pannenberg. Dr. Craig has been absolutely explicit elsewhere that Pannenberg denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore [according to Pannenberg], the Gospel appearance stories are late legendary developments that represent a kind of materializing of the original, primitive, spiritual experiences. The original experiences were just these visions of Jesus. It would be similar to Stephen’s vision of Jesus in Acts 73. When Stephen is being stoned, he sees the heavens open and he says, “I see the Son of Man in the heavens.” Nobody else saw anything, but Stephen saw this vision of Jesus. And I think that Pannenberg would say that that is similar to what the original resurrection appearances were. They were these visionary events and then they got corrupted and materialized and turned into the Gospel appearance stories, which are very, very physicalistic.

It's therefore very interesting that, in the 2015 answer to the question from Joe, Dr. Craig should have made an error on this very point, for he says, "[Pannenberg] well illustrates how someone can have a historically justified belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection without a commitment to the inerrancy of the texts." No, not bodily resurrection. I'm assuming that was a mere slip in writing, but it's a rather revealing one. It's become unfortunately common for Dr. Craig and others to refer to those who take a view like Pannenberg's as "affirming the resurrection," which in my opinion they should not do. "The resurrection" should mean the bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus, not a vision sent from God. But apparently this habit of saying that this "objective vision" view involves "affirming the resurrection" can occasionally result in a slip whereby one literally slides over into saying that it involves affirming the bodily resurrection even though it is just the opposite--a denial of the bodily resurrection. When one gets into the bad habit of calling something an affirmation of the resurrection when it isn't, it may beget a great deal of confusion.

Another problem with this entire post is the use of inerrancy as a stalking horse. To be sure, that is to some degree introduced by Joe's question in the first place. But as already pointed out, there is no reason to think that Joe was confused on the point at issue--namely, whether apologists should appear to throw out (strong) reliability in the name of setting aside inerrancy for apologetic purposes. That is precisely what Dr. Craig is unfortunately doing here. He keeps talking about inerrancy over and over again while giving illustrations of conceding not just on inerrancy but also on reliability in any robust sense. He does not confront the question of whether the apologetic task really can survive in a healthy form while we grant all of this unreliability, even "for the sake of argument."

Another problem here concerns doctrine. While Dr. Craig refers to C.S. Lewis and "mere Christianity," it is questionable whether the extremely minimal facts he names can give us even that. What about the deity of Christ, for example? If you had to argue that Jesus was really God, God in the flesh, against Arianism, could you do a convincing job if you were to acknowledge that the Gospels are riddled with error and contradiction and if you deliberately refrained from using the unique passages in the Gospel of John? In essence, this involves acknowledging (at least "for the sake of argument") that the Gospels don't do a very good job reporting Jesus' statements. I'm probably a bit conceited about my own argumentative prowess, but even I wouldn't want to be tasked with arguing under those handicaps that Jesus really is God! What about the Trinity? I would think it highly unlikely that one would be "allowed" to use the Trinitarian formula for baptism in Matthew 28:19 as an historical utterance of Jesus after granting "for the sake of argument" that the Gospels are riddled with error and contradiction and contain legendary elements. Why think that Jesus said that, if the Gospels are that unreliable? In fact, something so obviously doctrinal and formulaic-sounding is precisely the sort of thing that higher critics are likely to say, and concessive apologists likely to concede, might well have been added to the story later to reflect the Church's practice and was never historically said by Jesus. And the same for the unique discourses on the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, in the Gospel of John.

This whole question of doctrine becomes rather urgent since Dr. Craig envisages a situation where we actually attempt to evangelize the skeptic we are debating, and in the course of this debate we grant a great deal to that skeptic and then tell him that he should "become a Christian" anyway on the basis of the extremely minimal material that we have left ourselves to work with. But what would it mean for this person to become a Christian? Note that here I am talking about what most of us think of as "mere Christianity." I'm not talking about whether one's potential new convert becomes a Calvinist, an Arminian, or a Molinist! Does he believe in the Trinity? Does he believe that Jesus is God? Does he believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead rather than that Jesus merely appeared to his disciples in the form of a vision sent from God? Does he affirm the virgin birth? Such a person doesn't have to have all the details of Calcedonian metaphysics held clearly in his head, but we need to get a whole lot further than, "Jesus made a radical personal claim to be the son of God and rose from the dead in some sense or other" in order to have even "mere Christianity"!

At that point, if the skeptic is willing to listen, does one go back and say, "Okay, I granted for the sake of argument that the Gospels are a mess of contradictions and errors, but now I want to take that back and argue that we can see objectively that they are much more reliable than that, and therefore you should accept orthodox Christian doctrine"?

If you could do that, why did you grant so much for the sake of the argument in the first place? Wouldn't it have been awfully useful to have more reliable Gospels to work with as part of convincing him of the resurrection? And isn't the skeptic-on-the-verge-of-conversion going to feel like this was a bit of a bait and switch? It didn't seem like you were asking him to accept a high degree of actual, historical reliability for the Gospels in the first place, and now you are asking him to accept that when you get to the point that you want him to believe Christian doctrine.

If a high degree of actual reliability and accuracy cannot be argued for objectively but merely seen with the eyes of faith or something of that kind, why should the skeptic-thinking-of-becoming-a-Christian grant it? Maybe he should become a Socinian or Arian instead. Or maybe he should become a believer in the paranormal rather than in Christianity. But if it can be argued for objectively, why not at least assert that at the outset?

Dr. Craig also downplays harmonization in these odd sentences:

The arguments of natural theology for God’s existence don’t depend upon biblical inerrancy, nor does demonstrating the crucial facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, including his radical personal claims, whereby he put himself in God’s place, and the key events undergirding the inference to his resurrection from the dead. Popular Christian apologists have long given lip service to this point but did not really take it seriously, as revealed by their resorting to implausible harmonizations in order to defend the Gospel accounts against any allegation of error. Such measures are unnecessary. The fact is that the central facts undergirding the inference to Jesus’ resurrection are granted by the wide majority of New Testament scholars today, even those who think that the Gospels are rife with errors and inconsistencies.

This is the only reference to harmonization in this discussion, and, as seen in the quotation given above, Craig says expressly that his recommended method in apologetics is not to harmonize when talking with an unbeliever but rather to grant him for the sake of argument "virtually all the errors and inconsistencies that he wants to bring up." This gives the seriously wrong impression that harmonization is just something we do as Christian believers rather than being a normal part of historical practice. But even purely secular historical accounts often need to be harmonized, and the use of real-world, sensible imagination to do so is not a religious enterprise but rather a part of rational historical investigation. Why should we assume that "popular apologists" who make use of harmonization are doing so because they are inerrantists and want in some dubiously objective fashion to protect the Bible from any hint of error? Someone might well engage in harmonization both for historical reasons and because he was trying to induce the skeptic to take seriously the possibility that the Gospels are actually reliable in a normal, historical sense.

Naturally, if we restrict our examples only to wild harmonizations, one might understandably wonder what the motive was for making such a suggestion. But frankly, I can't say that I'm hearing popular apologists out there making use of wildly strained harmonization. Why present Joe and other readers with a false dichotomy between some sort of desperate, theologically motivated, strained use of harmonization in apologetics and no harmonization at all? Where did reasonable, responsible harmonization get to in the course of this discussion? This is not to mention the fact that, unfortunately, Dr. Craig regards it as artificial to think that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice in his ministry, so there is certainly room for putting a question mark over his unspecified condemnation of popular apologists with reference to their allegedly strained use of harmonization.

Craig seems to imply that, when dealing with believers, we perhaps can consider harmonization, though he doesn't say so quite explicitly:

When it comes to the task of theology, however, things are different. The task of theology is to lay out systematically the truths taught in Scripture. Thus, one will try to develop a coherent system of doctrine which is faithful to Scripture. Based on what one thinks makes the best sense of Scripture, one will develop a more detailed body of Christian doctrine. This will include doctrines about what Scripture has to say about itself....So in answer to your questions, we don’t need to “argue over inspiration or inerrancy” with unbelievers, but we do need to discuss these questions with fellow Christians....With fellow believers we need to discuss the nature of biblical inspiration and what follows from that for the truthfulness of Scripture.

This would seem to mean that it's okay to try to harmonize when talking with fellow believers, because they are supposed to share some view of biblical inspiration with us. It would also seem to mean that we can use other portions of Scripture that we have otherwise set aside as historically dubious. But I have to say that this treats harmonization as the theological crazy uncle that we're a little ashamed of when he shows up outside of the house. And once again, one must ask why a brand-new believer-in-something-or-other based upon an argument that conceded so much "for the sake of argument" would even accept a doctrine of Scriptural inspiration. Therefore, why would such a person ever become a "fellow believer" in that sense? Why would he care that a passage is found in Scripture and (say) attributed to Jesus if it might just have been a later accretion from the entirely fallible Christian community? For that matter, why should he care about what the apostles said or wrote in letters? If it's so dicey from an objective, historical perspective to figure out whether or not Jesus even made the "I am" statements or said "I and the Father are one," it should be at least that dicey, historically, to decide that Jesus endorsed the teaching of the apostles as doctrinally authoritative!

Theological argument requires historical argument. Historical argument for Christian theology would normally include, for example, the statement that Jesus taught such-and-such and/or that Jesus commissioned his disciples to be theological teachers and that the apostles taught such-and-such. But of course one would need in that case to be able to claim a good historical case for those points.

The split in Dr. Craig's discussion here between the way we deal with skeptics and the way we deal with believers, and hence between history and theology, is troubling. Epistemically, there should be no such split. The facts are what they are. What is justified is what it is. Theology should be based solidly on history, not accepted in a blind leap as a separate, and rather large, package deal after we have wheedled the skeptic into granting "the resurrection" in some sense or other.

Several decades ago the prescient philosopher Francis Schaeffer talked about the "upper story" and the "lower story" in one's worldview. This discussion in Schaeffer was roughly parallel to what has otherwise been called the fact-value split. Schaeffer pointed out that modern man has a major problem with separating the upper story from the lower story and never letting the twain meet. (Unfortunately, Schaeffer attributed the historical origin of this split to Thomas Aquinas, which is crazy. Aquinas was arguing precisely against such a split and was uniting faith and reason. But set that aside.)

I am very much afraid that the history/theology distinction in minimalist modern apologetics is following the lower-story/upper-story pattern. Down on the bottom there is the so-called "historical bedrock" that is so incredibly minimal that it is granted even by quite liberal, non-Christian scholars. Going beyond that is treated by minimalist apologists as historically dubious. But hey, good news: You can supposedly use that incredibly minimal "historical bedrock" to ratchet an unbeliever into becoming a "believer" (for some values of "believer"). Then he's magically supposed to believe in the authority of the books that have been gathered into the canon, known as "Scripture," and then we can go about convincing him of a whole lot more theological doctrine, even though we don't have a good historical argument that these propositions have been endorsed by Jesus or God.

This is highly questionable epistemic practice, and I doubt that any prospective convert should view it with favor. We need, ourselves, to be men with integrated minds; by this means we can produce converts who also have integrated minds.

Update: My attention has been drawn to this post by Dr. Craig in which he carves out an unusual use of the concept and terminology of "bodily" resurrection according to which Pannenberg does believe in the "bodily" resurrection of Jesus, since Jesus' body disappeared from the tomb and in this sense was "raised." (Did the ascension take place instantly, in that case? Perhaps so.) Then Pannenberg holds to the "objective vision" theory according to which Jesus did not appear bodily to his disciples--a point on which Craig has been explicit. Generally the objective vision theory is held to be in contrast with the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but apparently in Craig's terminology there is an option that is objective-vision-with-the-body-was-raised-and-went-straight-to-heaven that he believes can be called "bodily resurrection." Given this, apparently he was not (on his own terms) making a slip when he said that Pannenberg affirms the bodily resurrection. I'm happy to correct this terminological point while noting that this is not generally what would be meant by "bodily resurrection" and hence is quite a confusing use of the phrase.

Comments (61)

Good points. The minimal facts approach might get you to affirm something like the resurrection of Christ, but I hardly see how it by itself will get you to be a Christian. After all, it's not going to help you distinguish between Mormonism and Christianity.

Indeed, why would Jesus be raised up unless, at least, to vindicate what he said? But if we can't know too much about that, I guess he wasn't raised up. Or, his resurrection and teaching (whatever that was) is not important. But in that case, why believe it?

Or maybe his "resurrection" (which, remember, might not have been physical on a really minimal view) was just a sign that God exists and that "this world is not all there is" and God didn't see to it that any kind of theology, not even a clear knowledge of Jesus' deity, was preserved for us.

Not that I believe that, of course! But if one has acknowledged at the outset that the Gospels might be highly unreliable, and if one introduces no additional *objective* information to the contrary, there isn't any good reason why the so-called "convert" from the minimalist case shouldn't go in that direction. It's not like a theist who leans toward, "Something spooky may have happened to Jesus of Nazareth" is suddenly going to be "zapped" with massive faith in "the Bible" so he's going to want to develop a "Scriptural theology." And if he did suddenly feel that way, I'm not sure that would be very rational if he thought all of the *objective* evidence pointed toward the *unreliability* of the Gospels as records of Jesus' teachings.

The task of apologetics is to lay out a rational justification for the truth of the Christian worldview.

I am afraid that as usual, Dr. Craig gets it partly right and partly wrong. In this case, he misses some rather fundamental truths.

First, there is no "THE" task of apologetics, not singular. Apologetics serves the cause of evangelization, and the point of the apologetical part of evangelization is to diminish the barriers in a person's mind to accepting the grace of faith.

For faith comes from grace, we cannot create faith, nor prove faith, nor force someone to accept it. Evengelization is an INVITATION to accept the grace of faith, and apologetics serves to remove or diminish a person's hold on ERRONEOUS ideas that interfere with accepting faith. It clears out the pathway for the invitation to appear intelligible and reasonable and WORTHY of a human being's real attention.

But this necessarily means addressing the obstacles. And this means dealing with DIFFERENT obstacles in different persons, because everyone has their own peculiar set of errors that they are attached to when they repudiate the faith. It may be that a particular group of people will hold one group of errors predominantly, and in that specific group you can do apologetics by addressing the predominant errors, but for all that each person will also have his own hang-ups as well. Ultimately apologetics will also have to be retail and not entirely wholesale.

And doing it retail, it is hardly ever necessary to create a perfectly complete structure manifesting the reasonableness of Christianity from scratch. A person will almost always grant some things as acceptable from the start. He will almost always have more problems with A little issue than with B big issue, somewhere along the line - even if that is not perfectly rational.

But the telling point is to listen to the stories of actual converts. You don't hear people finally accept faith in their hearts when the last piece of the perfect rationalization is finally put in place. No, it almost never gets that far. It almost always occurs well before that; typically somewhere along the point where number 10 or 12 of their list of 15 biggest issues is not only dealt with, but demolished, they turn a corner and realize that "these Christian arguments are not only true, but have been true and should have been more convincing all along and whoever sold me on those 'problems' was barking up the wrong tree altogether..." sort of thinking. They turn a corner of who gets the benefit of the doubt. They turn a corner on what kinds of arguments satisfy, when they start accepting something less than 99.999% definitive as reasonable support for the Christian view. They start looking for reasons to believe, instead of reasons NOT to believe.

