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Going Chreia-zy

I've written at length about the problems with "literary device" theories concerning the gospels, theories stating that the gospel authors had a broad license to alter and expand Jesus' words, change facts surrounding incidents, and even invent whole incidents and sayings.

I have not previously addressed one strand of this type of theory that uses the Greek term chreia, a term that simply refers to an anecdote about an important person, to justify such a broad license on the part of the evangelists.

One proponent of this use of the term chreia is Canadian New Testament scholar Craig A. Evans. On April 10, Dr. Evans and I had a debate/dialogue on the British Unbelievable radio show on the historical reliability of John's Gospel and its portrait of Jesus. This debate is set to air on May 19, and this post will contribute some background information. I will not here be citing anything specific that Dr. Evans said in our discussion on Unbelievable but only what he has already said elsewhere about the term chreia, which he was also discussing in our debate.

Evans uses his interpretation of the term chreia to push the idea of a license to invent in the gospels, though when he puts forward this theory he (rather frustratingly) does not give in the immediate context specific examples in the Gospels where he believes this was done, nor does he indicate what limits he would place on such a license. Here is a typical statement from Evans:

One of the first to comment on the Gospels was Papias of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Writing near the beginning of the second century, Papias says the author of the Gospel of Mark compiled chreiai (“useful, instructive anecdotes”) and wasn’t concerned with exact sequence and chronological order. The scholars and lecturers of this period of time instructed their pupils in the chreiai of the great thinkers, teaching them how to edit, contract, or expand the chreiai, and to give them new application, in order to make clear to new audiences the true meaning and significance of the wisdom of the great thinkers. Creative adaptation was expected. Remaining true to the original idea was essential.

This is what the writers of the New Testament Gospels did. Indeed, this is how Jesus taught his disciples when he said, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matt. 13:52). That is, the disciples of Jesus are to pull out new lessons and applications, as well as the old, from the treasure of teaching Jesus has given them. Why should anyone be surprised that the disciples and the evangelists who followed them did what Jesus instructed them to do? Each evangelist presented the life and teaching of Jesus in his own fashion, using creative ways that made it understandable and relevant to different cultures and settings. The numerous differences and discrepancies we see in the Gospels are the result of the writers doing what Jesus taught — and in many ways reflect the standards of history writing current in late antiquity.

This broad statement has unfortunately been accepted uncritically by some evangelical Christians, who have immediately accepted Evans's false implication that anyone who is dubious about a broad license to invent, or about whether that is the source of alleged or apparent discrepancies in the Gospels, is a "fundamentalist" and must think that the Gospels contain only verbatim recordings of Jesus' words like those of a tape recorder.

Ironically, Evans in the short post in which that quotation appears is accusing Bart Ehrman of presenting a false dilemma to Christians, but Evans presents a false dilemma of his own: Either agree with him that the gospel authors had a broad license and even commission to put words in Jesus' mouth or, if disagreeing in any respect with that thesis "from the right," stand accused of "fundamentalism."

Before I move to some examples in which such a license is applied to the Gospels, I want to challenge at bottom the attempt to support such a claim by the use of the Greek word chreia.

Evans's use of Papias to support a literary license to invent in the gospels is quite incorrect--a severe overreading based upon taking a single word out of context.

Here is the relevant quotation from Papias. Evans, by the way, uses a somewhat non-standard translation according to which Mark is the one who wrote using chreiai, whereas the more common translation says that Peter gave his reminiscences in the form of chreiai. This is not the most important way in which Evans's interpretation is wrong, but it is one biasing factor in Evans's use of Papias, so here I give a translation that uses the more common assumption about who was using chreiai. This translation is given by Richard Bauckham:

The Elder used to say: Mark, in his capacity as Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he recalled from memory--though not in an ordered form--of the things either said or done by the Lord. For he [Mark] neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him, but later, as I said, [he heard and accompanied] Peter, who used to give his teachings in the form of chreiai, but had no intention of providing an ordered arrangement of the logia of the Lord. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong when he wrote down some individual items just as he [Peter?] related them from memory. For he made it his one concern not to omit anything he had heard or to falsify anything. (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 203)

The idea that this passage, with its repeated emphasis upon accuracy and truthfulness, indicates that Papias, as one of those ancient folks, thought it perfectly fine for Mark (or Peter, for that matter) to put words into the mouth of Jesus or to alter fact is highly dubious on its face. To try to draw such a conclusion, in tension with the entire thrust of the passage, in light of the single word chreiai, is programmatic reading with a vengeance.

We have other statements by Papias himself that drive home further the distance between Papias and the use that Evans wants to make of him:

For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else's commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders-- [that is] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said, or Philip or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples....For I did not think that information from books would provide me as much as information from a living and surviving voice.(emphasis added) Bauckham, pp. 15-16

Papias's emphasis upon Jesus' own commandments rather than someone else's interpretation of them is strong here, as is his emphasis upon information about Jesus obtained from "the living voice" rather than merely knowing some sort of growing church tradition or understanding of the meaning of what Jesus taught. (See also here the quotation from Julius Africanus with its emphasis upon literal truth.) Why would Papias have cared so much to get as close to testimony about what Jesus himself had said as possible if later interpretations of his statements, put into his mouth, were considered just as good?

And now to the term chreia itself. Though Evans will write and speak as though the word literally carries with it the idea of being permitted and encouraged to change history and to put words into the mouth of a master teacher, this is a large exaggeration of what the historical evidence actually shows. The word itself merely means an instructive, short anecdote or saying, attributed to an important person. That's it.

And that is even if one assumes that that term in Papias is to be transliterated and treated as a rhetorical term, rather than (as older scholars did) saying that Peter taught "according to needs"--that is, as the need arose for his teachings. The term chreiai can just mean "needs," or "uses," which adds another layer of uncertainty to the whole matter. It is true that it is far more widely accepted now to treat Papias as referring to chreiai or anecdotes rather than "needs," but the point of additional uncertainty deserves to be noted.

That Evans and others are over-reading the term chreia as used in the quotation from Papias is not merely my idea. Here is Richard Bauckham on the subject. Bauckham does translate the term as chreiai (meaning anecdotes) in the Papias quotation but does not believe that it has any major ramifications for being allowed or encouraged to engage in rhetorical exercises:

The English term "anecdote" seems the best equivalent, for an anecdote is also a brief story about a particular person, focusing on a particular action or saying or both....Greek education taught people how to use such anecdotes in argumentative rhetoric intended to persuade. Theon prescribed eight exercises for students to do with chreiai, including memorizing chreiai, grammatical exercises, commenting on, confirming and refuting, all with a view to the use of chreiai in speeches aimed at persuading people. In order to relate the deeds and sayings of Jesus in the form of short anecdotes Peter certainly did not need to have had such rhetorical training. We simply do not know how Peter would have used such anecdotes in his preaching, if Papias is correct in implying that he did. In spite of the assumption of the form critics that Gospel traditions functioned in a homiletic context in which their message was applied, Peter may in fact, for all we know, simply have rehearsed the traditions. Certainly, within the Gospel of Mark, the context of the traditions is a narrative, not a speech. The Gospel doubtless aims to persuade, but only in the way that a narrative can do, quite different from the way a speech can. In my view it is therefore a mistake to apply the exercises with chreiai prescribed by the grammarians to analysis of chreiai in the Gospels. There is no reason why Peter could not have given many of the chreiai in Mark their basic forms in his oral rehearsing of the words and deeds of Jesus. (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, pp. 216-217)

So Bauckham is rejecting the application of these pedagogical rhetorical methods to analyzing the gospels and is urging that the term chreia (plural chreiai) in Papias's quotation simply be understood as referring to short anecdotes, not as indicating rhetorical manipulation or expansion as dictated by exercise books.

Here (beginning at minute 24:27) is Evans talking about his ideas of historical license as indicated by pedagogy:

We do have at hand a lot of important information about pedagogy...But more importantly listen up, about the way that a master teacher’s teaching was appropriated by his disciples....The teaching was memorized, but then it was understood and could be adapted and applied. It could be expanded, it could be contracted, the wording could be altered, it could be made to fit new circumstances. It could be linked in chains together and create a discourse. This was not just allowed, it was expected, that’s the way it was taught.

It is true that rhetoric books, such as the Progymnasmata of Theon mentioned by Evans, existed in which schoolboys were taught to make up rhetorical speeches based upon a short story or saying. But evidence is entirely lacking that such rhetorical exercises either constituted a license to invent or change facts in putatively historical works or that rhetorical expansions of fact are characteristic of the gospels.

Even Evans's attempt to connect rhetorical exercises (assuming that that is what he means here by "pedagogy") with the teachings that a disciple gained directly from his own master teacher is dubious, since the interesting or uplifting stories used by 1st-century Greek schoolboys for writing and rhetorical exercises would have been not about "master teachers" whom they heard and knew themselves but rather about people who lived long before.

Beyond this, there is a crucial distinction to be made between a student's showing that he understands his teacher's words by expanding upon them in his own words and applying them to new situations and a student's doing so by putting his own words into his teacher's mouth. Evans has not shown that the latter was encouraged in their disciples by Jesus or (for that matter) other Hellenistic or Jewish teachers of the time.

Indeed, there is plenty of reason to believe that the disciples and evangelists did not consider themselves licensed to do anything of the kind. Consider, for example, the various narrative asides in the gospels where an interpretation is given of what Jesus had said. Three of these in John occur at John 2:18-21 (where the narrator explains that Jesus was speaking of his body when he predicted that he would raise up the Temple after three days), 7:37-39 (where the narrator explains that when Jesus promised living water springing up from within those who came to him, he was referring to the Holy Spirit), and 13:10-11 (where the narrator explains that when Jesus said, "You are clean, but not all," he was referring to Judas Iscariot).

An example in Mark occurs, very interestingly, precisely when it comes to applying Jesus' words to a new situation (the question of kosher diet and Gentile Christians). In Mark 7:19, Jesus says that what comes out of man defiles him rather than what goes into him. The narrator pauses to add, "Thus he declared all foods clean." What the narrator does not do is to put the words, "Thus, all foods are clean" or something similar into the mouth of Jesus, as Evans's notion of "what they were encouraged to do" would lead us to expect.

D.A. Carson's words on John here are relevant to the gospels more generally:

More important, there is quite substantial evidence not only that Jesus spoke cryptically at times, and that his cryptic utterances were not properly understood until after his resurrection/exaltation and his sending of the Paraclete; but also that John faithfully preserved the distinction between what Jesus said that was not understood, and the understanding that finally came to the disciples much later (e.g. John 2:18-22; 7:37-39; 12:16; 16:12f., 25; 21:18- 23; compare Luke 24:6-8, 44-49). It is not at all obvious that John is confused on this matter. One might even argue plausibly that anyone who preserves this distinction so faithfully and explicitly is trying to gain credence for what he is saying; and if he errs in this matter it will be because of an unconscious slip, not by design. D.A. Carson Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (pp. 121-122)

To summarize, Evans's use of the concept and term chreiai is highly implausible because...

1) The term itself simply doesn't carry the weight he wishes to attribute to it. It is not a technical term that automatically means "a license to invent history and put words in the mouth of a teacher." It simply refers to a short anecdote.

2) The rhetorical exercises used in Hellenistic education need not have been recommendations for inventing fictional events or words in an otherwise apparently historical context.

3) Rhetorical exercises using stories of people living long ago are not the same thing as the application of the words of a teacher one has followed.

4) Applying and showing understanding of someone's teaching, and even engaging in one's own authoritative teaching as his follower, do not require putting words in that teacher's mouth.

5) The Gospels show in multiple places a careful distinction between what Jesus actually said and what his disciples understood later.

6) Papias, who is being cited to the contrary, emphasizes accuracy and seems to have been concerned with what Jesus himself said directly, not treating others' teachings as equally authoritative. Therefore he would probably have taken a dim view of a gospel author's pretending that Jesus said what was really someone else's elaboration or application of his teaching.

I should address Evans's extremely strange use of Matthew 13:52.

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Evans presents this verse with an air of definiteness, as though it simply amounts to an instruction on Jesus' part to his disciples to elaborate creatively upon his teaching and present it as if he said those elaborations in the first place. But this is an exercise in eisegesis.

The verse itself is fairly cryptic. Jesus simply does not say exactly what he means by old things and new things. It comes immediately after (vs. 51) he asks his disciples if they have understood his parables, so presumably it has something to do with his teaching. Any interpretation of such a brief, cryptic saying should be held lightly, and using it to support a license to put words in Jesus' mouth is irresponsible exegesis.

What might the "new things" in the verse mean? Well, for one thing, it might refer to passing on those new teachings of Jesus himself, as historically taught, that were not previously contained or fully understood in Jewish doctrine. Jesus came to reveal the Father, to give new teaching, and to inaugurate a new covenant. Such doctrines as his atoning death and his desire for all men to be saved could certainly constitute "things new." Jesus often emphasized that individuals could have a personal relationship with God the Father, which was not previously well understood. Moreover, if Jesus had in mind the disciples' own further understandings of his teaching, there would (once again) be no endorsement here of their attributing those expansions and interpretations to Jesus' own lips. Nor do we have reason to think that they did so. Indeed, the whole point of apostolic authority was that the apostles were licensed teachers, commissioned by Jesus, in their own right, not that they were supposed to engage in a charade of pretending that Jesus personally said something that was really their own gloss or application to new circumstances.

Finally, I want to give some examples of what is apparently meant by "creative adaptation," "new application," and the like, while remaining "true to the original idea."

Craig Evans himself rarely gives specific examples in the immediate context of his teachings about so-called chreiai. He prefers in those contexts to speak in generalities and to imply that anyone who disagrees with him is an uninformed or rigid fundamentalist.

But here is one application from him that might well be an instance of what he has in mind. Video here.

On a historical level let us suppose we could go back into time with a camera team and audio and video record the historical Jesus and we followed him about throughout his ministry. I would be very surprised if we caught him uttering, “I am this” and “I am that” and one of these big long speeches that we find in John. Okay, so I’m just taking a different tack, but I’m saying the same thing I said before. This aspect of the Gospel of John I would not put in the category of historical. It’s a genre question.

The real question then would be, do these from a theological point of view reflect an accurate theological understanding of Jesus’s person, his accomplishment, what he’s achieved, what he brings to his believers. Is he the light of the world? Is he, y’know, the way, the truth, the life? Is he the bread of life? See? And that’s what Christians can affirm. [snip] So you could say, theologically, these affirmations of who Jesus is in fact do derive from Jesus. Not because he walked around and said them. But because of what he did, what he said, what he did, and because of his resurrection. And so this community that comes together in the aftermath of Easter says, “You know what? This Jesus who said these various things, whose teaching we cling to and interpret and present and adapt and so on, he is for us the way, the truth, the life, the true vine. He is the bread of life,” and so on. And so that gets presented in a very creative, dramatic, and metaphorical way, in what we now call the Gospel of John.

Here Evans is expressly denying that the historical Jesus said, recognizably, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" and other sayings that are usually called "'I am' with predicate" sayings. He says that these "derive from Jesus" but not because he said them! Rather, they present an accurate theological picture of who Jesus was. In fact, however, they were the theological creation of the Christian community.

Since Evans here denies the historicity of Jesus' saying, "I am the bread of life," this calls into question an entire discourse of Jesus (perhaps the only thing that could really be called an "I am discourse") in John 6. If Jesus never claimed that he was the bread of life at all, it is difficult to see how he could have based a relatively lengthy teaching on this statement. Moreover, in the passage, the crowds are offended by this teaching of Jesus. Was that circumstance also invented as part of a chreia elaboration? And if so, what was it an elaboration of? Merely a feeling that Jesus is "to us" the bread of life, that a relationship with him is important? What was the historical teaching on which this large extrapolation was based?

This, then, is a fairly radical application of the idea that the Gospel authors were supposed to remain in some sense true to Jesus' original "meaning" while being encouraged to be "creative." And it is Evans's own statement.

Michael Licona has discussed (attributing it to "many scholars") the idea that Jesus never historically, recognizably said, "I and the Father are one" or "Before Abraham was, I am" but that these are more explicit spellings-out, on the part of John, of Jesus' relatively more implicit historical claims to deity as indicated in the Gospel of Mark. See here and see video here. In his recent debate with Bart Ehrman, Licona goes so far as to say that such invention on the part of John, if it occurred, "came to the same thing" as what is found in Mark. This despite the fact that, as Licona must realize, it would have involved the invention of whole sayings and scenes. He has even attempted to call such invention "paraphrase," though that is a completely incorrect use of the term "paraphrase." Once again, with the emphasis upon the claim that such wholesale (and important) inventions "come to the same thing" or are merely making explicit what is implicit elsewhere, this seems like an attempted application of the idea Evans expresses (which Evans connects with the term chreia) of elaboration while remaining, perhaps only in some rather vague sense, true to the original meaning or idea of the teacher.

Obviously, if this is what is in view, it is rather an important matter, and it behooves us not simply to accept statements such as Evans's generalities without asking what they amount to.

Even shorter inventions, allegedly drawing out the meaning of what Jesus was saying, are important and deserve scrutiny rather than uncritical acceptance. In a 2002 dissertation available here, Greg Alan Camp suggests, expressly using the concept of chreia, that Jesus' quotation of Hosea 6:6, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" in Matthew 9:12 was a fictional elaboration on Matthew's part (p. 155, see esp. note 47).