So the apologist has two extremes to avoid: on the one hand, that of thinking that "it all rests on me, if I fail to have a perfect answer for every come-back, I have failed 'apologetics' and failed this person." Your job is to work hand in hand with grace, not to create or force grace.

On the other hand, that of thinking "all I have to do is get a person thinking of religious things, and let grace do its thing". No, that's not all you have to do: God does not ordinarily overcome the resistance of a person INTENT on rejection (though he does sometimes, like with St. Paul). The apologist has a real role, that of reducing the obstacles. Nor is he allowed to rely on emotionalism and irrational bases for rejecting their prior errors, he cannot use the tools of Satan for God's work: to defeat one error with another error just sets up their faith down the road to new attacks. He must use truth to defeat error, and he must use it reasonably and honorably. But he is allowed to use ALL of the truth, not just bits and pieces that "everyone agrees on". To handicap himself with a reliance only on truths that everyone agrees on, where this particular person in front of him would allow for many more, is foolish and counter-productive. It is, frankly, playing to Satan's strengths, because it is Satan who foments all the lies and errors about the rational grounds for Christianity. There is no need to concede to Satan all of his wishes and start out with both hands tied behind your back.

For instance, most people are willing to hear reasonable arguments for the theses that some of the Gospels were written by people who had been to the places mentioned and seen the details first hand. And that they have legitimate claims to authentically being from the second or third decade after Christ, not some second century "Christian community". These are not impossible claims to support reasonably. (One can also get reasonable people to note the difference between "historically satisfactory evidence" and "mathematical proof".) To simply give up on these positions merely because not EVERYONE accepts them is foolish.

Craig could have made one simple change and made it so much better. It still wouldn’t be the holistic approach to NT internal and external reliability that you propound, but it would be a real improvement over what he did. And very, very simple.

Rather than conceding "errors for the sake of argument," he could have recommended the Christian say, “Let’s bracket those questions for now, and go for a few that are more central and also more accessible to historical investigation [and here I quote]: 'The beliefs that Jesus understood himself to be the Messiah, the unique Son of God, and the Danielic Son of Man, and that his crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples’ belief in his resurrection are historically well-founded.’”

You could alter that list of starting points to your liking, for I'm sure there would be varying opinions on what belongs there. I know you'd use quite a different approach to begin with, Lydia, and for good reason; but that's not my main point in this comment. My main point for now is the difference in approaches. One says, “I’ll concede that to you,” and the other says, “Let’s not argue about that for now — not because I couldn’t make a strong case for it, but because it’s not the most helpful place to begin.”

I know Craig might say that conceding "for the sake of argument" may be technically the same thing as that, or that it can be applied to accomplish the same result, but you’re right in saying it goes too far. Way too far. It certainly doesn't communicate that there's any case to be made for the rest of the Gospel affirmations; in fact it strongly suggests the opposite.

I know Craig might say that conceding "for the sake of argument" may be technically the same thing as that, or that it can be applied to accomplish the same result, but you’re right in saying it goes too far. Way too far. It certainly doesn't communicate that there's any case to be made for the rest of the Gospel affirmations; in fact it strongly suggests the opposite.

Probabilistically, Tom, you're quite right. And I can put a probabilistic edge on what you are saying here.

Conceding this for the sake of the argument amounts, probabilistically, to telling the skeptic this:

"You can have a probabilistically coherent probability distribution in which you believe that Jesus rose from the dead in a religiously significant sense but also positively *disbelieve* that the Gospels are reliable."

Now at that point, suppose the person takes you up on that? Then what does he think he's ending up with? A coherent probability distribution in which he positively *disbelieves* that the Gospels are reliable but also thinks Jesus rose from the dead in a religiously significant sense.

At that point, what does one do?

Does one introduce *additional data* that one had waiting in the wings to get him to *change his mind* about the reliability of the Gospels? In that case, I would argue that one should at least have alluded to the existence of that data in the first place, even if one didn't trot it out!

But if one doesn't even introduce additional data at all, and pretty significant additional data, too, then theologically speaking we're *done*. It's not like this person should just suddenly, for no additional reason, respect "the Bible"! "The Bible" is just going to be a collection of extremely fallible, unreliable books to him. There is no more reason, without additional data, for him suddenly to want to form his theology based on the canonical Gospels than based upon, say, the Gospel of Peter! (That also affirms the resurrection.)

I think a lot of people are very confused about this probabilistic point.

I certainly see your points, but I wonder if there is a way to press them that still salvages what is good about minimal facts. After all, in certain respects it isn't all that different from your and Tim's argument in Blackwell. One big difference is the status of the testimony of the women, which is of course a key piece of data and one that Habermas kind of waffles on while Craig uses it without any caveats. Your critique seems to me like a cautionary warning in the danger of becoming too careless in the use of the argument rather than a wholesale debunking.

I've always taken the minimal facts argument to be something like, "even if we only allow the barest data that passes muster by the most critical [reasonable] methods, we still can make a compelling argument for the Resurrection." The point about bodily resurrection is an important theological point for sure, and I've always been a little bothered by Habermas's willingness to accept an objective vision hypothesis. I think in his mind, however, he was mainly concerned with refuting naturalistic explanations, and objective vision isn't a naturalistic explanation. My own preferred means of getting to bodily resurrection wouldn't require arguing for the reliability of all of the Gospels, but would focus on Luke. We can make a strong case that Luke was, in fact written by Luke, and that he was a co-worker of Paul. In that case, he most likely held to the same general concept of the resurrection as Paul did, and so the post-mortem appearances in Luke would have represented what Paul meant when he said that Jesus appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. So I think we can get to the physical resurrection without having to argue for all of the Gospels, but as you point out that's different than actually saying that the Gospels are full of legends and so forth.

I do think, however, that you can still make a strong case for the deity of Christ without making much use of John. John obviously adds to it, but there is still plenty of other evidence pointing to a high christology in the earliest traditions. Even Ehrman has had to concede that point.

I also think one could actually build an argument for the authority of Scripture off of the resurrection. So maybe you could begin with someone with low confidence in the New Testament, get them to the resurrection with something like minimal facts, and then argue that, given the resurrection, it seems probable that Jesus took steps to ensure that the message would be handed down in a way that was trustworthy. I don't think that would be a bait-and-switch, but more of a gradual process of leading someone from total unbelief to biblical faith. I think the reason for doing it that way is that if you start right off trying to argue for reliability, you might never get past that hurdle. Start with smaller hurdles, then work up to the big ones; at least I think that's the theory.

After all, in certain respects it isn't all that different from your and Tim's argument in Blackwell.

John, here I am reminded of what J. R. R. Tolkien said when someone compared his One Ring with the Ring of the Niebelungs. "Both were round, and there the resemblance ends." :-) :-)

The thing you have to realize, and that I have only realized super-clearly in the last couple of years and esp. the last year, is just *how* minimal minimal facts is. In our Blackwell article we made a huge deal (really, go back and read it) about the details of the resurrection appearances as claimed (we said) by the disciples at risk of their lives. We went on and on about it. We used those details to argue *against* the objective vision theory. We would never in the world have considered for a *moment* treating the objective vision theory as a *version* of "the resurrection." I was just re-reading this section a week or two ago. We expressly treated that as a version of ~R, and we argued *on the basis of the verisimilitude of the details* of the experiences to which the disciples attested that God, in that case, would have been a deceiver, sending a vision that was meant to look *just as if* Jesus were talking, walking, eating, and being tangible with the disciples. But of course, objective vision theorists don't think *that*. They water down the details of the experiences, as you and I both know. (Consider Dale Allison, for example, who says that Jesus' eating with the disciples is a "later apologetic addition" to the text.)

We also used the details to argue against hallucination far more strongly than one can if one simply says that they had one group visual experience, which is all that is contained in minimal facts. We could have (but didn't take time to) go into paranormal explanations and argue against them using the details as well.

That level of detail has to be off-limits in a real minimal facts argument. If you can't assume what is not "granted by a large majority of scholars," then you cannot take it that the physicality of the experiences as recounted by the Gospel texts goes back to the apostles as the original witnesses--that it is what *they* testified to. Licona is absolutely *explicit* on this, and Habermas praised his version of the minimal facts argument to the skies. Craig is explicit about it as well.


My own preferred means of getting to bodily resurrection wouldn't require arguing for the reliability of all of the Gospels, but would focus on Luke. We can make a strong case that Luke was, in fact written by Luke, and that he was a co-worker of Paul. In that case, he most likely held to the same general concept of the resurrection as Paul did, and so the post-mortem appearances in Luke would have represented what Paul meant when he said that Jesus appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve.

That is quite unnecessarily round-the-barn and, in my opinion, rather weak. It's also not really minimal facts anymore. Perhaps you're not aware of this, but the statement even that the disciples believed that Jesus rose and appeared to them *bodily* is not permitted to be one of the "historical bedrock" points in the minimal facts argument. Again, both Habermas and Licona are explicit on this. It is called a "second-level fact" on the grounds of its not being granted by a "large enough" majority of scholars. This apparently means it can be brought up but is treated as epistemically a second-class citizen. Because neither Licona nor Habermas is an epistemologist, neither of them discusses what precisely this means about an inference to the best explanation based upon it. Insofar as this second-class status is treated as an epistemic matter (which it is), just how good can an explanatory inference be that is based upon an allegedly second-level fact?

In any event, I would just disagree with you as well here, if I'm understanding you correctly. That Paul *believed* that Jesus was physically raised and that Luke's *concept* of resurrection might have been Paul's is a far cry from saying that the disciples *attested* to what is found in the Gospel of Luke. And I notice that you are careful not to say *that*. For example, Luke could have *made up* the resurrection appearances in his Gospel, with all their physicality, to *illustrate* the physical concept he and Paul had of the resurrection. If you mean to rule that out, if you're asserting that Luke was really accurately *recording* the resurrection experiences as attested by the putative witnesses, that's wonderful, but then come right out and say that, and at that point you're miles away from a minimal facts case, and all the better for it. Because *that* (that Luke's Gospel accurately records what the disciples attested their experiences were actually like, what it seemed to them Jesus actually did after his resurrection) is expressly, explicitly, undeniably, *not* a "minimal fact." It doesn't even make it in as a second-level fact!! (And also, John, we have good arguments for the historical reliability of John and Matthew and Mark as well, so don't be shy. Just go for it and state, as we assumed in our Blackwell piece, that the resurrection narratives in John and Matthew *also* record what the disciples attested.)

We must remember that the resurrection is a miracle and as such requires very strong evidence to support it if it is to have a high posterior probability. If someone tells me that his father or best friend rose from the dead, I am rightly skeptical and I want to know details of the experiences that led him to this conclusion. If all that he can give me is a round-the-barn argument that carefully evades telling me with any confidence what people's experiences were *actually like* with his dead father but merely tells me that he believes that they had a "physical concept" of his father's resurrection or something, then I'm going to get pretty suspicious, and I'm probably not going to be justified in having a high posterior probability for his father's resurrection.


I do think, however, that you can still make a strong case for the deity of Christ without making much use of John. John obviously adds to it, but there is still plenty of other evidence pointing to a high christology in the earliest traditions. Even Ehrman has had to concede that point

Whoop-de-doo. Maybe the earliest traditions were wrong. Tradition by itself isn't to be venerated per se. I want to know what Jesus said about himself.

John, cumulative cases DO NOT EXIST FOR THE PURPOSE OF BEING EVISCERATED, particularly not eviscerated of their strongest elements. The express statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John are some of the strongest we have evidence for his deity. I, for one (please forgive me, friend), get a little hot under the collar when people casually toss all of that out of the window because they think they have such a strong cumulative case otherwise that they can afford to do without it. And why else? I dunno. Because it's fashionable to diss the historicity of the Gospel of John, I sometimes think. John's Gospel is always the whipping boy, the one we are supposed to steel ourselves to "do without." Phooey on that. We have *enormously* good evidence for the historical intention and historical accuracy of the Gospel of John. And if Jesus walked around Palestine claiming to be the "I am" of the Old Testament and saying, "I and the Father are one," then presumably he thought it was important, and dang it, I'd like to know about his saying that. And look here! I have a putative historical record, in a document for which I have all kinds of evidence, saying that he did. That's wonderful. Claiming to be God incarnate is a big deal, especially given the Judaic emphasis upon monotheism, which to some extent understandably led Jews then and leads Jews today to think that teaching the incarnation is blasphemy. We need all the evidence we can get, thanks. I'm not doing without any of it, especially not such good, clear statements from the mouth of the Lord Jesus himself. Since we have them, let's use them. Let's not go tiptoeing around trying to figure out if we can do without them and treating the *very clearest statements in the whole Bible* of the deity of Jesus, from Jesus himself, as if they are some kind of optional "icing on the cake," just because scholarly fashion prefers the synoptics over the Gospel of John!

I also think one could actually build an argument for the authority of Scripture off of the resurrection.

Not if you didn't *also* have good, reliable records of what Jesus taught. Without that, no. The resurrection *all by itself* doesn't endorse the canonical Gospels (again, note that I said "by itself") any more than it endorses the Gospel of Peter, which also asserts the resurrection. A lot more stage-setting is required to use the resurrection to argue for the authority of Scripture, and that stage-setting requires the *historical reliability* of various passages in the canonical Gospels as a record of Jesus' teaching. (E.g. His commissioning of the disciples. His intent to set up the church. The way that the content of his teaching dovetails with that of the Pauline epistles.)

Sorry to be so vehement, and none of this is intended as a personal attack on anyone, but this is important stuff.

It's also not really minimal facts anymore.

Oh, I know that. I wasn't saying that it was minimal facts, just offering that as my own argument for the physicality of the resurrection. I even wrote a lengthy paper on that topic. It's sort of halfway between minimal facts and full-blown reliability.

For example, Luke could have *made up* the resurrection appearances in his Gospel, with all their physicality, to *illustrate* the physical concept he and Paul had of the resurrection.

Well, maybe if you accept something like Licona's nutty genre argument, but I'm as appalled by that approach as you are. It certainly isn't "historical bedrock," so I'm surprised he's going so far with it. In any case, even this would show that Paul held to a physical resurrection, so that's actually all I need to make the argument (although I would go beyond that, beyond what minimal facts would allow).

If you mean to rule that out, if you're asserting that Luke was really accurately *recording* the resurrection experiences as attested by the putative witnesses, that's wonderful, but then come right out and say that

I was just giving you the barest thumbnail sketch, but in my argument I go into the details of the evidence for eyewitness testimony in Luke-Acts and so forth. So yes, I would come right out and say that, and you're right, this is beyond what minimal facts allows. So I'm with you as far as that goes.

we have good arguments for the historical reliability of John and Matthew and Mark as well, so don't be shy

I'm not against making those arguments, but I do really like the idea of trying to keep focused. The reason why I think emphasizing Luke is preferable for the sake of this argument is 1) his relationship with Paul, which I think strongly implies that they were on the same page regarding the nature of the appearances, and 2) the additional corroboration of Acts, made possible by the expanded historical setting which isn't the case with the other Gospels. We just have a lot more data to work with in regard to the confirmation of Acts than with the Gospels, which adds weight to Luke's credibility. That doesn't discredit the other Gospels, but it does give a stronger argument in my mind.

Whoop-de-doo. Maybe the earliest traditions were wrong. Tradition by itself isn't to be venerated per se.

What? Do you really mean to say that finding the divinity of Jesus in the earliest traditions makes no difference? I also don't see how you can toss out the statement that "maybe the earliest traditions were wrong." The skeptic can simply retort that maybe John was wrong. The skeptical objection is a lot stronger if John was the only one saying anything remotely like that. Imagine if a bunch of people lived with somebody for a few years, and much later one of them wrote down that he heard the guy repeatedly say that he was God, while none of the others said anything like that. Wouldn't that strike you as a bit odd?

I want to know what Jesus said about himself.

Well, sure. But just as a historical matter, obviously if you only have a single source that has a particular statement, that makes for weaker evidence. If the case for Jesus' deity rests mainly on that one source, then surely that's a problem, isn't it? But even C.S. Lewis's argument for Jesus' self-belief that he was God is based on a lot of things other than explicit statements from John. There has also been a lot of really good work done in this area by Witherington, Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel), Gathercole, and others.

John, cumulative cases DO NOT EXIST FOR THE PURPOSE OF BEING EVISCERATED, particularly not eviscerated of their strongest elements.

I think the question here is how crucial the statements in John are to the divinity of Christ. You apparently think that they are indispensable. I don't think they are, and if I did think that then I would have to admit that the case for Jesus' divinity is not very strong.

We need all the evidence we can get, thanks. I'm not doing without any of it, especially not such good, clear statements from the mouth of the Lord Jesus himself.

But when you say things like this, it gives the impression that you really can't make a case for Jesus' divinity without John, and I think that's wrong. Wouldn't it bother you if the other Gospels didn't at least strongly imply that Jesus was divine, and then all of a sudden John comes along and has Jesus making these explicit statements that aren't even hinted at in the others? I believe John was written late, probably after Paul's letters. But Paul still held to Jesus' divinity. It would be rather incredible to me if Paul and the other Gospel writers besides John all missed the fact that Jesus was divine, and then John comes along and has him saying all of these things that go way beyond what anybody else said. That's why the argument from the earlier traditions is very important. So I really have to disagree with you on this.

Sorry to be so vehement, and none of this is intended as a personal attack on anyone, but this is important stuff.

You, vehement? :)

Certainly these are important issues, and I take no offense. I will say on a personal note that I was really struggling with belief in the deity of Christ several years ago. Reflecting back on it, it probably did have something to do with the fact that John seemed to be saying something at odds with the other NT writers. The typical answer to that was something to the effect that the disciples just really needed to think about it for a long time, and aside from John never quite got there. But that seems like a very unsatisfactory answer to me, and I needed to see that Jesus' divinity is, in fact, present in the other, earlier parts of the tradition. Reading Lewis helped me there, as well as Bauckham and these others. I also think this problem is quite widespread in the church (even if largely unspoken), and I honestly think that giving the impression that it's only because of John that we can affirm Jesus' divinity is a bad approach. That certainly wouldn't have helped me, since that was actually a source of discomfiture. But if we can make the case without using John at all, then having John is just gravy. I really think that's the best way to approach it, but this is sort of a side issue from important questions about reliability.

I was just giving you the barest thumbnail sketch, but in my argument I go into the details of the evidence for eyewitness testimony in Luke-Acts and so forth. So yes, I would come right out and say that, and you're right, this is beyond what minimal facts allows. So I'm with you as far as that goes.

Okay, got it, thanks for the clarification. I'm sorry to have misunderstood you. Perhaps you didn't know this, but on several pages (I don't have the book right here for p. numbers) Licona makes an argument in his old book, the big resurrection book, concerning Luke and the physicality of the scenes, and Paul's view, that sounds a lot like your sketch. But the thing is, elsewhere in that *same book* (not just the more recent one) he says *explicitly* that we should be hesitant to use the resurrection accounts in the Gospels because we don't know "how much liberty" they felt that they had to invent. He literally even calls it (in that book) a "temptation" to use the original Gospel accounts, and he rates it merely "possible" that they go back to the tradition of the apostles. And that comes out in great detail in the most recent book, where he hypothesizes pretty often that they invented or changed portions of the resurrection accounts. So that makes it pretty evident that, when he mentions physicality in Luke's account, he *really just* means that this shows Luke's concept of Jesus' resurrection, *not* that this is meant to be an actual account that Luke got reliably from the apostles of what the resurrection experiences were really like. In fact, rather emphatically not that. He even (on a different page in the old book) goes on at some length to the effect that, as an historical conclusion, it "may be" ("may" is one of his favorite words) going "beyond what the data warrant" to conclude that the disciples had a whole grocery list of the appearances given in the Gospels, including the one on the road to Emmaus, and it's very clear there that he is doubling down so hard on minimal facts that he's saying that anything beyond what he's declared "historical bedrock" concerning the appearances would be "going beyond what the evidence warrants" historically. Again--treating "history" as a kind of hyper-skeptical "lower story," as I said in the main post concerning Dr. Craig's history/theology division.

Now, on John and Jesus' deity:

I would be hard-pressed to say exactly how high my probability would be for the deity of Jesus without the statements in John. It's always difficult to disentangle a cumulative case. But those certainly do contribute importantly to it precisely because they *are* so clear. This is *not* to say that the synoptics contradict John on that point (more on that in a moment). In fact, they are certainly mutually confirmatory. But the argument from the synoptics is somewhat less direct. For example, I realize that not everyone agrees with me, but it simply is not as clear to me historically that a claim to be "the Danielic son of man" is ipso facto a claim to be God incarnate in the Christian sense. Probably the strongest argument from the synoptics is the claim to be able to forgive sins in Mark, with the explicit connection to the prerogatives of Godhood. (And Jesus connects this there to his own title of "Son of Man" as well.)

My rational probability that Jesus was God would be (I would guess) above .5 without John, but I'm not sure just how far. I'm sorry if that seems unhelpful to those who for some reason have doubts about John's gospel, but I think I should help with that rather by bolstering confidence in John's Gospel.

I also don't see how you can toss out the statement that "maybe the earliest traditions were wrong." The skeptic can simply retort that maybe John was wrong.

Sure, but "early traditions" are vague entities. You can't get hold of an "early tradition" like you can get hold of a document with a real, human author, and try to find out what the author was like, how reliable he was, and so forth. You *can* do so with a single-author document like John, and it holds up extremely well.

The skeptical objection is a lot stronger if John was the only one saying anything remotely like that. Imagine if a bunch of people lived with somebody for a few years, and much later one of them wrote down that he heard the guy repeatedly say that he was God, while none of the others said anything like that. Wouldn't that strike you as a bit odd?

But there's a big difference between "none of them say *anything* like that" and "none of them say that *that clearly*." The latter is compatible with our having a significantly weaker case for the conclusion that the guy claimed to be God if we didn't have that one source, but in no way should it be treated as an argument from silence *against* the more explicit source. *That* is a major mistake that the NT critics make, and I'm thinking perhaps (from your comments here) that you may have been influenced by that type of argument. That's just wrong. There is no contradiction here between John and the synoptics but rather mutual confirmation. But the contribution to the case from the synoptics is just notably weaker.

But just as a historical matter, obviously if you only have a single source that has a particular statement, that makes for weaker evidence. If the case for Jesus' deity rests mainly on that one source, then surely that's a problem, isn't it?

I think we have an extremely strong case, and the synoptic Gospels contribute to it. Also, since we *do* have good evidence from Jesus' words for Jesus' intention to found an on-going church and for his disciples to teach doctrine, and since we can make an argument that Paul was one of these, then the Pauline epistles are also relevant as part of the cumulative case. But the argument for Jesus' endorsement of his apostles as teachers and for the coming of the Holy Ghost to help them depends in part (important part) on the record of Jesus' teachings in the Gospel of John. So, again, we can't throw out the Gospel of John as a record of Jesus' teaching, since this part of the arg. for Jesus' deity is also partially routed through his words as recorded in John. (E.g. the discourses on the Comforter)

I think you are making an erroneous connection here between "only having a single source that makes a particular statement" and "having a cumulative case in which the contribution of a single source is quite important." Those aren't the same.

I don't think they are, and if I did think that then I would have to admit that the case for Jesus' divinity is not very strong.

Well, once again, I'm not saying that the other gospels are simply *silent* on the matter. I think they confirm John and confirm the deity of Christ. Perhaps that is clarifying. But I'm a little concerned to see you say something this strong. I can't help but thinking that what would help with this would be more investigation into the reliability of John and also your shaking off some of the skeptical questioning of John that is so rampant in NT scholarly circles. It's really, really, wrong. These guys are completely wrong when they are constantly trying to pit John against the synoptics, insinuate that he "narrates theologically" or that he puts words in Jesus' mouth and so forth. Once we have evidence that John was a close companion of Jesus (see Tim's excellent post on the authorship of John), that he was a detail person, that he had a strong commitment to literal truth and reportage, and so forth, then there is excellent reason to treat the discourses in John as being faithful descriptions--again, not tape recordings but recognizably accurate records--of actual incidents and actual things Jesus said. At that point, we need (frankly) to stop obsessing over an argument from silence if these discourses or teachings aren't found in the synoptics or think that a case in which a discussion or saying in John is an important player is ipso facto weak. It would be a really, really bad principle of biblical theology to hold that either Jesus' teaching in John must be "gravy" for our belief in a given doctrine or else the argument for that doctrine is weak!


The typical answer to that was something to the effect that the disciples just really needed to think about it for a long time, and aside from John never quite got there. But that seems like a very unsatisfactory answer to me, and I needed to see that Jesus' divinity is, in fact, present in the other, earlier parts of the tradition.

I also think that is a weak and unsatisfactory answer, so I agree with you there. John was *written down* later, but that *by no means* means that he isn't *recording* actual things Jesus said at the time. Again, NT critics are just very, very bad on this. They treat the date when something was *written down* as somehow prima facie the date when the teaching, doctrine, or story about Jesus originated. But that would work only if John was *making up* these statements and discourses of Jesus. After all, it's not like merely getting older and having a bit of memory lapse on detail is going to cause you to hallucinate the "I am" statements, or "I and the Father are one"!! One would have to think that, after reflection and deciding that Jesus was really God, the author of John then went out and *made stuff up* about Jesus' teaching to illustrate this understanding. Why in the world would one think he would do that? So again, we need to stop obsessing over what is "present in the earlier parts of the tradition" and start thinking instead about whether or not the author of John was an eyewitness and committed to recording what he remembered rather than making things up. Once we are looking at it from that perspective, and have evidence of that, then it really *doesn't matter* that he happened to write it down later in his life! Men have this thing called "memory" that lasts over decades, and these are not mere minor details for him to get wrong later on. Basically, I think you should throw out the entire way of thinking that says that you're looking for things in "earlier parts of the tradition." Just stop talking about "the (conjectured) tradition" and its conjectural "early parts" and "later parts." Start thinking instead pretty much exclusively in terms of eyewitnesses and what they said and taught about what Jesus did and said.

During his recent debate with Licona, Ehrman said he's been mulling over a particular issue since he was 15. He says that was 47 years ago. Well, that's about the same interval from the public ministry of Jesus to when he dates the Synoptic Gospels. Ehrman doesn't hesitate to confidently appeal to his memories from 47 years ago, but dismisses the reliability of the Gospels because they were written decades later. Go figure.

There's an interesting link here between human credulity and a "critical" view of the Gospels. It's a well-established finding of cognitive science that we are all prone to expect more uniformity than the processes producing a pattern are likely to give. We expect a "smoother" distribution of heads and tails than one is likely to get by flipping a fair coin. We expect the ravages of time to preserve roughly equal numbers of what were originally roughly equinumerous types of documents. We expect writers of memoirs of the same period independently to recall and report much the same events.

And reality doesn't work that way.

Our credulity makes us suckers for the idea that surely if saying S had really occurred, as witness 4 claims, then at least one of witnesses 1, 2, or 3 would have recorded S as well. That is how arguments from silence are born. And then this bad methodology is christened "the universally valid method of historical investigation" by some German theologian, and "critical" scholars, naively following their own cognitive biases, heap scorn on the heads of those who dare question the skeptical conclusions drawn on that basis.

I would not say that the wildly uncritical use of arguments from silence is the only pathology of modern "critical" biblical scholarship. But if that tool were systematically taken away from them, we could dam up one of the principal sources of the great cataract of scholarly nonsense currently inundating pastors, students, and laymen.

Probably the strongest argument from the synoptics is the claim to be able to forgive sins in Mark, with the explicit connection to the prerogatives of Godhood. (And Jesus connects this there to his own title of "Son of Man" as well.)

Just a quick insertion: there are lots of small but fairly important points in which the Synoptics attest to Jesus standing apart even from the prophets, such as: walking on water, Matthew 14:22 (cf. Genesis 1:2 God moved upon the face of the waters...")

Jesus "taught with authority, not as their scribes", Matthew 7:29 and Mark 1:22, because he was himself the Word of God and the author of Scripture.

More directly, Matthew 23:34-37. "O Jerusalem..."

But most directly of all, Mark 14:61-62, of course, where Jesus describes his future coming at the right hand of God and with the clouds of heaven - which the Jews all took to be a claim of equality with God himself.

It would be easy to make the case that Jesus is God with the Synoptics and the Epistles. However...

I do think, however, that you can still make a strong case for the deity of Christ without making much use of John. John obviously adds to it, but there is still plenty of other evidence pointing to a high christology in the earliest traditions. Even Ehrman has had to concede that point

I also think there is plenty of evidence outside of John. But even if there is 4 times as much evidence as is needed to create a probable conclusion of the deity of Christ outside of John, it is STILL true that John makes the case even stronger. Why does this matter if there is 4 times the amount necessary? Because everyone and his brother in "Scripture studies" uses one gospel or another for potshots and target practice, and with any one person you cannot assume that all of that evidence will be readily accepted. Or, with some, you can't get them to accept hardly any of the other gospels either. Or they whittle the evidence down to a bit here and a bit there. That Christ is God is an enormous Truth with a capital T. Use every stick of evidence that we have - that's why God GAVE US the Four Gospels, not the Three Gospels. As Lydia says, the mutual confirmations between the Gospels strengthens them all together, so don't pull the rug out from any of them without absolute need. And there is no need, because John is as reliable as the others.

Good point, Tony, about various documents being accepted by differing people. I find with undesigned coincidences that one will strike one person while another will strike another person. I make my *own* best judgement and try not to include anything I think really *weak*, but varying strength is going to be difficult to judge.

My own opinion is that, once we have evidence of the reliability of a given document as a record of the words of a given person, then a single *clear* teaching is worth an enormous amount. This is why I place so much weight upon the bread of life discourse in my evaluation of sacramental theology.

To some extent the judgement concerning John and the synoptics and the strength of the case for the deity of Jesus is the difference between there being three synoptics vs. one of John (though in some cases the accounts in the synoptics show some dependence on each other) and the *directness* and clarity of the teachings in John. Moreover, there is just the scholarly greater popularity of, say, Mark as an "early" document that is bearing a lot of weight--in my opinion, far too much weight, as see my dialogue here with John Fraser about "early traditions."

Because New Testament scholarship has largely lost a robust sense of evaluating the gospels as eyewitness documents, a single, extremely clear teaching is generally not valued as much as it should be, IMO.

We have to correct these methodological errors--for example, the preference for conjectured traditions that are not gospels, because they are conjectured to be "early," over the gospels themselves. The over-anxiety about the relative lateness of John's *composition*, though it was still within the lifetime of an apostle. The general tendency to treat John as unreliable and not to challenge vigorously the unargued liberal assumption that John would have made up whole discourses and important sayings. Etc.