There is nothing about this quotation by Jesus that contradicts anything in any other Gospel. It makes sense in the context, where Jesus is chiding those who are giving him a hard time about eating with sinners. It's just that it appears in Matthew and not in the other Gospels. Campbell's is a typical redaction-critical move, beginning with the assumption that what is unique to a particular Gospel is in all probability a fictional elaboration. The use of the term chreia merely adds an air of false rigor to this gratuitous fictionalization theory.

Nor would it be necessary to hold that Luke quoted Jesus' words absolutely verbatim merely to assert that Jesus did, in fact, quote (in some words or other, but recognizably) Hosea 6:6 and apply it in this context.

A couple of fictionalizations that would seem to fall quite squarely into Evans's categories are suggested in connection with Jesus' teaching on divorce. NT scholar Robert Stein argues that Jesus never literally said "except for fornication" in Matthew 5:32 but rather made, historically, what would sound like a prohibition on all divorce if the saying occurred without the exception. On Stein's theory, Matthew divined that Jesus really was speaking with deliberate exaggeration and inserted the exception clause into Jesus' words to explain his true meaning:

If we assume that the “exception clause” is a Matthean comment, of what value is this? The value lies in the fact that it reveals how Matthew understood Jesus’ teaching on divorce, i.e., that it was an example of overstatement for effect....Matthew provides with an implication and submeaning of the statement, which he believed Jesus would accept and which is equally authoritative. (Robert Stein, The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction, p. 153, as quoted in “An Apologia for a Broad Use of Ipsissima Vox” by Dan B. Wallace)

But it is by no means obvious that such an interpretation by Matthew would have the same degree of authority as Jesus' own actual statement. I would guess that a great many people in all denominations who have agonized over Jesus' teachings on divorce and what, precisely, this exception clause amounts to, would have taken a different approach (in one direction or other) if they believed that it did not reflect Jesus' own words but rather Matthew's interpretation thereof. Perhaps we would have concluded that there are no exceptions under which divorce is permitted at all, for example. And the Catholic Church would have relied upon this clause at least with (probably) a different emphasis for defending the concept of annulment if they had believed that it did not originate with Jesus. At a minimum, Christians quite rightly want to know which it is, and we should not allow ourselves to be told by modern scholars who wish to impose their own redactive-critical assumptions on the text that the desire to distinguish Jesus' own words from his disciples' glosses is merely a modern hang-up of ours. This is an instance where either what Wallace calls "a broad use of ipsissima vox" or what Evans would call a creative chreia alteration, while allegedly remaining true to original meaning, can have very real practical consequences.

Dan Wallace himself further suggests that when, in Mark 10:12, Jesus makes explicit reference to (and condemns) a woman's divorcing her husband and remarrying, this is not a saying of the historical Jesus but rather a gloss added by Mark to apply Jesus' teachings in a Gentile context. ("A Broad Use of Ipsissima Vox," pp. 11-12) While Wallace himself does not use the term chreia in this context, it fits quite well within Evans's idea that the disciples were encouraged to apply Jesus' words to new situations and that this is what gives rise to variations in the reports of Jesus' own words in the Gospels.

Ironically, Wallace's argument here appears historically uninformed. For he argues that "it is difficult to claim that" the comment on a woman's divorcing her husband "belongs to Jesus' original utterance" on the grounds that "Jesus was speaking to Jewish men, and is addressing in this clause not ethical precept but cultural realities..." and that the right of a woman to divorce her husband was not recognized by Jewish law.

But a famous case in which a woman did go against Jewish law and divorce her husband would have been in the forefront of the minds of both Jesus and his audience. Herodias had divorced her husband in order to marry Herod Antipas, a situation that gave rise to the execution of John the Baptist, as told in Mark's own Gospel, chapter 6. Josephus, writing on this very event, says:

But Herodias, their sister, was married to Herod [Philip], the son of Herod the Great; who was born of Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the High Priest; who had a daughter Salome. After whose birth Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced her self from her husband, while he was alive, and was married to Herod [Antipas], her husband’s brother by the father’s side. He was tetrarch of Galilee.

This is, in fact, an external confirmation of the historical "situatedness" of the Gospel of Mark. Wallace abandons the epistemic value of that external confirmation by jumping to the conclusion that it was a fictional addition, by Mark, to Jesus' words in order to apply those words to a Gentile audience. Of course, if Mark wished to do so he could have inserted a narrative aside, as in the passage already described concerning Jesus' words and whether all food is "clean."

And, once again, Jesus' wording when saying that a woman would also be committing adultery if she divorced her husband and remarried could have been somewhat different from that given in Mark, without Mark's having invented that bit of his teaching on the issue.

These are only a few examples of what it can mean to claim that the authors of the Gospels had a license to put words into Jesus' mouth or even were enjoined to do so by Jesus himself.

We should not uncritically accept such claims merely because they are uttered by scholars, not even when the scholars make use of a Greek word and imply that they have specialized, technical knowledge. Further investigation often shows how flimsy the underlying argument actually is. Nor is it a matter of being a "fundamentalist" to hold that whole sayings, much less discourses, were not placed into the mouth of Jesus by his disciples or by the Gospel authors.

I suggest that we evangelicals have previously been far too hasty in such matters. Eager to find an intellectually defensible via media between what one might view as rigid fundamentalism and the extreme skepticism of Bart Ehrman, and charmed by the idea of accusing Ehrman himself of having a "fundamentalist" understanding of the Bible, one may leap to accept unsupported generalizations like those uttered by Evans, without asking more about either their meaning or their basis.

I suggest that the matters involved are important enough that a different approach is called for.

Comments (64)

Isnt Paul really careful to distinguish between his own teaching and Jesus on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7? Would that be evidence that they were careful with the the sayings of Jesus?

Like that Julius Africanus post - fantastic! More great work. I cannot wait until May 19.

Cameron, yes, that's a good example from Paul, and shows in general terms that this was done.

I suppose I zeroed in on the examples in narrative and by the gospel authors, since they are the specific authors in question.

But yes, the example shows from Paul that we should question this weird idea that "ancient people" wouldn't have cared if an evangelist put his own words in Jesus' mouth, because Jesus encouraged him to do so, or something like that.

These "literary devices", appear to simply be another way of saying the word propaganda. Not just propaganda in the sense of giving out information to help a cause, but giving out false information as if true to promote a specific cause. Calling them "literary devices" in and of itself seems to be an attempt at putting lipstick on a pig.

Finding an ancient author who did in fact use such "literary devices" doesn't show how ancient people in general viewed such devices. Ancient or modern, I don't think anyone has been just fine with such "literary devices" unless they have a low regard for truth.

Ben, I agree, but that is why it's so important for me to answer these various claims that this "was accepted at the time."

I think that, to put it fairly bluntly (now next thing the tone police will show up) we evangelicals, even (maybe esp.) conservatives, are suckers for claims of "understanding the time" in which a document was written.

We're quite rightly wanting to understand the authors properly within their original context, and we're acutely aware that there's a lot of information about things like culture, language, etc., that we could profit from knowing. The very eagerness and enthusiasm of evangelicals for relevant information, because they love the Bible and want to know more about it, makes them unfortunately vulnerable to *false* claims about the "culture of the time."

Everybody who is conscientious is worried not to be anachronistic, and it just sounds so good to say, "We don't want to misunderstand or impose standards that are anachronistic." It sounds like we're getting knowledgeable, we're being careful.

Now, unfortunately, what is happening is several-fold:

1) False claims of this kind are being taught as true, and they don't stand up. So it just doesn't stand up to inquiry to say that there was this *thing* called "chreia," or maybe it was called "midrash," or maybe it was called "wisdom literature," or maybe it was called "a compositional device in Greco-Roman bioi," that made the Gospel authors think they were morally licensed to write Jesus' life up as a partially fictionalized bio-pic.

2) These claims are being partly obscured by confusing language, and people assume the best. They assume that when a phrase like "literary device" is used it must mean something extremely tame or harmless, like perhaps gathering Jesus' sayings by topic or narrating without meaning to indicate a chronology at all. Then, insensibly, the stronger claims to real fictionalization come in riding piggyback on the tamer claims, and too few people both notice and have the courage to stand up and say, "Whoa! That wasn't what I meant to accept! Stop the train. I'm not going there." All the less so if they previously *endorsed* something under that title.

Who wants to look like he was previously naive or didn't dig deeply enough before endorsing a scholar's work? I know of only one person (Tim, my husband) who has gone back and said something to that effect: Essentially, that he previously said things that sounded like they were endorsing "literary devices," but he never meant them to be endorsing *these* kinds of devices. He was not aware at the time of what was really being promoted under these headers, and he now wishes to retract any appearance of endorsement. But not many have the honesty, care, and courage to do that.