We have to correct these methodological errors--for example, the preference for conjectured traditions that are not gospels, because they are conjectured to be "early," over the gospels themselves. The over-anxiety about the relative lateness of John's *composition*, though it was still within the lifetime of an apostle. The general tendency to treat John as unreliable and not to challenge vigorously the unargued liberal assumption that John would have made up whole discourses and important sayings. Etc.

There is something about this tendency that drives me up a wall: What do people think was happening in the 4 or 5 decades between when Christ ascended and when the Gospel of John was written?

Obviously, the apostles were teaching that whole time. By word of mouth, for the first decade or two. Think, just think about what you do when you are recounting important events that really changed your life, events that you are willing to risk a great deal to spread the news about. You tell the stories. You tell them over and over, to new hearers. You bounce your story off that of another apostle. You connect up dots that you didn't realize existed, when you hear other details from other apostles. You tell your stories AGAIN. You notice what strikes your hearers the most. You notice what they puzzle over, and come back and ask questions about. You refine your stories, so they are clearer, and more powerful. You create patterns with how you piece the stories together, so that they don't remain merely separate stories, but ONE story of one Person. By the time you are 10 years out from Pentecost, all of the apostles have heard most of your stories, and you have heard most of theirs. And the Christians who frequented the presence of multiple apostles and have heard different versions of the same events ASKED QUESTIONS about those different versions, so that seeming discrepancies were generally resolved away, at least for the most part. So, even though each apostle has his own style of telling the events he remembers, and has his own take on the importance of this or that event or detail, they ALL KNOW the general pattern of every other apostle's interactions with Jesus and nearly all the details. And, because all of the apostles know it, so do their closest disciples and confidantes, whom they taught and formed (with God's grace) into fitting vessels for continuing the evangelization of the world.

But one thing this precludes is that 40 years later, no apostle can come out with brand new stories about Jesus that had never been broached before, and not have the Christians say "what the heck, we never heard anything like that before..."

There can be no October Surprises in the last Gospel.

John's Gospel was received by the Christians (and, in particular, by those left in charge as the Apostles were killed off) as a gospel only because it conformed to the spoken word they had already received. "Faith comes through hearing." St. Paul's warning "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" is pertinent: the written gospels were written after the Word had been preached for decades, and cannot be different from the preached gospel news that the Christians had already received.

There cannot be in the year 95 a new apostolic position about Christ that is not in perfect conformity with what had already been spoken and universally received by Christians. So, for example, if Christ really said the "I am" statements literally as recounted, then the other Christians had heard about at least some of those "I am" claims, if not every one of them. If Christ really did treat John as his "beloved disciple", then the Christians generally knew this about John and it surprised NOBODY when it showed up in the last gospel.

The evidence that after the death of the apostles, the Christians treated the apostolic teachings with great care and attention to detail is very strong. They were especially careful about alterations to the teachings they had received. It makes no sense for them to have this careful attitude after the death of John, and not have it in the period while John was alive but none of the other apostles were.

This is something Richard Bauckham is good on--the role of authorized eyewitness "caretakers" who make sure that the oral telling does not "morph" into fiction.

he carves out an unusual use of the concept and terminology of "bodily" resurrection according to which Pannenberg does believe in the "bodily" resurrection of Jesus, since Jesus' body disappeared from the tomb and in this sense was "raised." (Did the ascension take place instantly, in that case? Perhaps so.)

What in the world is the point?

Do people lack faith so much that they must construct such wild theoretical pictures of what the gospels meant that they cannot, CANNOT, grant that a physical Christ appeared to men? What prevented Christ - if re-constituted of united body and soul once again - that he could not interact with the apostles bodily? What do we possibly gain from a thesis that the tomb was "REALLY EMPTY" but that Christ was not PHYSICALLY PRESENT in "appearing" to the apostles? What do we gain from a God who could predict Christ's resurrection, but was unable to provide physical proof of the resurrected body? What do we gain from a belief that the apostles accurately testified to the empty tomb, but inaccurately described Christ's post-resurrection actions?

If this is what "minimal facts" comes to, is it too shocking to simply say of the minimal facts thesis that it springs from both minimal reason and minimal faith? (Meaning, neither one?) Forget being lukewarm, this is being lukestupid.

(I am reminded of an absurd passage in a book that has aliens, in which a supposedly knowledgeable character asserts that even though the aliens appear to speak English, they actually mean "the opposite". When someone tries to sift through something the aliens say to figure out what its "opposite" might be, he then cautions them not to try, for "only experts can do it - and even they are unable to". Are the gospels designed to be Gnostic writings meant only for the chosen 'adepts', where even the adepts cannot successfully sort out what they actually mean? Maybe God meant "have fun and party" all along, only we were too stupid to get it!)

Lydia,

I can't help but thinking that what would help with this would be more investigation into the reliability of John and also your shaking off some of the skeptical questioning of John that is so rampant in NT scholarly circles.

I'm fine with arguments for reliability, but when you use that word I get the feeling that you're actually thinking something closer to infallibility. How hard would it be to imagine that John got some speeches of Jesus really wrong after the fact, even if he was in general reliable and paid attention to detail and all that? But here's the crux of it - one of the big reasons for skepticism of John is that he seems on the surface to be saying things that are radically different from what the other NT writers are saying. Now, if that's really the case, then so be it and we'll have to bite the bullet on it. That seems to me to be your approach. But I think this actually gives more mileage to the skeptical objection. I also think there are good reasons to question it. In that case, any argument from outside of John for deity actually adds to the credibility of John. If we can show that the rest of the NT taken by itself says the same kinds of things that John says, then a lot of the basis for skeptical objections to John disappears. I don't think you can overcome those objections just by showing that John got a lot of historical details right. He could do that and still be messed up when it comes to a few reported speeches.

I think you are making an erroneous connection here between "only having a single source that makes a particular statement" and "having a cumulative case in which the contribution of a single source is quite important." Those aren't the same.

Well, the question to me is whether John is merely "quite important" or if it is absolutely essential. Your previous comments made it seem like you really don't think a good case for deity can be made without John. I used to think that also, and it bothered me. Now I think the case can be made without John, which actually makes John more believable and not the outlier that most scholars think it is. Evidently I think the case for deity outside of John is much stronger than you think it is. There is more to it than the Danielic son of man and forgiving sins in the Synoptics (although these are both good), and there are also the early creeds in Paul's letters (I'll say more on that below).

One would have to think that, after reflection and deciding that Jesus was really God, the author of John then went out and *made stuff up* about Jesus' teaching to illustrate this understanding.

I don't think that's right. It's conceivable that John did the aforementioned reflection, and then erroneously attributed to Jesus statements which he really thought Jesus said. I've certainly had lots of experiences where I thought somebody said something which they never said, and gotten different things confused. That's why if so much is hanging on John, the historical case seems shaky to me.

Basically, I think you should throw out the entire way of thinking that says that you're looking for things in "earlier parts of the tradition."

When I talked about earlier parts of the tradition, I was mainly thinking of the early creeds that are embedded in Paul's letters. I think those are actually really strong pieces of data, so I think we should use them. Of course I'm also thinking of the dominant source theory of the Gospels, but I think we also have evidence there to support the orthodox view (e.g. Johannine thunderbolt). The entire skeptical assumption for the last century at least is that the earliest layers of the New Testament do not have all of the stuff about Jesus being God, doing miracles, rising from the dead, and all of that. But I think the scholarship shows that's not true - the earliest layers include all of that. There is no tradition that lacks them, because they were present from the very beginning. I think we should make more of that, not less. The problem is when people start to talk as if there is evidence that the tradition became more legendary as time progressed, but there is no evidence for that. I gather that's sort of the direction that Licona is going. I don't think the problem is with the commitment to minimal facts. I think it's that he actually throws out the first criterion for minimal facts when he goes off on these speculative theories, namely that there must be multiple lines of good evidence to support a given fact. Either that or he assumes that not having multiple lines of good evidence for a given fact is evidence against it, which is also wrong.

How hard would it be to imagine that John got some speeches of Jesus really wrong after the fact, even if he was in general reliable and paid attention to detail and all that?
I don't think that's right. It's conceivable that John did the aforementioned reflection, and then erroneously attributed to Jesus statements which he really thought Jesus said. I've certainly had lots of experiences where I thought somebody said something which they never said, and gotten different things confused.

Okay, now it's my turn to say, "What???!"

Think about this: Jesus' statement, "Before Abraham was, I am" is embedded in an entire dialogue with the Jewish people. And after it, they take up stones to stone him. The same is true of, "I and the Father are one." In the latter case, the dialogue even continues after they are about to stone him, with typically cool-headed and witty "trolling" (if I can use such a term for Jesus) from Jesus to the people who are about to stone him. In the case of "Before Abraham was, I am," the specific saying *about Abraham* is entangled with the specific direction that the dialogue has been going up until that point. They say they're children of Abraham. Jesus says that their father Abraham rejoiced to see his day. They scoff and ask him whether he's met Abraham. And then he drops the bombshell.

There is simply no. way. in. the. world that you write a scene like that, a whole scene, mind you, but it *didn't happen*, just because you have a problem with memory or something. *Somebody* would have to make up those scenes. If they didn't happen in recognizable form, then someone invented them. Those are your two options. Not just some kind of little slip. If these didn't happen, then either John made them up out of whole cloth or he erroneously accepted them from some other chain of custody where someone else made them up out of whole cloth.

If you've had "lots of experiences" in which you memory-hallucinate entire scenes like that, in that kind of detail, with detailed, interlocking dialogue, in which people make bombshell statements about themselves, and those whole scenes never happened, you need to see a doctor.

I'm sorry to have to be blunt, but that kind of talk is just facile. These would not be little slips.

Of course I'm also thinking of the dominant source theory of the Gospels,

about which we should be much less credulous.



But I think the scholarship shows that's not true - the earliest layers include all of that.

I certainly agree that the disciples were teaching that Jesus was God from early on, but we shouldn't be so quick to assume that the "dominant" scholarship about the gospels is good at detecting "earlier layers."


But here's the crux of it - one of the big reasons for skepticism of John is that he seems on the surface to be saying things that are radically different from what the other NT writers are saying. Now, if that's really the case, then so be it and we'll have to bite the bullet on it. That seems to me to be your approach.

No, I already answered that. I affirmed again and again that there is no contradiction among them and that they are mutually confirmatory. You are, once again, confusing the greater *explicitness* of the statements recorded in John (which I'm emphasizing) for "saying things that are radically different from what the other NT writers are saying, for some sort of *tension* between John and the synoptics, which I've expressly *denied*.

Look, John, you're just succumbing to a version of the argument from silence here. If I affirm that the statements of Jesus recorded in John are more explicit claims to deity than those sayings of his recorded elsewhere (which seems to me undeniable), then this is supposed to mean that I'm giving a "handle" to the skeptics by agreeing with them that there is a "radical difference" between John and the synoptics. But that's just far, far wrong. The liberals and skeptics do not understand how partial recording works. They don't understand how real history works and real eyewitness testimony (natural variations, saliency, etc.). They don't understand how bad arguments from silence are. They create tensions and "radical differences" out of what are actually *mutually confirmatory differences*, and their approach needs to be rejected wholesale. It is simply a *false dilemma* to say that *either* the arguments from John are inessential "gravy" or else that John is "saying something radically different from" the synoptics. I'm kind of surprised that you can't see that. Saying that something isn't gravy on an argument is not *at all* the same thing as saying that his account is somehow *disconfirmed* by the other accounts and by what they say and do not say. Probabilistically those are utterly different. We can see this in witness testimony. I could construct you illustrative examples. I'm sure you can construct such illustrative examples yourself.

Of course I'm also thinking of the dominant source theory of the Gospels,
about which we should be much less credulous.

That's kind of what I was thinking. If the apostles spent ANY decent amount of time together after Pentecost, they undoubtedly listened to each other talking to new converts and hearing each other's stories, and they undoubtedly borrowed material from each other regularly. The original "dominant source" would have been ACTUALLY BEING THERE when the events happened, and then actually being present later during mutual discussions. A later, written "dominant source" seems, if not entirely superfluous, at least not at all necessary.

I find the theorists who think they can actually write out the Q source as if they can now piece it together as utterly laughable. Actually, ridicule is too good for these theories, since they run in the same line as the modern philosophies that are impossible to satirize because they have already gone round the bend too far.

I still remember reading that original post, Lydia, and being so impressed by your argument and at the same time shocked at how easily the minimal facts argument is swallowed by most apologists.

Having said that, I don't think the 'minimal facts argument'is a single argument. For sure, the mainstream argument from Habermas and Licona is quite weak. Craig's is a little stronger in that he uses more data than the previous two. But not my much.

I think that an apologist absolutely needs the strongest possible 'original' approach possible. By original, I mean that approach where you start with natural theology, philosophical anthropology etc. Otherwise the minimal facts is just too weak. To be honest, unless you agree that the probability of the existence of God is basically 1 (say that PSR is incoherent to deny or whatever) and that we can't explain elements of humanity without something like the soul (where an appeal to God acting in the world for humans in particular) as a background knowledge for the resurrection, you are on the money that it's far from clear we can be justified in believing in Christ's resurrection.

Even given the strongest possible 'classical' approach. It's still a little up in the air. You would need some reason to think that God would establish a religion, not just that he has a special interest in humans (assuming creation of the soul). I'm not sure any strong arguments really exist for that.

If the strongest possible background knowledge for the plausibility of Jesus' resurrection doesn't produce a conclusive case for the resurrection given the minimal facts, it really reflects the weakness of the minimal facts approach.

Craig's is a little stronger in that he uses more data than the previous two.

I used to have a vague idea to that effect myself until I read the post I'm discussing in the main post. At a minimum (pun intended) he absolutely needs to change all of this "conceding for the sake of the argument" that the gospels are unreliable to what Tom Gilson suggested above--bracketing for the moment. Which is quite different. For one thing (sorry if this is a repeat) mere bracketing can involve implying that the skeptic *himself* should evaluate the evidence he *already* has differently as far as Gospel contradictions, etc. But that you just aren't going to argue about that at the moment, because you're making another argument.

Even so, about the only minimal fact that I've found that Dr. Craig seems to want to include that is "extra" as compared with the Habermas/Licona version is the empty tomb. And I don't think he has the grounds to do it given all that he says he's conceding. I think way too much of this is based upon Pannenberg's really bizarre conglomerate of beliefs, which Craig assumes is some kind of rational probability distribution and, moreover, a desirable one that he'd like to reproduce in others.

Concerning early vs. late Gospel traditions, here's a thought:

If we are thinking in terms of a person's closeness to the facts rather than date of writing, then, by the arguments for traditional authorship, John would rate higher than Mark since he was a disciple and Mark was getting the info. second hand.

That is of course not to say that Mark is unreliable at all. It's just to say that we need a rather seismic shift in our way of thinking of these things from year-counting with assumptions of "theological development" and increasing reliability to, instead, counting the human links in the chain between the events and the document.

In my work on undesigned coincidences I found that John's unique material has the most. The order of number of UCs confirming unique material is almost the *reverse* of the probable chronological order of the gospels. (It would be the exact reverse if one accepted Matthean priority in order.) John, Luke, Mark, Matthew.

The more new stuff John tells us, the more opportunity he gives us to confirm him.