3) Too many people are focusing exclusively on the *moral* question and not enough are focusing on the *epistemic* question. So, the *claim* is that, since these were "allowed at the time," they weren't *really* propaganda, so no *moral* wrong was done. Just as a producer who writes a biopic or a novelist who writes an historical novel in our own time is not doing moral wrong. So then the "other side" (if I can use that word) gets all involved instructing all of us allegedly over-reacting rubes who don't understand the moral dynamics of writing historical novels and why that isn't wrong. While meanwhile what isn't getting said enough is that this would be a *big deal* if it were true, because if we only had the equivalent of bio-pics or historical novels for our *only primary sources* for the life of Jesus, there would be a lot less that we could know about him! Therefore, we need to say that it matters, pause, and examine what is really being said and if it can be defended, which takes us back to #1 and #2.

I found Robert Stein's paper from 1979 about divorce

http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/22/22-2/22-2-pp115-121_JETS.pdf

Wow. Wow. Notice on p. 117 the absolutely terrible statement of methodological principle in that article, giving reasons for thinking Jesus didn't utter the exception clause:


The first is that if Matthew did in fact use Mark, then preference should be given to the earliest gospel.

So he's putting this right out there. If something is found in a passage in Mark but not in Matthew, since Mark is *earlier*, we should automatically assume that the additional material in Matthew is ahistorical! That's utterly indefensible. Notice too the argument-from-silence assumption that Matthew and Mark are somehow at odds here and that we have to decide which one to "prefer" instead of just being glad that we have more than one gospel to give us more of what Jesus actually said.

The most accepted conclusion among scholars today is that Mark more accurately reflects the ipsissima verba or actual words of Jesus.

Tacit implication: If Matthew put these very important words in Jesus' mouth, *all* that this amounts to is his not giving us Jesus' "ipsissima verba." Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

Generally the later gospel writers are led by the Spirit to interpret what the earlier writer has written in his gospel,...

How in the world could he know such a thing? Why think that that *ever* happened, where "interpret" means putting words in Jesus' mouth? Why think that the "Spirit" would lead an author to put something in Jesus' mouth rather than to add a narrator's gloss?

No answer to these questions.

It is far more likely therefore that Matthew would have sought to explain what Jesus meant by adding the “exception clause” than that Mark would have made the saying more difficult by omitting it.

Unstated and undefended assumptions: A variation is never just a variation. If the saying really happened and isn't in Mark, this must be because Mark knew about it and made a conscious decision to "make the saying more difficult by omitting it." No concept *whatsoever* of simple memory variation in which one witness remembers a portion of what is said but doesn't remember another portion at the moment he is telling the story.

Again, too, the unstated assumption that Matthew had *no possible means* by which to "explain" what (he thought) Jesus meant other than to *put words in Jesus' mouth*. This despite the fact that Gospel authors do sometimes add narrative asides for explanation.

Does anyone wonder what is wrong with NT studies? This is the kind of thing that is wrong with NT studies.

Does anyone wonder whether we should dismiss an analytic philosopher who dares to question NT scholars? This is the kind of thing that shows why we need analytic philosophers, and other people with a bit of chutzpah and willingness not to be cowed by credentialism, to point out that, argumentatively, the NT studies emperor has no clothes.

Even if there were ancient quasi-history writers who wrote as if they had societal permission to invent whole stories and speeches for their writings, that doesn't mean that they actually had such permission. Even today, when people write their memoirs and insert made-up stuff, they take a lot of flack about it, even if in limited circles some people shrug their shoulders and say "what do you expect, he was doing CYA". It's not accepted in the sense of an approved style, it is disrespected but tolerated to some extent.

Even if there were ancient quasi-historians who really did have social permission to invent whole stories and speeches for their writings, that doesn't mean that the gospel writers did. You would have to establish that the technique carried over with approval to the specific venue of first century writing about Jesus for the churches to be read at mass.

Even if the gospel writers might have had some degree of socio-ecclesiastical permission to invent whole stories and speeches about Christ, that doesn't mean that they actually did so. You would have to establish that they intended to invent such material - and do so without making ASSUMPTIONS about which material is made up and which is not. Otherwise you're being circular.

Even if (for the sake of the argument) we assume the hypothesis that the "Johannine community" quite definitively authorized and approved John to write with creativity, by inventing events, stories, and sayings to explain what they felt the Spirit was revealing to them as morally and theologically valid, then they would have known which such stories had been invented for the sake of moral theses. It would then be necessary to explain how, why, and when the Church LOST that explicit understanding that John had created material out of thin air, for some 1800 years. This is not the sort of thing one misplaces. The whole Johannine community would have known the facts, and then must have lost the facts at some point. But in the early Church, there was a major emphasis on handing down "what we have received" from our older brothers in faith. There is no way they would have lost this important facet of scriptural understanding.

I agree with all three of your points Lydia. The bad arguments seem to be more widespread than just NT studies though. John H. Walton, and his "Lost World" series, some of which you've reviewed at length previously gets into OT studies. I believe William Lane Craig said something to the effect of his functional/material reading to have a "deep incoherence".

I'm glad someone is laying out these issues in a publicly accessible way. It's also nice it is in text format. I'm much better at going through text than anything else. So, thanks Lydia. Also give my thanks to Tim, I watched his lecture last night.

I do find it interesting that the level of rigidity in their readings of various texts puts even the worst of fundamentalist* caricatures to shame. Then they go and say that those who hold to a more traditional, and natural understanding of the text are the "fundamentalists", and "woodenly literal".

I'm contemplating writing a book** about all of this. I feel like I need to do something, but just as I was rejected elsewhere due to my lack of credentials, I'm sure it would happen with this as well.

Disclaimer. I haven't gotten to read the actual books of Micheal Licona, and John H. Walton. I do not own them, and due to certain personal issues a library isn't an option. Back when I checked my local library website to see if they some way to read the works online, I found several of the works I wanted to read weren't even there at the actual library. I have however gone through reviews pro and con. At some point I'd like to go through the arguments more directly.

*I never understood why this word became an epithet. I do see the same thing happening to the word evangelical. I'm already called a fundamentalist regularly, so I might as well stick with it.

**I would not do this until I had done significantly more research than I have done now. I would definitely need to have gone through the books themselves, and their citations.

I take it Lydia's title reflects the Southern pronunciation of crazy :-)

I did get the suggestion "Still Chreia-zy After All These Years," but I decided to wait a few years to use that one as a follow-up. :-)

One of the first to comment on the Gospels was Papias of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Writing near the beginning of the second century, Papias says the author of the Gospel of Mark compiled chreiai (“useful, instructive anecdotes”) and wasn’t concerned with exact sequence and chronological order. The scholars and lecturers of this period of time instructed their pupils in the chreiai of the great thinkers, teaching them how to edit, contract, or expand the chreiai, and to give them new application, in order to make clear to new audiences the true meaning and significance of the wisdom of the great thinkers. Creative adaptation was expected. Remaining true to the original idea was essential.

Here's how I first read this description.

teaching them how to edit,: All story-tellers edit. It's in the nature of telling a story. There are ALWAYS more facts available than are useful for coherence. If you were to describe a meal to the detail of the feel of the fibers of steak under your chewing, and the wavering of the candle flame over time, and ..., you would bore the audience to death and even of they could stay awake they could not grasp any point to it.

contract: well that's just a facet of editing. You cut out unneeded detail.

or expand the chreiai: you expand the story to fit different audiences for different purposes: just as you shorten it for kids whose attention span is short, you add in lots more detail for the 50-year old lawyer-type who will otherwise just pepper you to death with questions anyway. But if "contract" does not mean "create a DIFFERENT story by leaving out essential details", nor does "expand" mean "create a DIFFERENT story by adding things that didn't happen."

and to give them new application,: Well, of course you give the story a new application. That's WHY you are telling this story here in this situation, after you used it only 6 months ago in some other situation: in this current situation it again has relevance, but in a new way. But APPLYING it to a new situation doesn't make it a different story, you might repeat yourself verbatim in telling the story, and still (after finishing the anecdote) identify a distinct 'moral of the story' about it, because after all, the same event can illustrate more than one Truth.

Creative adaptation was expected. Well sure, creatively showing how WHAT HAPPENED, and what Jesus said applies to this new fact situation is 'creative' in a sense - but it stands also as the activity you do when you apply the principle "thou shalt not steal" to robbery, and to burglary, and to confidence gaming, and to fraud, and to... each of these is a new application of the same principle. You don't need to create a new principle to apply the underlying principle (just as it is) to all of these. Similarly, you don't need to create a new event or put words into Jesus' mouth in order to creatively apply what he actually said to a new situation, you exercise your creativity in UNDERSTANDING that what He really did say applies to THIS situation too.

Remaining true to the original idea was essential. But remaining true to the original idea of what Jesus was about - when you are talking about God Himself, who throughout the Old Testament shows that He is able to use ACTUAL, REAL events to foretell the future by types and figures - includes what Jesus actually did say, and cannot include things He did not say as if He would have said X, because the fact that He did not say them shows that He chose to arrange the world so that He would not need to say them, and therefore those words are NOT "true to the original". In God's case, true to the original is what is simply true, and everything else is not. You can't improve on Jesus by putting better words in His mouth.

Now, what I am wondering is this: to what extent does someone like Evans intend the casual Christian listener to hear those words and think what Evans is talking about is a gospel writer who is exercising the normal and necessary activities of editing for purpose when telling TRUE stories? Because if what he meant the listener to "get" was "Matthew cut out stuff that happened, to create a different impression of what happened, made stuff up to create a different story, and created whole events to lay out new concepts and moral principles", then he used very subtle, roundabout, and ambiguous wording to convey that. Is the ambiguity in that specific description of his idea to fool the casual listener into thinking "well there's nothing objectionable in all that"? Or is his ultimate thesis already clear at that point, so that the listener already grasps "edit" means "change", and "expand" means "make stuff up"? Is Evans trying to get his audience to follow him down the slippery slope by making it easier to take the first steps, and full extent of his meaning being to "create events out of whole cloth" to be revealed only later when the listener has already become accustomed to accepting "edit" and "expand" in a less degenerate sense, or is he quite up-front about the matter?

This is perhaps a good argument for classical education: if we had more people whose basic education included reading ancient historians and ancient rhetoric, they might be less inclined to swallow so-called experts claims about these fields (to say nothing of a grounding in formal and informal logic). At our school, we use the ancient chreia in our composition program, mainly to practice types of proof: the main point of the exercise is to explain or demonstrate why the action or deed of the important person is in fact something that should be believed by using various arguments, not by changing the actual content of the saying or action. The kinds of changes are in the order a story is told, its length, or in the grammatical construction (e.g., addressing the speech to the subject in the second person), not in the actual substance. There’s also another exercise known as confirmation/refutation, where students practice demonstrating that a certain story is true or not through various headings (plausible, possible, likely, consistent, etc.), so even granting the influence of those exercises indicates not a disregard for accuracy or truth, but rather the opposite.

Joshua, I don't have that experience with chreia, but I recall school exercises in which we were to do things like generate a fictitious conversation between Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ. My wife teaches writing to high school kids, and some of the exercises include things like creating a 2-person conversation between a British loyalist and an American colonial separatist near the time of the American Revolution. While these exercises entail putting words in someone's mouth, (including famous real-world characters), none of them ever approached to or seemed to justify writing history with such creative methods, or that doing so would be acceptable, or even that we could go around asserting these made-up conversations as if they really took place. Obviously, doing EXERCISES for the purpose of learning grammar, logic, and rhetoric, does not imply "teaching the student to put words in peoples' mouths" when recounting what happened. The student was not patted on the back and commended for making up lies to explain why he hit Johnny and stole Peter's lunch money. People can tell the difference between "this is an exercise" and "this is real life". Students can recognize the distinction between "this teaches how to think well and make the truth clear to others" and "this is how we con others into accepting our positions".

We have ancient examples of "telling a made-up story to convey a 'moral' ", such as Aesop's fables. Just as we can tell the difference between a story in which a fox says "those grapes were sour anyway" and Thucydides account of Pericles, so could the Greeks. That there was such a thing as "telling made-up stories to make a point" does not imply the Greeks and Romans thought it was OK to do so in the context of writing a history - much less the Jews or first-generation Christians. Nobody would imagine it is OK to explain Julius Caesar by making up battles that never took place in order to make him the hero of them, to make the point that he had physical courage. The historian is required to make the point out of the resources actually in the tool bucket, which means out of what actually happened. The principle involved is just as true for Plutarch and the gospel writers as for us: you cannot better explain what actually happened by making up what did not actually happen.

Joshua, you bring up a really good point. I noticed early on that schools mostly teach what to think, rather than how one should think. What I believed was always important, but why I believed it was equally important. More and more people just reject that last part.They seem to think as long as they have the right answers, it doesn't matter what makes those answers right to begin with.

I've noticed that most people tend to fall into one of two camps. Accept anything an expert says regardless of what it is, or reject anything an expert says regardless of what it is. I wish there were more who would evaluate the experts on a case by case basis to see if their arguments hold up.

Because if what he meant the listener to "get" was "Matthew cut out stuff that happened, to create a different impression of what happened, made stuff up to create a different story, and created whole events to lay out new concepts and moral principles", then he used very subtle, roundabout, and ambiguous wording to convey that. Is the ambiguity in that specific description of his idea to fool the casual listener into thinking "well there's nothing objectionable in all that"?

Tony, this is why Evans usually tries to avoid giving specific examples. I believe that it's a combination move. On the one hand, to get people to think, "There's nothing objectionable in all of that" but, at the same time, to *suggest* that this involved putting words in Jesus' mouth and to get them used to allowing this.

A giveaway even in that article is the frequent reference to the alleged impossibility of harmonization. Obviously, if all that was done were non-objectionable editing, this by itself should not create accounts that are impossible to harmonize. Notice, too, that when he talks about the alleged impossibility of harmonizing discrepancies, he relates this somehow to developmental theology:

All scholars of the Bible, including conservative evangelicals, know that there are some textual uncertainties. All, including most conservative scholars, know that oftentimes we cannot harmonize discrepant details. And all know that there was development in theological thinking about Jesus, especially after the resurrection.

What's that all about? Why should "development in theological thinking, especially after the resurrection," have anything to do with the impossibility of harmonizing? Well, it could if this developmental theology resulted in having Jesus say things that he didn't really say.

Evans also says,

The numerous differences and discrepancies we see in the Gospels are the result of the writers doing what Jesus taught — and in many ways reflect the standards of history writing current in late antiquity.

See here as well:

The problem is that, in his popular books, Ehrman is frequently guilty of the logical fallacy of the excluded middle, the idea that there are only two options — either we have every word of the original text or we do not; either we have harmonious accounts of the teaching and activities of Jesus or we don’t.

He has said this in debates as well--that the fact that they showed that they were disciples by digesting and applying Jesus' teaching has resulted in discrepancies. Apparently, discrepancies in reporting Jesus' teaching. He has also insisted that sometimes these discrepancies "are indeed real."

Another way to figure out what he means is to watch what he says about particular texts, as in the quote I gave in the main post where he says outright that "I am the bread of life" and other sayings were not said by Jesus but were based on the reflection of the community (after Jesus' resurrection) on his theological significance.

In his commentary on Matthew, Evans says that Matthew made up the activity of the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in order to cast them in a better light in the scene where she requests that they sit on Jesus' right and left hands.

Also, the way that Evans talks about the concept of "chreia" has a history in NT scholarship, including a book by Mack and Robbins that *assumed* that this meant making stuff up. One sees that in other scholars as well, including one that I gave in the main post. By talking in the confident way that he is talking, Evans is bringing all of that into the picture, without actually committing himself (usually) to particular inventions in the *immediate context* of his sweeping and somewhat intentionally vague suggestions. I do know, however, that he will bring up this chreia idea, as well as the term "paraphrase," and push it when one objects to putting words into Jesus' mouth, without ever saying that he has been misunderstood in that he is *not* suggesting putting words in Jesus' mouth when he uses such concepts. This is clearly what he's getting at.

I don't think NT scholars like David Farnell or the late Robert Thomas would accept most of these literary devices. From their co-edited book "The Jesus Crisis" they call out most of these NT scholars above like Robert Stein, Moises Silva, Stonehouse, Blomberg, etc. The Master's Seminary seems to be more conservative than even Dallas Theological Seminary.

Blomberg himself, in his *own* work, almost never affirms that something was changed deliberately and non-factually. The farthest I've seen him go spontaneous is to imply that maybe the miracle of the coin in the fish's mouth never happened because it would have been theologically unworthy (or something rather silly like that) and because the text doesn't say explicitly that Peter really found the coin in the fish's mouth, so maybe Jesus was being facetious! That article in general wasn't one of Blomberg's better days, that's for sure. In other contexts I've seen him argue things like that perhaps Luke put in the word "tiles" when narrating about the paralyzed man in order to contextualize the story for his readers from another location, but that's extremely tame. (I myself think it's more likely that Luke himself thought of roofing in terms of tiles, not that he was self-consciously changing the way the roof was made!)

Anyway, where Blomberg becomes more problematic is in what I would call his "enablement" of others such as Licona, etc. His review of Licona's book for the Christian Scholars Review was definitely critical in some respects, but it didn't make it clear what-all Licona is saying that is even contrary to Blomberg's *own* approach and positions--only a little bit. In some ways he really had the kid gloves on there. When Blomberg gets into a certain "political" frame of mind and sees himself as opposing the persecuting fundamentalists, then he will make it sound like things are unobjectionable which, in his own work, he actually rejects! He therefore talks at different times in quite different ways about Gundry's Matthew commentary, for example, depending on whether he's calmly evaluating Gundry's work as a scholar or (as in his book _Can We Still Believe the Bible_) telling people how persecuted Gundry was by Geisler and how those who went after Gundry's position in the evangelical world never refuted him. (This is somewhat misleading wording, since Gundry was refuted in scholarly argument by Moo and Carson, who *didn't* want him kicked out of the ETS. There was no need for Geisler to do that work all over again.)