"There's an interesting link here between human credulity and a "critical" view of the Gospels. It's a well-established finding of cognitive science that we are all prone to expect more uniformity than the processes producing a pattern are likely to give. We expect a "smoother" distribution of heads and tails than one is likely to get by flipping a fair coin. We expect the ravages of time to preserve roughly equal numbers of what were originally roughly equinumerous types of documents. We expect writers of memoirs of the same period independently to recall and report much the same events."

That is a very very interesting point.

I didn't see your comments for some reason Lydia.

"Even so, about the only minimal fact that I've found that Dr. Craig seems to want to include that is "extra" as compared with the Habermas/Licona version is the empty tomb. And I don't think he has the grounds to do it given all that he says he's conceding"

Right, he doesn't justify the empty tomb using the methods of Habermas and Licona. You are certainly right that Craig doesn't stick to criteria of differing to majority position. He seems to lean on the "criteriological" method of bracketing each event/passage to see if it can be justified. Not exactly the method I would choose! But still, not as bare bones as the previous 2.

In fact, in his book debate with Luderman he argues that the NT authors differentiate between an appearance of Jesus and a vision.

I'll quote the whole passage;

"The New Testament consistently differentiates between a vision of Christ and a resurrection appearance of Christ. As Goulder notes, Paul was familiar with "visions and revelations of the Lord" (2 Cor 12:1) (p. 94). Yet Paul, like the rest of the New Testament, did not equate such visions of Christ with resurrection appearances. The appearances were to a limited circle of witnesses at the birth of the Christian movement and soon ceased, Paul's untimely experience being "last of all" (1 Cor 15:8). Yet visions of the exalted Lord continued to be experienced throughout the church. The question then presses: What essential difference exists between a vision of Christ and a resurrection appearance of Christ? The answer of the New Testament seems clear: a resurrection appearance was an extramental event, whereas a vision was merely in the mind of the percipient. To say that some phenomenon was visionary is not to say that it was illusory. Biblical scholars have found it necessary to distinguish guish between what are sometimes called "objective visions" and "subjective jective visions." An objective, or, less misleadingly, veridical vision, is a vision caused by God. A subjective or nonveridical vision is a product of the percipient's imagination. A veridical version involves the seeing of an objective reality without the normal processes of sense perception. A nonveridical vision has no extramental correlate and is therefore hallucinatory.

Now visions of the exalted Christ such as Stephen's (Acts 7:55-56), Paul's (Acts 22:17-21) or John's (Rev 1:10-18) were not regarded as hallucinatory; but neither did they count as resurrection appearances of Christ. Why not? Because appearances of Jesus, in contrast to veridical visions of Jesus, involved an extramental reality that anyone present could experience. Even Paul's experience on the Damascus road, which was semi-visionary in nature, could count as a real appearance because the light and the voice were experienced by Paul's traveling companions (though they were not experienced by them as a revelation tion of Christ). As I say, this seems to be the consistent answer throughout out the New Testament to the question of what the difference was between a vision and an appearance of Jesus. And this answer is thoroughly Jewish in character: the rabbis similarly distinguished between an angelic vision and an angelic appearance based on whether, for example, food seen to be consumed by the angel was actually gone after the appearance had ceased.

Now if this is correct, it is devastating for the claim that the postmortem appearances of Christ were visionary experiences. For then the distinction tinction running throughout the New Testament between a vision of Christ and a resurrection appearance of Christ becomes inexplicable. Years ago I challenged skeptical scholars to provide any plausible explication of this distinction other than the difference between intra and and extramental reality.'that challenge, to my knowledge, has never been taken up. Ludemann admits that most exegetes recognize this distinction, tinction, but since he finds himself at a loss to explain it, he simply has to deny it."

That is hardly minimal facts. Perhaps anything from Paul is considered a "minimal fact" but the appeal to Stephen and Paul in Acts as well as John is hardly going to count as a minimal fact. So when push comes to shove he is quite quick to include more data. Habermas really does see this as a 'second class' argument, coming behind the minimal facts.

What I wish Dr. Craig would do, in that case, would be just to go ahead and argue that the "physicalist" accounts in the Gospels do come from the putative original witnesses. It's the obvious thing to do. They might come from them through one or more intermediaries, as in the case of Luke, who was apparently not a disciple himself. But that the accounts represent *what the disciples claimed to have experienced* is what we should be arguing. We just should not be shy about this. But everybody, I fear, is cowed by the specter of having to take on the whole NT scholarly discipline. And increasingly those concessions that Dr. Craig says he makes "for the sake of the argument" are being embraced by "evangelical" scholars for more than just the sake of the argument--that is, it is being taken that the Gospels really are not harmonizable, that they really do sacrifice historical reliability, that there really are substantial amounts of ahistorical narration, and so forth. This is, in my opinion, an absolute disaster.

On April 7 I will be giving an Apologetics Academy webinar on minimal vs. maximal facts and getting into some of this.

This is one reason why I get a bit frustrated when anyone says that Tim's and my Blackwell argument "bore resemblances" to minimal facts. I mean, all you have to do is read it again and you'll see us *constantly* appealing to the multisensory nature of the original appearance claims, and we are clearly relying on the gospel accounts at that point.

I will admit (that was some years ago) that at the time I didn't realize just how self-limited the minimal facts case was, and perhaps we would have included a footnote expressly distancing ourselves from that self-limitation if we had fully realized it. But the content is very non-minimal in the crucial respects.

It's conceivable that John did the aforementioned reflection, and then erroneously attributed to Jesus statements which he really thought Jesus said. I've certainly had lots of experiences where I thought somebody said something which they never said, and gotten different things confused.

I'm as baffled here as Lydia is. Although ordinary people do often conflate and confuse bits of things they are trying to remember, getting it wrong about whether the elaborate scenes in the fourth Gospel in which the "I am" statements are embedded were actual events at all or were entirely invented would be a wholesale confusion of thought and reality on a scale that really would betoken severe mental illness.

I could understand someone's wondering whether John might honestly have misremembered a detail here or there. We could have a conversation about that. But there is just no reasonable way to disentangle the strands of these narratives into the (hypothetical) invented parts and the (hypothetical) gist or core. The "I am ..." statements, embedded firmly as they are in the narratives, and shocking as they would be to Jewish sensibilities, are not honest mistakes born of long reflection on "He is ..." confessions of the (hypothetical) Johannine community. The narratives stand or fall as units.

What I wish Dr. Craig would do, in that case, would be just to go ahead and argue that the "physicalist" accounts in the Gospels do come from the putative original witnesses. It's the obvious thing to do. They might come from them through one or more intermediaries, as in the case of Luke, who was apparently not a disciple himself. But that the accounts represent *what the disciples claimed to have experienced* is what we should be arguing.

I think he is held back by his methodology, where each passage/event/saying should be justified by one or more criteria. That's also why he should still be considered a minimal facts proponent in my view. Even Licona argues that the apostles thought of the resurrection as a physical, bodily resurrection in order to go against the hallucination theory. Craig goes a few steps further by alluding to the vision/appearance distinction but it is still all quite circumstantial. The minimal facts approach seems to be completely motivated by what can be cleaned from Paul. That is certainly the case with Licona and I would hazard a guess that if Craig couldn't pull support from Paul for his vision/appearance distinction - and had to rely on the gospels and acts - that it would be an argument that was 'second tier' as it seems to be with Habermas.

On April 7 I will be giving an Apologetics Academy webinar on minimal vs. maximal facts and getting into some of this.

Looking forward to that.

This is one reason why I get a bit frustrated when anyone says that Tim's and my Blackwell argument "bore resemblances" to minimal facts. I mean, all you have to do is read it again and you'll see us *constantly* appealing to the multisensory nature of the original appearance claims, and we are clearly relying on the gospel accounts at that point.

If I remember correctly, you explicitly say that you assume the gospels are substantially historically documents. Also, you hardly appeal to the Corinthians creed which should have tipped people off :D

Even Licona argues that the apostles thought of the resurrection as a physical, bodily resurrection in order to go against the hallucination theory.

Right, he does argue for this but tags it as a "second-level fact," because it doesn't have enough scholarly consensus. But if scholarly consensus is so important epistemically, I can't see why second-level facts should have much force to distinguish between/among theories. He also argues for it only very indirectly. Once one realizes that his allusions to the physicality of the appearances in Luke are merely meant to indicate *Luke's concept* and that Licona is strongly holding open the possibility that Luke invented them, this greatly weakens the argument. So this is how they *thought* of it, but what was their *evidence* for thinking of it that way? Maybe not anything like what we have in the Gospel resurrection narratives.

I was under the impression Licona almost completely rests on Paul in arguing that the apostles thought of Jesus' resurrection as bodily. Again, if I'm not mistaken, he argues that whenever Paul talks about a resurrection he is clearly talking bodily and not spiritually. He then moves from this premise to argue that the other apostles taught the same gospel as Paul. The ironic part for me is that Licona was quite explicit on more than a few cases after his resurrection book that he thought the spiritual resurrection theory was untenable. He accepted that this wasn't a unanimous scholarly opinion but said he was prepared to defend it anyway. Well, Mike, why stop there!

But if scholarly consensus is so important epistemically, I can't see why second-level facts should have much force to distinguish between/among theories.

The major weakness for me. Scholarly consensus simply cant be the main player.

Correct, 'most everything is supposed to come back to Paul. Weirdly even the allusions to Luke were meant as indirect ways for arguing about what Paul thought or meant.

Lydia,

If I affirm that the statements of Jesus recorded in John are more explicit claims to deity than those sayings of his recorded elsewhere (which seems to me undeniable), then this is supposed to mean that I'm giving a "handle" to the skeptics by agreeing with them that there is a "radical difference" between John and the synoptics. But that's just far, far wrong.

Well, at one point you said that you weren't sure how far about .5 the case for deity outside of John is. I gather that with John you would consider the probability as very close to 1, so John by itself makes up the difference between barely above .5 and very close to 1 according to your own assessment, isn't that the case? I don't think I'm making any argument from silence about that. Of course, skeptics would likely put the argument for (what they would call alleged) deity outside of John to be much lower than .5, so that is a difference. My point is that I think the case for deity apart from John versus including John are pretty close to the same.

There is simply no. way. in. the. world that you write a scene like that, a whole scene, mind you, but it *didn't happen*, just because you have a problem with memory or something.

I'm not saying I think that John did that, but I do think one could make a plausible explanation for that. I don't really want to do that because I don't think it would be a productive exercise. My point is that given the rest of the NT, John's account is consistent with the picture we have of Jesus from all of our sources.

It is simply a *false dilemma* to say that *either* the arguments from John are inessential "gravy" or else that John is "saying something radically different from" the synoptics. I'm kind of surprised that you can't see that.

I don't think I ever suggested these were the only two options. I said that arguments for deity outside of John actually strengthen John's credibility because it refutes the skeptical belief that John says something radically different than the rest. I also said that your argument could tend to reinforce that skeptical assumption, which I believe is a false one. I feel like you're quibbling a bit over the term "radical difference" or something. I get that you think deity is implicit in the rest of the NT, but only with a barely-over-.5 probability in terms of making a case for it. I don't think that's right, and that still has John as something of an outlier, just maybe not quite as much of one as the skeptics think.

Saying that something isn't gravy on an argument is not *at all* the same thing as saying that his account is somehow *disconfirmed* by the other accounts and by what they say and do not say.

I don't think I said that, but I'm too lazy to read my own comments to see where you got that from.

Tim,

Although ordinary people do often conflate and confuse bits of things they are trying to remember, getting it wrong about whether the elaborate scenes in the fourth Gospel in which the "I am" statements are embedded were actual events at all or were entirely invented would be a wholesale confusion of thought and reality on a scale that really would betoken severe mental illness.

I didn't suggest that there weren't any actual events, just that the statements might not have been accurately remembered and reported. I've had a lot of experiences with people (who didn't appear to have been severely mentally ill) who reconstructed events in a way that bore very little resemblance to what I recalled having actually happened. Again, I'm not saying that this is what John did, I'm just saying that the dichotomy between "either John made it up or it was reliably reported (even if not with the exact words)" seems to me to be a false one. I'm not sure how the point can be proven, so we might have to agree to disagree.

But if the rest of the NT portrays Jesus in a way that is consistent with the picture in John, then as I said John is much more believable. So I hope you understand the point I'm trying to make. I'm not arguing against John, I'm just saying that I can understand why people have more questions about John than the other Gospels.

I said that arguments for deity outside of John actually strengthen John's credibility because it refutes the skeptical belief that John says something radically different than the rest. I also said that your argument could tend to reinforce that skeptical assumption, which I believe is a false one.

My argument would only "tend to reinforce that skeptical assumption" in the mind of someone who was really confused. I would prefer to clear up the confusion than to feel in any way, shape, or form pressured to conclude that John's contribution is mere gravy. Since, as you acknowledge, those aren't the only two options (either John's contribution is mere gravy or John is saying something radically different and hence is disconfirmed by the synoptics), why should this argument move me? It's either *purely* rhetorical, based upon what a confused person might think (where that confused person would be better off altogether if he were un-confused) or else it's an embodiment of the confusion itself!

Since you deny that you are confused in this way yourself, you must be just making a rhetorical statement about how other people might get confused. I would prefer to un-confuse them and move them away from the false dichotomy I have identified.


I don't think that's right, and that still has John as something of an outlier, just maybe not quite as much of one as the skeptics think.

No, not in the relevant sense of "outlier," unless you *are* asserting the false dilemma I keep identifying.

Look, the content of the gospels is what it is. I'm pretty well aware of the various portions of the synoptics that are mutually confirmatory of John here and that support the deity of Jesus. I don't have to *evaluate* the probabilistic *force* of those passages for the doctrinal conclusion at a certain level in order to avoid somehow making John an "outlier" in a sense that actually makes his narrative *disconfirmed* by the synoptics! Why would anyone think or suggest such a thing?


I feel like you're quibbling a bit over the term "radical difference" or something.
\

"Radical difference" is a pretty important phrase, especially when it's being used to argue that John would somehow be factually suspect if this so-called "radical difference" existed, and especially when it's being suggested that something in my argument actually would lead one to think that there is such a "radical difference"!


I'm not saying I think that John did that, but I do think one could make a plausible explanation for that. I don't really want to do that because I don't think it would be a productive exercise.

Well, I have to say that I think it's pretty important forcefully to *deny* that there would be any such plausible account, as Tim has also discussed in this thread. We really need to force people to confront what they are allowing the liberals to get away with insinuating about the Gospels. These would not just be honest mistakes. If we think it's plausible that John totally made stuff up, we should come out and say that. If not, we should oppose it. We should not yield ourselves to the lazy middle ground in which we vaguely suggest some sort of honest mistake for entire, theologically important scenes in a gospel.


My point is that given the rest of the NT, John's account is consistent with the picture we have of Jesus from all of our sources.

There, we are in hearty, hearty agreement!

But that still doesn't make John's contribution to the case mere gravy, probabilistically.

In fact, the effect of seeing that John is consistent with the picture of Jesus elsewhere should be to make us see even more clearly that we can take his narrative at face value as a reliable account of what Jesus said and did. Hence, we should *not* be steeling ourselves to do without it, we should all the more so realize that the *kind of writer he is* and his reliability concerning Jesus means that he has credibility. So the fact that some given discourse is found only in John (take the Bread of Life discourse as another example, or the specific teaching about the Comforter, or "in my Father's house are many mansions," etc.) should not be deemed some kind of serious strike against its historicity. John should be treated as having credibility as an individual source. We don't have to confirm each teaching/discourse in John from the synoptics before we can take it to be prima facie historical, as though John is always suspect until checked on a case-by-case basis. Nor should we feel like we always have to take John to be "gravy" for some doctrine on top of the synoptics or else he is a suspicious "outlier."