Anyway, all of that to say that I consider Blomberg many orders of magnitude sounder on these issues than Evans, but I'm not sure I'd ask Blomberg himself to take on Evans or to do anything that would appear to side with someone like me against Evans, because he might view it as disloyal to a fellow biblical scholar.

In response to the question of whether Evans is talking about changing the words of Jesus, here's something that I didn't put into the main post. In a (to my mind) rather disappointing podcast of Reasonable Faith, Dr. William Lane Craig and his partner Kevin Harris seem to buy what Evans is saying quite uncritically. Certainly they take him to be talking about something *relatively* tame and would probably have been shocked to think that Evans might apply it as far as the quotation above indicates concerning "I am the light of the world," etc.

But what is interesting is that even they, who obviously think Evans is suggesting something unobjectionable, clearly understand him to be talking about rewording Jesus' own teachings. And Evans encourages this in other contexts (as did Dr. Licona last fall when defending Evans on the "I am" statements) by contrasting Evans's views concerning what they did with Jesus' teachings with "recording him verbatim."

Here is Dr. William Lane Craig's "unpacking" of what Evans is saying in the quotation about what the disciples were allegedly encouraged to do:

Dr. Craig: The claim here is that when you look at Papias, this very, very early church father, he didn’t have a wooden view of the text. He expected that words of Jesus would be paraphrased, that they would show their application to later situations, and it was essential to remain true to the original teaching that was given but it wasn’t expected to be a sort of verbatim tape recording of what was actually said.

Kevin Harris: That is very important because we think of it as that quite often – just a tape recording verbatim.

Now, suppose we put those together: Evans is saying that they were encouraged to *expand* the teaching, alter the wording, and apply it to new contexts, and that this gives rise to "discrepancies" in reporting Jesus' teaching.

Then those among evangelicals who want to accept what he is saying understand him (correctly, I believe) to be referring to doing these things *to the words of Jesus*. (That is, they are correct in understanding that Evans is talking about altering the words of Jesus in order to accomplish these expansions and applications.) What they unfortunately don't stop and ask are the following:

1) How far would Evans suggest we go with this?

and

2) If someone is "giving new applications" *by* deliberately altering and/or expanding the words of Jesus, how can this not be a matter of putting words into Jesus' mouth that he never said at all? And isn't this perhaps a problem?

It is definitely disappointing to see Dr. Craig respond like that to this idea. Especially since he was willing to much more directly critical of John H. Walton in the past.

At this point I'm thinking the whole thing with Norman Geisler has muddied the waters. Anyone opposing Licona, or those who espouse similar views is just ignored, and lumped in with him. I'd bet some would avoid the issue just to avoid being associated with Geisler.

I tried looking over the whole issue of your video, and how Jonathan McLatchie was unfriended by many on facebook for siding with you. Did Jonathan or yourself bring up the topic of inerrancy? Someone I know stated that as the reason for unfriending Jonathan, but I couldn't Jonathan even bringing it up. I didn't see it in your video either. My short term memory isn't the best, so I might have missed something.

I wonder what Lydia or anyone else would say to the Catholic view of the Gospels in Vatican II?

The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus. For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who “themselves from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word” we might know “the truth” concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (see Luke 1:2–4) (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum)

I tried looking over the whole issue of your video, and how Jonathan McLatchie was unfriended by many on facebook for siding with you. Did Jonathan or yourself bring up the topic of inerrancy? Someone I know stated that as the reason for unfriending Jonathan, but I couldn't Jonathan even bringing it up. I didn't see it in your video either. My short term memory isn't the best, so I might have missed something.

Well, this is pretty vague, so I don't even know what they are claiming.

I seem to recall that Jonathan may have said something about what he calls "methodological inerrancy" in which he assumes that a biblical document is inerrant as a working assumption, though this may have been in a different discussion. But why would anyone supporting Dr. Licona unfriend him for that?

I certainly have always, always, always made it clear that my own concerns here are *not* about inerrancy. It's Licona's supporters who keep trying to drag that in, one way or another, implying that that is what this is about.


At this point I'm thinking the whole thing with Norman Geisler has muddied the waters. Anyone opposing Licona, or those who espouse similar views is just ignored, and lumped in with him. I'd bet some would avoid the issue just to avoid being associated with Geisler.

Undeniably, that's part of what is in play.

But not everything can be explained that way. For example, the quotation I just gave and that whole podcast, accepting Evans's views in so positive a way, can't really be explained by "Geisler avoidance syndrome."

I think methodological minimalism is doing a lot of work here to make people vulnerable. Notice that at the end of that podcast I was just quoting (link below) we get *again* the talk about how we shouldn't worry too much about discrepancies in the gospels.

https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/craig-evans-vs.-bart-ehrman/

I would agree with Evans that based upon the texts found in the New Testament, we can historically recover what the Jesus of history believed and taught about himself, specifically that he was the Messiah prophesied of old, and that he was the Son of God in a unique sense that set him apart from other men, and that he was the Son of Man, the divine human figure prophesied by Daniel in the Old Testament. Moreover I would add to that that on the basis of these records we can show that Jesus was crucified, that he was buried in a tomb, that that tomb was found empty on the Sunday morning after his crucifixion, that thereafter individuals and groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead. You can show those even while recognizing and admitting discrepancies in the narratives – the number of angels at the tomb, the names of the women who come to the tomb, the order of the resurrection appearances, the time of day at which the women left to visit the burial site. All of those discrepancies do nothing to undermine these central core historical facts which are well established historically. That is why this all-or-nothing approach is so, I think, misleading. An all-or-nothing approach that is presupposed by skeptic and ultra-conservative Christian alike, which says that Christianity stands or falls with the number of angels at the tomb or the time of day that the women set out to visit the tomb.

This is what I mean by methodological minimalism. The strong impression is that harmonizing, say, the resurrection accounts has no apologetic importance.

Now, don't misunderstand: I am *not* taking the inerrantist position that to be "false in one thing is to be false in all." But I *am* saying that methodological minimalism is wrong.

It's not that Christianity "stands or falls with the number of angels at the tomb" but rather other things. Viz.

--Some alleged discrepancies between the narratives have major apologetic impact. For example, if Jesus never had those early meetings with his male disciples in Jerusalem, b'bye to the Doubting Thomas sequence and to the time when he ate fish with them in Jerusalem and explicitly assured them that he wasn't a ghost!

--If there are real discrepancies and if the *reason* for them is that the authors changed things deliberately, then this impugns their reliability in very important ways, which would not be the case if they made minor, good-faith errors. This distinction is never noted in the rhetoric of methodological minimalism.

--All that "Danielic son of man" talk is (I'm sorry) an attempt to avoid defending the historicity of the Johannine, unique claims to divinity, because they are controversial among liberal scholars, so we want to shy away from defending them. And frankly, I think we need the JOhannine material to have a robust response to unitarianism.

--If there are a *whole lot of* real discrepancies even through good-faith error, and if this begins to look like the gospel authors were writing later and/or were credulous in accepting other people's embellished narratives, then eventually that begins to be a problem. So we shouldn't be so cavalier about not trying to harmonize even relatively minor errors, though we shouldn't be absolutely dogmatic about it either.

All of these nuances are simply lost in the incessant drumbeat of methodological minimalism, and it is that minimalist approach that, I believe, renders evangelicals vulnerable to Evans almost more than anything else.

I guess I can see *some* sort of "Geisler avoidance syndrome" even there, because if one seems to "worry too much" about harmonizing, then one might worry that one would "look like Geisler." But Evans isn't viewed as having been persecuted or anything. He's in a very secure academic position. So it's more of a "fundamentalism avoidance syndrome" which has taken the form of this kind of minimalism, and I think it's just going in the wrong direction--especially in an anti-harmonistic direction and in the direction of dismissing the importance of harmonization, etc.

I see I've been unclear with regards to the issue with McLatchie, Licona, and inerrancy. My apologies.

The original statement by said individual was "I unfriended McLatchie on Facebook after he was one who brought up charges against Mike as well." When someone asked for clarification of what kind of "charges" these were, this was the response. "Everyone’s favorite topic. Inerrancy." At the time, I had only seen McLatchie say anything about it in the paragraph underneath your video on the Answering Muslims website. No mention of inerrancy there either. Something seemed off, but only later did it bug me enough to do some digging.

As you say above it is Licona's supporters who are dragging that into the topic. At least that is what I am finding after trying to dig into the issues. In a sense, I think it is projection. They can't imagine any other reason besides inerrancy to reject Licona's views, so they automatically think anyone objecting to it is doing so based on that. To them there is nothing else it could be.