So the fact that some given discourse is found only in John (take the Bread of Life discourse as another example, or the specific teaching about the Comforter, or "in my Father's house are many mansions," etc.) should not be deemed some kind of serious strike against its historicity. John should be treated as having credibility as an individual source. We don't have to confirm each teaching/discourse in John from the synoptics before we can take it to be prima facie historical, as though John is always suspect until checked on a case-by-case basis.

Right on about that, Lydia. That 'epistemological' theory of reading John, that you can't accept from John what is DISTINCT to John and not found elsewhere, is just a bad theory. (For one thing, it's bad even as a historical standard.) John as a whole is reliable (and can be shown so), and the Church received his gospel as reliable and valid, which the Church would not have done if there were all sorts of elements that nobody had ever heard before.

Furthermore, what would have been the point to John writing this gospel if what he was doing was re-asserting what the other gospel writers had already said? OF COURSE he was going to say different things. Finding that John said stuff that the other gospels left out is just exactly what we should have expected of him. It doesn't 'count against him', and people shouldn't hold forth like it does.

I'm inclined to think that John deliberately filled in gaps left by the synoptics. "Hey, guys, what about the time when...?" This explains a lot. Such as why we have narrations of the institution of the Eucharist in Matthew, Mark, and Luke but none in John, but John has the (to my mind, very eucharistic) bread of life discourse. And the foot washing on the night of the Last Supper. He was filling out what was otherwise not going to be recorded in a permanent form for posterity.

Lydia,

No, not in the relevant sense of "outlier," unless you *are* asserting the false dilemma I keep identifying.

I don't see any special "sense" of outlier in the dictionary. Something can be more or less of an outlier. I already noted that your view makes John less of an outlier than the skeptics, so I'm not quite sure what your point it. An outlier still requires explanation, whereas if John really isn't an outlier at all (which is my view), then no explanation is needed. But to make that case, you would have to show that the case for deity is just as strong without John as it is with John (or very nearly so). My view is that it is, your view is that it isn't even close. If you've looked at all of the data for deity in the NT outside of John and don't find it compelling, then I guess there's not a lot more to be said on that.

However, then you turn around and act as though it's utterly absurd, silly, and ridiculous that critics give John an extra hard time when even your own comments make John an outlier (again, not as much of one as the skeptics, but still an outlier nonetheless). To repeat myself, outliers require explanation, so even your own view presents a plausible basis for John coming in for extra scrutiny. You can't just call people silly, non-epistemologists for having the lack of sense to think that John could possibly warrant any additional critique because of that. Well, I guess you can, but I don't see that it's going to be very effective.

Also, let's keep in mind that we aren't talking about some take-it-or-leave-it side issue; we're talking about a central doctrine of the Christian faith, on par with the Resurrection. All of our sources are quite clear about the Resurrection. Do you really not see any tension if that's not the case with deity? Wouldn't a reasonable person at the very least be led to believe that deity isn't really that important of a doctrine if a good case can't be made for it without the one Gospel which you yourself see as an outlier on this issue (again, not as much of one as the skeptics)? That's just what a lot of people do think. Maybe your answer to that is that someone would have to be a terribly confused, non-espistemologist to think such a thing. I'm just not sure that would be the best answer.

In fact, the effect of seeing that John is consistent with the picture of Jesus elsewhere should be to make us see even more clearly that we can take his narrative at face value as a reliable account of what Jesus said and did.

Yes, exactly. That's just what I've been saying. But in order to make that case, you have to be able to show that the case for deity outside of John is stronger than what you are making it to be. If you can't make a good argument for deity without John, then you have undercut this statement, imo. But I'm not an epistemologist, so what do I know?

I'm very glad that you and Tim are both doing really excellent work on reliability. I do think you're being way too hard on minimal facts. I recognize that it has some weak spots, but I don't think they're as significant as you make them out to be. I also don't think the differences between your approach and minimal facts are as great as you make them out to be. I guess it seems to me like it would be better to highlight the commonalities rather than wage all-out war on minimal facts. I don't really see that much good can come from that.

I do think you're being way too hard on minimal facts. I recognize that it has some weak spots, but I don't think they're as significant as you make them out to be. I also don't think the differences between your approach and minimal facts are as great as you make them out to be. I guess it seems to me like it would be better to highlight the commonalities rather than wage all-out war on minimal facts. I don't really see that much good can come from that.

When you described using Luke and his association with Paul to rely on his resurrection narratives, that isn't minimal facts. The minimal facts just say there was at least one group appearance without any description. It may appeal to the fact they preached a bodily resurrection or to vision/appearance distinction but that is as far as it goes.

An outlier still requires explanation, whereas if John really isn't an outlier at all (which is my view), then no explanation is needed. But to make that case, you would have to show that the case for deity is just as strong without John as it is with John (or very nearly so).

Why?

Speaking in purely mathematical terms: if the weight of evidence without John stacks up to 90% probability, and with John it stacks up to 98%, then the evidence WITH John must - in toto - be on average stronger than without John.

But this does not mean that "average effect" of the evidence in John alone also must be greater than the average effect of evidence in the other gospels, Acts, and epistles, (as it would have to be say, for mixing a second solution with a first to get a higher percentage of X than the first solution's percentage). For, as Lydia has shown us so well, John can confirm things in the others, and the others can confirm things in John, that without EACH OTHER would remain loose ends and unhelpful. Without John, these mutual confirmations don't add to the probability at all. With John, they add significantly, but they are not simply "found in John", they belong in all of them. Thus, at least with regard to these mutually supportive corroborations, they do not make John an outlier AT ALL. If these mutual corroborations raise the probability from 90% to 95%, but are not simply "evidence in John", then it is indeed possible that the evidence is significantly better with John, without John being an outlier.

Now, there are indeed elements found in John that are not found in the others - as much. But then they have stuff that John doesn't have, either. Obviously, "having stuff the others don't have" can't constitute the essence of "outlier" all by itself. And just as obviously, if John wrote last and intentionally wrote his in order to produce material the others skipped over, then that alone is going to make his a little different in some sense. But again, that should not automatically qualify his as "outlier" in general terms.

It might be the case that one of the specific points John intended to bring out with greater clarity (than what had previously been written made clear) was the divinity of Christ. But if his object was not so much "put forward new events and new facts that nobody has yet known about Christ that show his divinity", but rather "to tie together and make manifest that what has already been talked about establishes the divinity of Christ", it might be the case that John's Gospel is in some sense an outlier compared to the others (which were not written specifically with that object in mind), while NOT necessarily being the case that the specific pieces of evidence John uses are (individually) epistemologically distinct from what is in the other gospels. Could be. (Or, of course, he could use entirely new types of evidence, in addition to doing the rest of what I said.)

Which all goes to say that I don't think it matters very much whether we want to say John is an "outlier" in some narrowly defined sense or not, as long as we don't fall prey to thinking that the evidence in John is somehow "second class evidence" when it isn't. The reality is that John is important to the overall revelation of the truth, not merely in saying that Christ is divine. If the "minimal facts" approach tries to ditch a whole gospel as being unavailable for evidence, then we should avoid accepting the terms of that debate and simply ignore the approach and go on to approaches that put our best foot forward. We DON'T have to accept having one hand tied behind our backs.

Callum,

When you described using Luke and his association with Paul to rely on his resurrection narratives, that isn't minimal facts.

I realize that, and I pointed that out in a subsequent comment. I actually thought it was clear from the outset that I was offering an argument that went beyond minimal facts, but evidently it was only clear in my own mind. So if someone wants to say that we should be willing to use more data than minimal facts allows, I'm okay with that. I think it can make for a more straightforward argument that way, but it also gives you a higher hill to climb. Also, none of this means that I think minimal facts can't do the job all on its own. I don't feel as strongly about sticking with the scholarly consensus requirement, but I think it can make the job easier.

The minimal facts just say there was at least one group appearance without any description.

Along with the conversions of Paul and James, yes.

It may appeal to the fact they preached a bodily resurrection or to vision/appearance distinction but that is as far as it goes.

Yes, and that may be enough, along with the difficulty of explaining the conversions of Paul and James, to refute hallucination. In fact I think it probably does enough to refute subjective hallucination, but still leaves open the question of objective vision. But the fact that a distinction is made between visions and appearances does seem like a good argument against that. Habermas is okay with objective vision from an apologetic standpoint, because it refutes naturalistic explanations. So part of the argument is about what exactly it is that minimal facts is designed to accomplish. Just because it doesn't accomplish everything from start to finish doesn't mean we should just throw it out altogether. If that was the case, we should also throw out the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the moral argument, any kind of design argument, etc. Of course, some would say we should throw these out anyhow, but I think they all have some value.

Tony,

Why?

Why does an outlier require explanation? Because it differs significantly from the rest of the data, which naturally raises the question of why that would be the case. I guess that seems obvious to me.

Speaking in purely mathematical terms: if the weight of evidence without John stacks up to 90% probability, and with John it stacks up to 98%, then the evidence WITH John must - in toto - be on average stronger than without John.

Okay, if you're taking the evidence without John as 90%, then John isn't very much of an outlier at all and your position isn't too far off from mine. I was arguing with Lydia who appeared to put the evidence without John at not much above 50%, which makes John a significant outlier.

Thus, at least with regard to these mutually supportive corroborations, they do not make John an outlier AT ALL. If these mutual corroborations raise the probability from 90% to 95%, but are not simply "evidence in John", then it is indeed possible that the evidence is significantly better with John, without John being an outlier.

I'm only talking about the argument for Jesus' deity. If your argument is that John is reliable in some things that we can corroborate, I'm not sure that's a strong argument for the data concerning deity. Or at least, I don't see that it's an argument that anyone who doesn't already agree with the conclusion would accept.

it might be the case that John's Gospel is in some sense an outlier compared to the others (which were not written specifically with that object in mind), while NOT necessarily being the case that the specific pieces of evidence John uses are (individually) epistemologically distinct from what is in the other gospels.

Okay, I think I agree with you on this point. In fact I think (if I understand correctly), this is the exact point I've been trying to make. But it requires a much stronger case for deity outside of John than barely over .5 (which appeared to be Lydia's position). How much stronger is up for debate of course, but given the importance and centrality of deity to the Christian faith, I really think the argument for deity outside of John would have to be just as strong or very close to it as with John. I think any significant difference between those creates a tension as to why the rest of the NT doesn't give it greater weight if it's so important. Personally, I think the rest of the NT does give it greater weight than is often believed, but it takes more work to tease it out.

Which all goes to say that I don't think it matters very much whether we want to say John is an "outlier" in some narrowly defined sense or not, as long as we don't fall prey to thinking that the evidence in John is somehow "second class evidence" when it isn't.

My whole point has been to say that I don't think John really is an outlier. You did notice that, right? I feel like people are taking me to be arguing for something that I'm not, which is probably my own fault. But I actually do think it matters if we say John is an outlier in regard to the alleged fact that the rest of the NT doesn't give a very strong case for deity while John does (again, this isn't your view, but it seems to be Lydia's). It makes one wonder why that would be the case if deity is really true and if it's really so important. I feel strongly about this because this is sort of the journey I've gone through myself. Even if someone argues that John is reliable, it doesn't resolve this other tension. And I think a lot of people in the church feel that same tension based on some conversations that I have been involved in.

If the "minimal facts" approach tries to ditch a whole gospel as being unavailable for evidence, then we should avoid accepting the terms of that debate and simply ignore the approach and go on to approaches that put our best foot forward. We DON'T have to accept having one hand tied behind our backs.

Well, I think the risk you run with that is that you will end up only preaching to the choir. I guess that's okay, sometimes the choir needs preached to. But I think minimal facts might be more workable for those outside the choir, and that's the group that it is aimed at. Also, you really have to remember that there's a difference between saying "for the sake of this argument we won't use this data" and saying, "this data is no good." Does that make this data "second class"? Well, I think we do need to realize that not everything is the NT is equally well attested. That's just the nature of historical evidence. So unless we're going to become presuppositionalists, we're kind of stuck with that. I don't think we can just try to convince people that it's all of equal weight unless they already accept inspiration. But in that case, there would be no need for an argument.

I guess it seems to me like it would be better to highlight the commonalities rather than wage all-out war on minimal facts. I don't really see that much good can come from that.

Well, re-read my main post. Dr. Craig is advising people to *concede* to the skeptic that the Gospels contain all sorts of discrepancies and contradictions, because he places so much faith on the minimal facts case that he thinks it doesn't matter. This is an appallingly bad strategy, and I sure as heck will wage outright war on the strategy of conceding the unreliability of the gospels. It has made people way, way too open to all sorts of bad theories about the gospels, including Licona's among others. Because hey, it doesn't matter, because we have minimal facts dontcha know, which makes it unnecessary to defend the reliability of the gospels.

And then there is the history/theology split this encourages, envisaged by Dr. Craig's very odd view (in what I posted in the main post) that suddenly the skeptic who is sympathetic to the-resurrection-in-some-sense (not necessarily bodily) is going to have all this respect for the canonical gospels and be open to harmonization. Which frankly, wouldn't be rational after you had conceded all that stuff to him. He would have no more reason to think of the canonical gospels as "the Bible" and to want to base his theology on them, after all those concessions, than the Gospel of Peter. But maybe we're just hoping the Holy Spirit will zap him to respect "the Scriptures" at that point, I dunno.

This is really bad methodology.

Now, as for "outlier." You say,

To repeat myself, outliers require explanation, so even your own view presents a plausible basis for John coming in for extra scrutiny.

I've been trying and trying to get this across: Your concept of an "outlier," that you say I'm endorsing, is a version of the argument from silence. The fact that witness A gives clearer evidence for a fact (say, by telling us that a person we are interested in stated that fact in a particular set of very explicit terms) than witnesses B-D (who don't mention these particular statements by that person) *does not* mean that witness A should "come in for extra scrutiny" as though the mere fact of the greater explicitness or clarity of the statements he attests to *calls into question* the truthfulness of the facts he attests. He is not automatically an outlier in that sense. That's just incorrect. That's just a real confusion based on a really weak argument from silence--namely, that if they are less explicit than he is, then perhaps what he's saying is untrue, or what he is saying is somewhat more dubious. (Relevant here is Tim's comment above about how human beings wrongly expect more uniformity in a variety of processes, including historical documents, than we actually find and hence are susceptible to a misuse of the argument from silence.) The wrong idea here is the implication that their lesser explicitness, their silence on the more explicit statements, is *negatively relevant* to his testimony to a more explicit statement. A witness can be different from others (and in that entirely benign sense an "outlier") in giving evidence that is very significant to the case because of its greater explicitness, while not being an "outlier" in the sense that his evidence is partially *disconfirmed* by the relative silence of the other witnesses (concerning the more explicit statements). Those are the two senses of "outlier" that we should not confuse, if you desire to use the word.

Now, you've given a bit of a further argument as to why you think this should be the case (that given my position John would be an "outlier" in a worrisome sense): Namely, you think this should be the case because, if they don't teach the doctrine as explicitly as John does, clearly enough that John is "gravy," then they must not have thought the doctrine was very important. But we know it *is* important, so we should assert that they *are* teaching it quite sufficiently clearly, or else we would need to be concerned about an argument against the veracity of John from the silence of the synoptics about these statements found in John.

Well, that's a really weird argument for many reasons, not least of which is that it's just a weak argument from silence. Think of it from this angle: The fact is that those discussions and sayings we're talking about *aren't* in the synoptics. I mean, that's just a fact. They aren't there. And on any normal construal, the statements in John do appear more explicit or more nearly explicit than those in the synoptics. Again, that's just a fact of the data. So how would the argument supposedly go from your view of the clarity of the synoptics to the neutralizing of an argument against the veracity of John? Matthew says to himself, "Yeah, I remember that Jesus did say, 'I and the Father are one,' and I know that Jesus' deity is really important, but I'm not going to include that saying *because* I'm going to teach it in a different way by following Mark and including this, that, and the other thing, which is quite good enough. So this important doctrine is going to get taught sufficiently clearly in my gospel, so I don't *need* to include 'I and the Father are one.'" ?? But if the case from the synoptics alone is not really sufficiently clear to give us a really high probability *without* John, then Matthew (or Mark, or Luke, or all three) couldn't have that thought process, because they should have realized that! So supposedly then we have to worry that perhaps Jesus *didn't* say, "I and the Father are one," because if he had, and if Matthew (or the others) had known about it, and if they had realized that what they included wasn't really *all that* clear a teaching of Jesus' deity by itself, they *would* have been sure to include, "I and the Father are one" to bolster the case??

I mean, that's a really, really convoluted argument that can go wrong at multiple points! Yet it seems to me that would have to be the kind of argument one would have to make for your case that "Lydia should stop asserting that the case isn't all *that* strong for Jesus' deity in the synoptics alone without John or else she's casting some degree of epistemic question on the veracity of John."

Just a technical note: There are at least 5 ways of taking an "appearance" of a being such as Christ or an angel before men.

(1) Physically real in every sense, a real human body with real human activity "beneath the skin". As Christ being nailed to the cross was physical in the same sense that any other human being the Romans crucified.

(2) Physically real in some sense but not a real human body. I have seen some claim that when Raphael was with Tobias, if Tobias reached out to touch Raphael, there was a reality there present and passive to the act of touching that allowed Tobias to "feel" a body. Same with seeing that body: light rays reflecting off the "body" as off a normal human body, so EVERYBODY around the angel was seeing the same sort of thing Tobias was seeing, naturally, because there was "a something" there to be sensed. However, there was no human activity underlying the surface - no nerves and blood and so on - so it was physical in some sense but not a human body.

(3) Generating physically real light rays striking the retina, physically real sound waves striking the ear drum, but not emanating from a real body. The angel causes light rays and sound waves to "present" an appearance, but it will only appear so to the specific individual to whom he was sent.

(4) Physically affecting the optic nerves and the auditory nerves AS IF the light rays and sound waves had struck them, but without actually generating those light rays and sound waves. The appearance will only be received by the person being affected by the angel.

(5) Affecting the faculties (especially, the imagination) beyond the level of optic nerve or auditory nerve, so that the person experiences "speech" wholly interiorly, but that experience is wholly driven not by their own interior processes (which would be hallucinatory) but externally by another person. This could happen clearly when a prophet receives a prophecy that he is to repeat to Israel.

I posit that while a person receiving (3) or (4) cannot tell the difference between them, he can tell the difference between those and (5). What he cannot reliably and always do is tell the difference between (5) and the alternative, which is:

(6) a pure hallucination of experiencing (sight or sound, usually, though sometimes other senses) which is wholly manufactured from interior causes alone and without any basis from things that the experiences are "about".

My apologies John, it was clear that you didn't see the use of Luke described as a version of the minimal facts argument. What I did think was that you weren't impressed with the bare bones minimal facts.

I do, however, feel that the minimal facts argument at best stumbles ahead of the hallucination theory and not by much. Just being a theist doesn't seem to give a miracle enough plausibility IMO. I'm a theist but if someone testifies to a miracle which is barely a better theory than a natural one I wouldn't be confident the miracle happened. If a theist doesn't have enough reason to accept the miracle, why would an atheist?

It's also important to distinguish the idea that a given Christian author thinks a doctrine is important from the idea that a given Christian author sees it as a major purpose of the biographical narrative he is writing to be sure to present an extremely strong case, perhaps the strongest case he can, for that doctrine. That could depend on things like whether or not that doctrine was under attack at that time and/or what else he was filling his narrative with. Some authors might emphasize Jesus' doctrinal teachings more than others. Saliency to an author, and what an author chooses to include, isn't something we can determine a priori, not even from the importance of a doctrine. This is another reason why we should be very, very hesitant to use arguments from silence to pit the gospels against one another.

John,

It might help if I explain why the term "outlier" seems so strange to us in this connection. The word has a well-established usage when we are dealing with numerical data generated (so says the null hypothesis) by some underlying mechanism. If I'm counting pips in the clementines I just bought, and my numbers are 0, 0, 2, 0, 1, 1, 1, 13, 1, 0, 0, 0, 2 ... then the 13 is anomalous and leads me to consider the hypothesis that the clementines come from two different batches, most of them from a batch that genetically minimizes the number of pips and the outlier from a batch that does not. The reasoning goes like this: all of the data except the 13 would be well (or well enough) explained by the hypothesis that the fruits are genetically programmed in a way that yields a very low number of pips; but if that mechanism were operative in the case of the remaining orange, 13 pips would be very improbable; therefore, there is pressure to find an alternative hypothesis.

Porting the term from a statistical context over to the description of the memoirs of the life of Jesus requires that we specify, in the absence of numerical data, what it is that we mean. We're trying to use the term analogically. The best I can do for that is to ask a question like this: If the Synoptics give us a broadly accurate picture, as far as they go, of Jesus' life and teaching, would the picture we have in John be extremely improbable?

And the answer that both Lydia and I unhesitatingly give to that question is, "No."

The only way we can see that someone could try to make a rational case for an affirmative answer is to lean heavily on arguments from silence. But we think those arguments are generally dubious in historical work, and this case is not one of the (comparatively rare) exceptions.

We're aware of the obvious objections to our position, but we don't find them persuasive:

* But Jesus and John sound a lot alike, especially in John 3!

Yep. And they both sound like Jesus in Matthew 11. Considering the wide difference in audience between most of Jesus' sayings in John and most of Jesus' sayings in the Synoptics, this argument just doesn't move us.

* But John includes a lot of things the Synoptics leave out!

Meh. It looks like he was trying not to duplicate what had already been written, either in events (hence the high proportion of unique incidents) or in detail (hence the differences in detail even when the events are manifestly the same).

* But John leaves out things the Synoptics include, like exorcisms!

See above.

* But John changes the date of the Temple cleansing, for theological reasons!

No he doesn't. Jesus did it twice.

* Jesus can't have done it twice -- he would have been arrested immediately!

Um, not so fast. Check Matthew 21:46, or Mark 12:12, or Luke 20:19, or Luke 22:2, or John 7:46.

* But John changes the date of the crucifixion, for theological reasons!

No he doesn't. It's on the same day in the Synoptics and in John.

Bottom line: The claim that John is so wildly different from the Synoptics that we would have to view it as a very unlikely production from an eyewitness if the Synoptics give a broadly correct picture of Jesus' life is not going to stand on its own; to make that case, one would need the argument from silence to be strong. And it isn't. Therefore, John is not anomalous in any sense that would give significant traction to an argument against its historicity from the data of the Synoptics.

Tim,

It might help if I explain why the term "outlier" seems so strange to us in this connection. The word has a well-established usage when we are dealing with numerical data generated (so says the null hypothesis) by some underlying mechanism.

The word is used in other contexts as well. The first example that comes to my mind is the high rate of religious belief in the U.S. for industrialized societies. So I don't see that my use of the term is inappropriate. Surely you can understand the point I'm making.

The claim that John is so wildly different from the Synoptics that we would have to view it as a very unlikely production from an eyewitness if the Synoptics give a broadly correct picture of Jesus' life, you'll need the argument from silence to be strong.

You left one category out of your analysis, which is actually the one we've been debating. That is the relative epistemic support given to Jesus' divinity in John vs. the rest of the New Testament. And to this Lydia at least indicated that she thinks John is quite a bit different than the rest of the NT. My point is that I don't think it is that different. But if Lydia is right and it is very different in this one (very crucial) aspect, then that seems to me to require some explanation. The explanation of the skeptics is that John is just full of errors on this. You and I both reject that explanation. But I don't see how that's an argument from silence unless you frame it in an uncharitable way. It's an explanation of why there is ostensibly so much more epistemic support for a central Christian doctrine in John than in the rest of the NT (for which I thought the word outlier was a good shorthand), to the point where you get barely-above-.5 probability for it in the rest of the NT. My point is that I can understand why reasonable people would see a tension in that, as opposed to dismissing them all as silly and confused. As you know by now, my own answer is that the rest of the NT gives enough data to make a strong case for deity even without John. Lydia obviously doesn't agree with that, which is her prerogative. If she thinks you just have to bite the bullet on that, then that's what you'll have to do. I just don't think we should pretend like there is no bullet to bite and the problem is entirely a figment of the imagination of silly people going along with weird scholarly fads, especially since Lydia herself evidently thinks John is quite different in this crucial aspect. I really didn't expect to have to make such a big production out of what seems to me like a fairly straightforward point.

At least we seemed to agree that the more the rest of the NT can be shown to have a high christology, that enhances John's credibility. But Lydia apparently thinks that making an argument for divinity without using John is a really bad idea, and I can't for the life of me agree with that - especially since that would make it virtually impossible to show that the rest of the NT without John DOES evince as high of a christology.

But if Lydia is right and it is very different in this one (very crucial) aspect, then that seems to me to require some explanation. The explanation of the skeptics is that John is just full of errors on this. You and I both reject that explanation. But I don't see how that's an argument from silence unless you frame it in an uncharitable way.

One only thinks it "requires explanation" in a sense that casts any doubt whatsoever upon the factuality of the accounts in John if one accepts some version of a weak argument from silence, as I've spelled out above, pretty carefully and repeatedly. Otherwise, the true "explanation" can be something as simple as, "John, in writing about Jesus' life, knew of and chose to include these statements, and the synoptics didn't, through one of the myriad natural ways in which truthful witnesses make selections among the vast quantity of material they have at their disposal when writing about the life of an important person." End of story. It doesn't "require an explanation" in any other way, and certainly not in any way that casts doubt upon John.


If she thinks you just have to bite the bullet on that, then that's what you'll have to do. I just don't think we should pretend like there is no bullet to bite

That's correct, there is no bullet to bite. And that isn't *pretending* unless one acquiesces in a weak argument from silence to the effect that, if the argument from the synoptics alone were not all that strong, then the synoptics somehow should have included the statements found in John to bolster the case, if the statements were actually made, and that therefore the claim that the argument from the synoptics isn't all that strong constitutes an argument against the historicity of the statements! There are many, many places at which this argument can break down, as do most arguments from silence. I've laid some of these out in other comments--e.g., the assumption that the synoptic authors would have been deliberately trying to make a very strong case for this particular doctrine as one of their high priorities, simply because the doctrine is important, and hence would have included the statements in John if their documents didn't make a strong case without it.

What I've said about the comparatively much stronger case including John does not create any "bullet to bite" without confused assumptions about these matters, and I've tried to argue this carefully.

especially since Lydia herself evidently thinks John is quite different in this crucial aspect. I really didn't expect to have to make such a big production out of what seems to me like a fairly straightforward point.

But I've argued rather carefully, and in detail, that by no means is it a straightforward point and that nothing I have said concedes that John is "quite different" in such a sense as would cast the slightest doubt upon his factuality. (Any more, I'll mention in passing, than the silence of John on Jesus' exorcisms casts doubt upon the synoptics, since they recount many exorcisms performed by Jesus. Silence of one reliable source doesn't cast doubt upon assertions in a different reliable source, even if they are "quite different" just in the sense that one includes much stronger evidence for a given fact than the other includes.)

virtually impossible to show that the rest of the NT without John DOES evince as high of a christology.

Well, no, obviously the Pauline epistles have a very high christology. But arguing for the authority of Paul (and hence of his christology) is actually, indirectly, a good deal easier if the Gospels (including rather importantly John) can be taken to be a reliable record of things Jesus said about his intention to found a church and the role of the Holy Ghost in that church. I mentioned this in an earlier comment.

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, together with its Trinitarian baptismal formula, would presumably have been *very* important to the disciples if Jesus actually said it. Yet it is found only in Matthew. It would be an extremely bad argument to conclude from this that Matthew is in any invidious sense an "outlier" or that we must be able to argue for Trinitarian baptism and the injunction from Jesus to the apostles to "make disciples of all nations" and to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost almost as strongly without Matthew as with him, or else the factuality of the Great Commission as recounted in Matthew is thrown into some doubt, since we would then be considering Matthew to be an "outlier" in terms of the clarity with which the words of Jesus in his gospel teach these things. This whole way of thinking is just incorrect.

It's wonderful to show that a gospel participates in relationships of mutual confirmation with other gospels. That's what undesigned coincidences are all about. But that doesn't need to be done on a doctrine-by-doctrine basis. John is confirmed by more undesigned coincidences relating to its unique material than any other gospel! But the material itself remains unique nonetheless! Mutual confirmation doesn't *at all* need to be a matter of teaching the same things, or teaching things equally strongly.

I could give example after example of items taught either uniquely or especially *strongly* in one Gospel, but that doesn't at all mean that that Gospel deserves "special scrutiny" or to be given an "extra hard time." Nor does it preclude their participating in relationships of mutual confirmation. Here's just one more example: Luke/Acts is vital to our having a high probability for the story of Jesus' ascension. No one tells that story except Luke. It is *indirectly* confirmed in other ways, such as by the phrase "seated at the right hand of God" and so forth. But we would have nowhere near as high a probability for the ascension if we didn't have Luke/Acts. But this doesn't mean that the writings of Luke deserve "special scrutiny" or are in any way questionable or dubious because they are so especially important for our knowledge of this event. At the same time, however, Luke and Acts both participate in huge numbers of undesigned coincidences.

John is much the same. He is especially important for our knowledge of a whole variety of incidents and for the strength of some important doctrines. (Our doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit would be the poorer without the teaching of Jesus in John, to name just one.) But at the same time he clearly portrays the same Jesus as the Jesus portrayed in the other Gospels and participates in many relationships of mutual confirmation.

A gospel can be both crucial for our understanding of certain teachings, events, and doctrines and *at the same time* beautifully confirmed and interlaced with the other Gospels--hence, not strange or suspect in any way. Our understanding of both historical documents and of confirmation theory needs to be nuanced enough to understand that this is possible.

There is another way "outlier" is a problematic term for the gospels: we only have 4 of them. That's not a huge data set on which to identify outliers.

Not only that, but it is patently true that the 3 synoptics clearly were intentionally written with some borrowed material, so it's not even like we have 3 wholly independent data points in the 3 gospels. (well, more precisely, there are 2 gospels that seem to borrow material that appears in a third, but which is more original and which borrower is not definitively known, so that makes (a) one Synoptic gospel that is more original, 2 that are more borrowsome, and a fourth that is more original.) The mere fact that John did NOT borrow the same sorts of material would, in a sense, make his gospel an "outlier" from the ones that did, just on that basis alone, but so what? To be a "not borrower" is not an evidentiary outlier. And to be more like the Synoptic that is NOT a borrower and less like the two Synoptics that were borrowers...is really not much of a "stands out from a crowd" attribute.