As you've pointed out, the real issue is reliability. Now, obviously reliability and inerrancy are related. An unreliable text is automatically not a candidate for inerrancy. However, one obviously doesn't need to accept inerrancy to bring up the issue of someone calling into question the reliability of the Gospels.

I've seen some say that they only thing that matters is the resurrection of Christ. What they never seem to realize is this, if the remaining 99.9% of the Bible is unreliable, why should we believe it when it comes to the resurrection? The resurrection doesn't exist in a vacuum. Then again, that is part of what you are trying to say too, isn't it?

I don't think they even realize they are calling into question the reliability of the Gospels. It isn't their intent, so they think it isn't possible. Reminds me of a "debate" I once had with someone. I kept trying to get him to see that his statements of logical necessity led to conclusions he would never agree with. Eventually he just threw logic out the window calling it a "crude tool" for such discussion about God.

Apparently it is very difficult to get people to see that their words don't necessarily line up with their beliefs.

Right, there's a major tendency to redefine terms. The term "reliable" has now been redefined in various circles to mean, "What the gospel authors were doing wasn't morally wrong, and we can get some historical truth out of what they wrote."

Well, I'm sorry, but that isn't the same thing as reliability! I could say the same about an historical novel--that the author didn't do something morally wrong in writing it, and that it's possible to get some historical truth out of it, perhaps by comparing it with some other source. That doesn't mean it's a reliable historical source in and of itself.


What they never seem to realize is this, if the remaining 99.9% of the Bible is unreliable, why should we believe it when it comes to the resurrection? The resurrection doesn't exist in a vacuum. Then again, that is part of what you are trying to say too, isn't it?

Yes, what I'm saying is closely related to that. The evidence in the gospels for the resurrection doesn't exist in a vacuum. For example, if a large amount of material in the gospels is fictionalized, then how do we know what the original evidence was for the resurrection? For example, do we have reason to believe that the disciples claimed to have experienced the kind of *physical* experiences described there? Or could those have been invented, not even what they claimed? And so forth.

And there are highly specific examples of this. For example, suppose that the Gospel of John is, as Craig Evans has said elsewhere, a "horse of a different color" from the synoptics and hence much less historical. What then are we to make of the Doubting Thomas sequence or the story of Jesus meeting with his disciples in John 21.

Licona has repeatedly referred recently to Dale Allison as a scholar who endorses his work and has, in turn, highly praised Allison as a top-notch New Testament scholar. Well, that's not exactly something one would do if one wanted to endorse the strong evidence for the resurrection! Allison is, by his *own account*, highly skeptical (and self-consciously so) of the resurrection accounts in the gospels. He casts doubt on every single one, page after page, account after account. Maybe this was a later apologetic addition. We don't really know if this goes back to the disciples. And so forth. He takes a *very* deconstructive and skeptical approach to the provenance of the resurrection narratives. And what does Licona's approach tell him to the contrary? Basically, that the resurrection narratives are full of irreconcilable discrepancies that may be the result of fabrication and fictionalization by the authors, but that "multiple attestation" is going to come riding in and save the day by giving us some incredibly boiled-down minimal facts that we can rest on.

If that's all you have to offer Dale Allison, no wonder he's skeptical about the bodily resurrection as opposed to (at most) some kind of unspecified resurrection experience! And even that only concluded because of his worldview presuppositions, he says.

Btw, even though inerrancy isn't my issue, it seems to me childish in the extreme to try to treat anyone as a social outcast if that person is concerned about the issue and thinks that these literary device theories are incompatible with any theory of inerrancy worth the name. That's certainly what I would say if I were an inerrantist. It's the reason why someone like John Warwick Montgomery is sympathetic to my concerns, and that's absolutely fine with me. So now are all old-school inerrantists who refuse to accept trendy redefinitions to be pariahs in the evangelical world? Ridiculous.

Agreed.

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the way some people can just compartmentalize parts of their beliefs in the way that seems to be necessary to accept ideas like this.

I think skeptics will just take the literary devices one step further. Use any account of miracles as evidence of as evidence of fictionalization, and thus dismiss the resurrection itself. If a minor difference in wording is enough to show evidence of a "literary or theological motivation", then I don't see why miracle accounts wouldn't be evidence of such either.

That last post was in response to the one you posted before it. I had been working on it for a while. I've been trying to be clearer in my writing online.

Btw, even though inerrancy isn't my issue, it seems to me childish in the extreme to try to treat anyone as a social outcast if that person is concerned about the issue and thinks that these literary device theories are incompatible with any theory of inerrancy worth the name. That's certainly what I would say if I were an inerrantist. It's the reason why someone like John Warwick Montgomery is sympathetic to my concerns, and that's absolutely fine with me. So now are all old-school inerrantists who refuse to accept trendy redefinitions to be pariahs in the evangelical world? Ridiculous.

I didn't quite understand that one button as quote marks. It should be a bit easier for me to respond, and clearer what I'm responding to now.

I can get why Geisler's actions left a sore spot for Licona, and those close to him.

Someone who disagrees with Licona et al, but does so without the bullying tactics should be treated like anyone else with an intellectual disagreement. That's not how McLatchie was treated it seems.

I have no recollection of stating anything publicly about Licona's rejection of inerrancy. If I had stated that, however, so what? He is not an inerrantist. This is simply a matter of fact. Lydia is also not an inerrantist, so to criticize Mike and not Lydia for that would be inconsistent. No, I am much less interested in inerrancy, but rather the substantial reliability of the gospel accounts. If there are any errors in the gospels, these are, as Lydia put it, 'good faith errors'. They are not deliberate fictionalizations. To assert that is to inadvertently undermine the basis of knowing the historicity of Jesus' resurrection.

I should note, to be clear, that if there were good arguments and evidences for Licona's position on fictionalizing literary devices, then we should all get on the bandwagon, regardless of its implications. However, the historiographical arguments submitted for adopting that position are very flimsy (to put it mildly), as Lydia has shown in various blog posts.

Jonathan

Heh, this may just be the Catholic snark in me, but I find it amusing that it seems to be more of a Protestant problem with understanding the Bible, that these "New Testament scholars" (very much "scare" quotes very much intended), intending to "salvage" as it were some sense of validity of the gospels, effectively reduce it to the personal feelings of the individual believer. Sayonara for Sola Scriptura, guys. See, when you have Dale Allison and his types rejecting the reliability of virtually every single detail, passage, or event in the gospel accounts of the Resurrection, and yet still believing in the Resurrection (of sorts, mind you), what you have is a person who insists that what a Christian believes is to be determined ultimately only from his own interior experience of God, and FROM THAT, you cast the Bible as according to your own internal lights. Indeed, such a belief structure applies the very same process to the early Christians, including the gospel writers themselves, who would have wrote what they wrote based solely on what theological apprehensions they came to via interior activity, and then created accounts that explained such interior apprehensions. That is to say, though, that it is NOT what Jesus did in his earthly life that accounts for any of the details of what they (or we) believe, but the reverse: it is what we believe that generates our account of what Jesus "must have meant to convey", and by golly we will MAKE him convey it by putting our words in his mouth and our thoughts into his actions. (And I left off the capital H for "his" because the fictional Jesus created by doing so is a god of our own making, an idol, not deserving of the capital.)

I know that there is a strain of so-called Catholic NT scholarship that buy into the same garbage, but frankly there is, also, a very solid, very sizable (and fully respected) portion of Catholic biblical scholars who utterly reject the entire project of Richard McBrien, Raymond Brown and their party. Such as this:

https://sjbg.me/author/salciresi/

In Catholic circles, it is perfectly possible for a theologian to believe that the gospel writers did not make up stories out of their own heads, did not invent anything they wrote, and still be respected.

I have one more critical comment for Evans, Licona, and their theories about how and why the gospel writers inserted made-up words, details, and whole events into their account of Jesus: Doing so constitutes a pride-filled and condescending approach to the Faith. It says this of their (the gospel writers') whole project: "the way in which I came to believe

in Christ and Christianity is not how I would have you come to believe. For I came to believe not through hearing made-up stories and fictional 'words of wisdom' from a fictionally inspiring persona named Jesus, but through other means, including especially the inspiring preaching and way of life of the apostles. I cannot depend on such methods bringing you to belief also, for it is too weak a reed, I know it is too weak even though it sufficed for me, for I cannot see you lowly creatures perceiving and accepting what I have perceived and accepted. I must supplement all the things that brought me to believe, by adding in fictionalizations of this Jesus persona, so that you too may believe as I believe - but (obviously) you won't then believe on the same basis that I came to believe. So my faith must remain more pure, more fundamental, more direct than yours, since yours will have been molded of baser materials and building blocks than mine. For the Holy Spirit works in me in a special way, to inspire me with Truths that have had no external verification by the actual historically real Jesus, and it is through my faith in these Truths that you too will come to believe them, not through (the real) Jesus.