I find it worrisome to try to reduce the weight of evidence in favor of Jesus being divine from the rest of the New Testament without John to a number, even an approximate one like "just barely above 50%". I don't think we actually work that way in our heads when we are making evaluations of the persuasiveness of non-definitive arguments, (the sort that are not capable of being mathematical proofs). "More" and "less", certainly. "Very" and "not very"; "strong" and "weak"; "satisfactory" and "not satisfactory"; "convincing" and "implausible" also - these are all ways we might characterize such arguments. But to suggest that "convincing" should convert to a number like 95% and "implausible" to a number like 10% is to assert altogether too much precision. This is ESPECIALLY applicable to arguments that are built up of many, many elemental arguments (each one of which, on its own, stands as "convincing" or "implausible" or whatever for its own special point). And this is just the kind of argument for "Jesus is divine", it is built up of many smaller arguments on individual points.

Hence, one can say something like "the argument from 3 gospels and the rest of the NT without John is 'satisfactory' but not 'overwhelmingly convincing' ", without necessarily thinking this means "just above 50%" or "approximately 60%" or any specific number. Speaking in terms of a number may make it easier to compare one person's to another person's, but then you have to ask "does person 2 MEAN THE SAME THING by 80% that person 1 does?" "Satisfactory" for the thesis is, itself, a very complex position: it is "satisfactory" EVEN TAKING INTO ACCOUNT that you need very, very strong evidence for a claim of divinity? (Which would seem to make it "very strong" as well as "satisfactory".) Or, is it "satisfactory" given that you already accept that Jesus is a prophet? Or, is it "satisfactory" as to what he was claiming independently of whether he was claiming something supportable - or dependently on that?

When you engage in apologetics, 4 times out of 5 you "drop in" to a position that both parties more or less agree upon that already assumes some ground work. Suppose that you ASSUME that 2 of the gospels were written by eye witnesses who were persecuted for their accounts, and 2 by individuals who had direct access to eye witnesses (and also were persecuted for their accounts). That's a very different starting point from the person who has been molded by "Johannine communities" theory. Suppose the starting position is that "Jesus was a great prophet..." Or that "Jesus was a holy teacher". These are vastly different starting points from "we have no reliable evidence there was even a Jesus at all in history" position that you
might have to contend with. (In the latter case, you may have to develop the proper standards of the discipline of "history" itself, which means discussions about the difference between "historically useful evidence" and "mathematical proof", for example, and show how all secular histories rely on LONG CHAINS of probable arguments but still make claims of "X happened because of Y" that are accepted as "reliable".)

Not only that, but it is patently true that the 3 synoptics clearly were intentionally written with some borrowed material, so it's not even like we have 3 wholly independent data points in the 3 gospels.

This is a point I thought of making myself. It's interesting that some of the same scholars who wish to downplay John will react with annoyance and sometimes patronization if a person merely says that three Gospels recount a certain incident, because they will point out that there may have been literary influence among those three Gospels, so they don't necessarily count as three independent positive accounts of that incident. This may or may not be a legitimate response, depending on the specifics. But when it comes to making an argument from silence *against* John, it is treated as no problem to act like we have "three against one" as far as John's *not* including something, as though the three synoptic Gospels were somehow "independently silent" on, say, Jesus' saying, "I and the Father are one." But of course to the extent that Matthew (say) chose to try to include most or all of the material in Mark (though in his own words), that would limit the space he had for other material. So we are allowed to count noses for arguments from silence against the veracity of a gospel, but we aren't allowed simply to count noses for positive arguments for an incident from the gospels, because that would (allegedly) be naive and not recognizing the insights of source criticism and redaction criticism.

Thank you so much for this. I've always felt theologically adrift with Dr. Craig's apologetics, and the minimal facts approach in general. I believed in the Resurrection but I didn't know how this demanded an overhaul of my values and practices. It just seemed to be a fascinating historical fact with little relevance to my own life. So for years I just felt like I had to make a leap of faith, thinking one day something would light up in my head and I'd "mystically" feel epistemically comfortable living as a Christian. Deep down, I needed more evidence, but I thought the minimal facts approach was all I could base my faith on.

Lydia,


What are some popular and/or scholarly works on proper forms of paraphrase for the ancient historians and/or biographers? Or even modern and/or stricter standards? (as Hemer, in part, pointed out). [1]


I was looking at a Turabian writing manual and it talks some about paraphrase. It lays out that the concept of paraphrase entails:

You paraphrase appropriately when you represent an idea in your own words more clearly or pointedly than the source does.[2]

Moreover, it also says that one should include one's own thoughts and not just be a, in a sense, an compiler:

You must balance quotations, paraphrases, and summaries with your own fresh ideas. Do not merely repeat, or worse, download, words and ideas of others and stitch them together with a few sentences of your own. All teachers have ground their teeth over such reports, dismayed by their lack of original thinking. In an advanced project such as a thesis or dissertation, readers reject a patchwork of borrowings out of hand.[3]

Then they give an example:

If you were writing about Jared Diamond’s ideas, you would probably have to use some of his words, such as the importance of an invention. But you wouldn’t put that phrase in quotation marks, because it shows no originality of thought or expression. Two of his phrases, however, are so striking that they do require quotation marks: technology begets more technology and autocatalytic process.[4]


Would this be like what Australian Anglican New Testament scholar Paul Barnett concludes that in John’s gospel, “In any case, John restates Jesus’ words in his own idiosyncratic idiom, as he does in every other part of his gospel. Even so, it is possible to discern the words of Jesus behind John’s version of them."[5]

Thank you


Source:


[1]Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, ed. Conrad H. Gempf (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 94.

[2]Turabian, Kate L.. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Eighth Edition: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) (Kindle Locations 2649-2653). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Paul Barnett, Finding the Historical Christ, vol. 3, After Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 168.

Jonathan, paraphrase in a Turabian context has to do with trying *not* to plagiarize. One is in that case *attempting* to use a source but being scrupulous about writing in one's own words *rather than* giving the source's words, because one is not using direct quotation. In a context of ostensibly quoting a person's words, obviously that is not a problem! Indeed, exact quotation would obviously not be wrong in that case if it were given. Hence, that's quite irrelevant.

As far as what Paul Barnett says, I always find it useful in such cases to ask for examples. What does he mean by discerning Jesus' words behind John's version?

I will say this: The incidents in John surrounding the saying, "I and the Father are one" and "Before Abraham was, I am" are detailed and involve both dialogue and action. If those incidents did not recognizably occur but *instead* only the incidents recounted in the synoptics, then that isn't remotely like paraphrase. After all, those incidents simply don't happen in the synoptics! There is no incident in which Jesus applies Yahweh's "I am" self-designation to himself and is then almost stoned by the Jews, for example. There is no dialogue about Abraham, about Jesus' age, about whether or not Jesus has seen Abraham, and so forth. There is no Good Shepherd discourse, culminating with a statement that Jesus is one with the Father, followed by another attempted stoning. The incidents just aren't there, period. It would be completely deceptive, and is completely deceptive, on *any* definition, to say that those whole incidents are "paraphrases" of the *entirely different incidents* recounted in the synoptics where Jesus forgives sins, walks on the water, and calms the sea.

If someone either wants to represent (as the view of "many scholars") or wants to adopt that view, he should have the honesty to call it something else. Call it "theologically informed invention." Call it "theological embellishment of the Jesus tradition." Something like that. I don't demand that it be called "lying"! But let's at least not pretend that this is just, y'know, altering the *precise words* somewhat. Inventing whole incidents is *not that*.

What are some popular and/or scholarly works on proper forms of paraphrase for the ancient historians and/or biographers?

It's very important that we distinguish *description* of what a scholar is attributing to a Gospel author from *evaluation*. When using the word "paraphrase" to describe something, we're using our own English word and speaking to fellow English speakers. If a scholar wants to say that making up an entire incident or saying that never occurred, using theologically informed imagination based on *other* historical incidents, was permitted by ancient historical standards, he can try to make that argument. (I don't think any such argument succeeds, of course.) But he shouldn't use the word "paraphrase" for such a thing, *no matter what*, because in doing so he is speaking to his own contemporaries who understand certain limits to the whole concept designated by the word "paraphrase," where that is a word in our own shared language. Hence, he will create confusion by using that word, because what he really has in mind falls well outside of any limits of such a term in the shared language with his audience. He should use some other, clearer phrase such as I have suggested ("theologically informed invention," for example) for purposes of *description* and then argue separately that, in his opinion, this should be *evaluated* as legitimate because it was A-okay by the standards of the time, etc., etc.

A scholar should not try to smuggle the, "It's no big deal, folks" *evaluation* in at the *description* step by using an English word that simply doesn't mean what he is actually talking about. That's just confusing and, if done willfully, deceptive. He should be willing to describe in clear English words what he is talking about and then make an argument that "It's no big deal, folks."

Thank you for the answer.

I understand that, in part, the Turabian manual was talking about no plagiarizing. However, it was giving some boundaries for proper paraphrase as well. Anyway, it was just an example of some modern conventions.

However, maybe I was not clear, in part, about what I was asking for. I said (with some nuance)

From your point of view, what are some popular and/or scholarly works on proper forms of paraphrase for the ancient historians and/or biographers? Or even modern and/or stricter standards?

I am asking for recommendations for scholarly and/or academic works on what would be considered proper paraphrase for the NT gospel writers? I am willing to pay to order some if need be.

I have Hemer Acts commentary that you have cited.

Can we look a text like 2 Maccabees 2:30-32 as to how the Jews wrote history? It says:

It is the duty of the original historian to occupy the ground, to discuss matters from every side, and to take trouble with details, 31 but the one who recasts the narrative should be allowed to strive for brevity of expression and to forego exhaustive treatment. 32 At this point therefore let us begin our narrative, without adding any more to what has already been said; for it would be foolish to lengthen the preface while cutting short the history itself. [1]

Thank you

Sources:

[1]The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 2 Mac 2:30–32.

I don't know of scholarly works that are addressed to such a specific question, though I do know of some claims that works *are* addressed to that question, when in fact they are not.

Let me explain that: You will sometimes see it said that the writing exercises like those of Theon are addressed to proper changing of stories in history and how much alteration is allowed (let's just drop the word "paraphrase" for the time being--I think it just confuses things) within history. I think that's incorrect. Theon is suggesting writing exercises. He isn't giving standards for historical accuracy. In fact, he uses openly non-historical works such as those of Homer as examples.

You will sometimes see it said that various ancient standards for speech writing in generally historical works are applicable *in general* to the changing of dialogue. This is not at all clear. We must distinguish "speeches" from "speech." There were ancient authors who thought it was okay to compose speeches for historical characters based on various considerations (what the person perhaps would have said, or what sounded good, or even what fit the author's agenda), but even in those writers it isn't clear that this would have carried over to short dialogue or sayings. Moreover, there were other ancient authors who *disagreed* with making up speeches (Polybius being one of them) and spoke out against it strongly, so there was no *general* agreement that it was just okay to make up speeches, throughout the ancient world, end of story. There were varying standards, and you can't tell what standard a writer would hold himself to just by knowing that he was "one of those ancient guys" or that he was "writing biography."

On general standards of historical accuracy, you might find useful the many quotations from ancient historiographers that Darrell Bock gives in a paper he presented at the ETS conference in the fall of 2016. It is available for download for some small sum--I think $4 or $8. Just the quotations themselves are a good compendium to have. It's interesting to see the emphasis upon literal historical truth--contra the impression one might often be given.

I would also add that the sheer interest in the ancient fathers in harmonization--Augustine, Africanus, Chrysostom--flies directly in the face of the picture of ancient people as having a high tolerance for fictional invention, thinking nothing of it, or being more concerned with "higher truth" than with literal truth. On the contrary, those trying to harmonize the texts obviously took them to be literally historical.

I don't think the Maccabees text tells us much about your highly specific question concerning paraphrase of the words of a speaker, since it seems to be talking far more broadly about summarizing events. That wouldn't at all convey a license to "put words in the mouth" of a speaker.

It is interesting to note that the more radical claims of licensed so-called "paraphrase" (which should not be called such--see my comment above) would actually involve writing *more* words rather than writing *fewer* words. Or writing an entire discourse or dialogue of words that were never uttered in any recognizable form. Hardly a recipe for brevity.

Ahh, yes. I have the recording. It is not very good sound quality, but I will try and listen to it again.

I think I know what you are talking about for Augustine, in part, found below.

Augustine of Hippo, “The Harmony of the Gospels,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 118–119.

But are there specific (citations) examples from Africanus and Chrysostom that I should consider? I have many of the writings of the church fathers on Logos, so I likely can look them up.

I also have some of Calvin and Luther's dealings with harmonization. Moreover, Charles Hodge's comments on 1st Cor 10:8 concerning the citation from Numbers.

Thank you for your time.

Well, again, not on the limits of paraphrase, that specifically, but on general truthfulness and the extreme importance of literal truth. Consider the quotation from Africanus in this post, for example. (You can search for "Africanus" on the page to get to it quickly.)

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2018/01/let_ancient_people_speak_for_t.html

Or consider the implications of the quotation from Papias about the "living and surviving voice" of an eyewitness. (Richard Bauckham quotes this one repeatedly.) It shows how important it was to get as close as possible to someone who had known the actual facts. I think this shows that people like Burridge are just completely wrong when they imply that the ancients didn't care about boring old facts and were more interested in some "Higher Truth."

Ah, yes, thank you, I found Africanus. I saw what you quoted. A little bit later, he also says of the generalogies:

And hence it is that both these accounts are true, and come down to Joseph, with considerable intricacy indeed, but yet quite accurately.[1]

So he notices the differences by stating that the geneaologies have "considerable intricacy" (if the translation is accurate?), but, yet, "quite accurately."

Then he says:

But in order that what I have said may be made evident, I shall explain the interchange of the generations.[2]

Then he says they wrote down genealogies as accurately as possible (from memory and/or certain records).

And these coming from Nazara and Cochaba, Judean villages, to other parts of the country, set forth the above-named genealogy as *accurately as possible* from the Book of Days. [3]


Then he seems to end his case for his particular explanation like this:

Whether, then, the case stand thus or not, no one could discover a more obvious explanation, according to my own opinion and that of any sound judge. And let this suffice us for the matter, although it is not supported by testimony, because we have nothing more satisfactory or true to allege upon it. The Gospel, however, in any case states the truth. [4]

I have not pondered enough on his particular explanation, but he seems to be struggling with it some, but yet comes to a conclusion that it is true if taken in a certain way.

Am I off here?


[1]Julius Africanus, “The Epistle to Aristides,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius the Great, Julius Africanus, Anatolius and Minor Writers, Methodius, Arnobius, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 6, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 126.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 127.

[4] Ibid, 127

I'm not sure what you're getting at there or if your point is that maybe Africanus is saying the genealogies are accurate even if they are getting something wrong, but that *isn't* what he's saying. Please note that his entire point is forcefully to oppose those who say that it would be all right for the gospel authors to have invented genealogies that are not really about the biological ancestry of Jesus, in order to make a theological point.

Nor does one have to endorse Africanus's particular harmonization to take in the meta-point--that literal, factual accuracy is being treated as extremely important.

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