This is what they are reducing the gospel writers to. In addition to the pride, such a project sets the gospels upside down. For traditional Christianity, the gospels (and all of the NT) are supposed to be an external, objective touchstone to guide and restrain the interior activity of faith. Faith is indeed an interior thing, because it is due to the presence of the living God in the soul, inducing in us a command to the intellect to assent to specific propositions of belief: it is an interior non-propositional source causing assent to specifically propositional truths. That interior activity of belief, though, is (in us sin-filled persons) capable of going astray, because God leaves us room to depart from His gentle urgings, and we often attempt to attribute to faith what is from our own sinful and disordered selves. The Scriptures are an exterior bulwark against that interior malfunction, i.e. objective, giving us a definitive guardrail that says yea or nay to those interior movements of assent that can easily acquire self-generated delusion.

By reducing the gospels to the result of the interior inspirations of the gospel writers - their being free to accept or reject any actual events in Jesus life, and make up 'events', that fit their interior apprehensions - Allison and (perhaps to a lesser extent, but only as a matter of degree) Licona and Evans eviscerate the whole point of there being an objective, external yardstick to guard our internal acts of belief. There being no longer any reliable external yardstick for Christian belief, the whole of being Christian reduces to an interior act and the "community" of the Body of Christ is reduced to an enormous series of merely individuals who each believe only what they themselves feel called to believe - there is no longer any community as such, or brothers in Christ, but only a vast series of pliable and momentary "kissing cousin" small groups with recognized partial similarity of belief with remote family resemblance. Christ's prayer that "they will be one" is wholly in vain - but then, he probably never said that anyway.

Tony, I've thought a little about the view of Robert Stein, quoted in the main post, that Matthew's gloss on the teaching of Jesus concerning divorce was equally authoritative to Jesus' own words.

To me, that statement by Stein seems almost "Catholic" (quote-unquote) in the sense that it seems more Protestant to say that even an apostle is not as authoritative as Jesus himself and that we therefore want to know whether Jesus said it or an apostle thought it was what Jesus really meant. Whereas Stein is using the Holy Spirit to treat Matthew's gloss as on a par with Jesus' words.

Might some ultramontane Catholic try to defend that position of Stein's by talking about the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the magisterium? At that point, I think the proper defense (from a Catholic point of view, though a Protestant could say it as well) would be something like this: Precisely because of the authority that Matthew had in virtue of his own apostleship, he had no need to pretend that Jesus said something that was his own gloss on Jesus' words. Nor would the Holy Spirit have moved him to create any such confusion.

I have no recollection of stating anything publicly about Licona's rejection of inerrancy. If I had stated that, however, so what? He is not an inerrantist. This is simply a matter of fact. Lydia is also not an inerrantist, so to criticize Mike and not Lydia for that would be inconsistent. No, I am much less interested in inerrancy, but rather the substantial reliability of the gospel accounts. If there are any errors in the gospels, these are, as Lydia put it, 'good faith errors'. They are not deliberate fictionalizations. To assert that is to inadvertently undermine the basis of knowing the historicity of Jesus' resurrection.

That's just it, I don't understand any of this either. You and Lydia disagreed with Licona, neither of you brought up the issue of inerrancy that I can find. You argued for your positions against Licona's, and from what I can see, you have done so respectfully. The reaction that Licona, and his supporters have had to all of this is mind boggling.

The reason I even asked about all of this was because I was trying to understand what happened. Maybe I should have found a way to contact you and ask you about it directly since you were the one who was unfriended by the individual I mentioned earlier.

I should note, to be clear, that if there were good arguments and evidences for Licona's position on fictionalizing literary devices, then we should all get on the bandwagon, regardless of its implications. However, the historiographical arguments submitted for adopting that position are very flimsy (to put it mildly), as Lydia has shown in various blog posts.

Jonathan

Agreed.

Much of what has been touted as "differences between us and the ancients" have been stuff I experience regularly with my family. Such as the idea that ancient people didn't care about the details so much, but the most important part to be conveyed. Or not caring about a precise and strict chronology. There were many more, but I've kind of forgotten much of what I've read. I feel like they have too small of a sample size of modern man. These thing are outside of their experience, so they put more significance on them.

I'd like to think you and Lydia for your work. Your articles I first found on Answering Muslims website, and the Undesigned Coincidence series. Lydia's works digging into the various literary devices, and some of the ancient authors who supposedly used them, like Plutarch, have been quite interesting and informative.

How should we take the Catholic views of the Gospels in Vatican II in Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum?

I'd say that that paragraph from Dei Verbum, in the name of charity, should be interpreted not at all to endorse putting words in Jesus' mouth. OTOH, if some scholar *wanted* to endorse putting words in Jesus' mouth, he could try to claim that that paragraph was an endorsement thereof. As to what the person/people/committee who wrote it actually intended, I'd have to know an awful lot more about that person or group before being at all confident. Was it intended to be an Evans-style paragraph, or was it intended to be a straightforward, totally harmless description of utterly benign selection and presentation of material? No idea.

As is almost universal with the documents of Vatican II, Dei Verbum is unnecessarily ambiguous here. (This ambiguity was apparently intentionally accomplished by revolutionaries in the Church, who wanted even more blunt statements inserted with would overturn prior teaching, but they could not achieve that.) However, all documents of an ecumenical council like Vatican II should (must) be interpreted as intending to teach consistently with the earlier teachings of the Catholic Church. Therefore, Dei Verbum, and that part in particular, should NOT be read so as to allow gospel writers to have put words in Jesus' mouth, because saying that would run completely counter to over 1800 years of Catholic teaching. Other passages, correctly understood, underline this:

7. In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see 2 Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, (1) and to impart to them heavenly gifts. This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. ...

8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received,...

Lest one attempt to interpret the part in 7 where it says the commission was fulfilled by Apostles in "what they had learned through the promptings of the Holy Spirit" gave them license to have received new revelations from the Holy Spirit that they did not hear from Christ, John 14: 25-26 makes it clear that this is NOT what is intended:

These things have I spoken to you, abiding with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.

Pope Benedict said of the papacy: The Pope must not proclaim his own ideas, but bind himself constantly and bind the Church to obedience to the Word of God, in face of attempts to adapt and water down, in fact, as well, of all opportunism.

Well, the same attitude applied to the Apostles: they were obedient to the Word of God with whom they spent 3 years, and it is HIS words they report, they did not make up their own versions nor countenance anyone else doing so. This is Catholic teaching. If anyone wants to interpret Dei Verbum to allow the gospel writers to have put words in Jesus' mouth, they reckon without Catholic tradition, and therefore they misinterpret the document.

Whereas Stein is using the Holy Spirit to treat Matthew's gloss as on a par with Jesus' words.

Might some ultramontane Catholic try to defend that position of Stein's by talking about the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the magisterium? At that point, I think the proper defense (from a Catholic point of view, though a Protestant could say it as well) would be something like this: Precisely because of the authority that Matthew had in virtue of his own apostleship, he had no need to pretend that Jesus said something that was his own gloss on Jesus' words. Nor would the Holy Spirit have moved him to create any such confusion.

Lydia, Catholic teaching does not set up the pope or the Magisterium as being a separate voice of authority from the Word of God. The Church, in the pope and in the bishops, are obedient and submissive to the Word of God, receiving them as the Apostles received them. The revelation of God was fulfilled, completed, in the Person of Jesus Christ who is the Word of God, and whose teaching is final. The apostles had no authority to add to the Word of God received apart from Jesus, they only had authority to report - at the promptings of the Holy Spirit - what they had already received from Him, and to interpret it. There is no new revelation that the Magisterium taps into beyond the revelation of God in Jesus which we received from the Apostles and they received from Jesus. This is what Dei Verbum also teaches.

But I have always understood (and have no problem with this) that they can spell out implications of that revelation that are not stated as explicitly by Jesus. So, for example, the teaching in Hebrews that Jesus completed the sacrificial system and that his sacrifice is greater than that of bulls and goats, so no further sacrifices are necessary, is not something we find Jesus teaching explicitly.

And then there is the application to specific cases, such as Paul's teaching concerning meat offered to idols and the ruling of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15.

I take that to be a proper exercise of the apostolic office in those particular people, so long as their words are not attributed to Jesus.

In fact, as far as applying the principles to particular cases, Jesus seems to allude to this in talking about binding and loosing, which seems to be an allusion to a then-current understanding of rabbinic rulings.

But a rabbi who rules that a certain principle applies in a certain way to a new case never pretends that the principle he's getting (from an earlier rabbi) was *actually* applied in this way by the earlier rabbi if it was not previously explicitly stated. The essence of Talmudic law is that it is a series of on-going precedents.

Also actually, Peter's dream in Acts was bona fide new revelation, concerning the Gentiles.

None of this is a problem so long as it is not said to have been something Jesus uttered on earth, historically, when it wasn't.

The example Stein gives would be perfectly fine *as an apostolic ruling*. An apostle could say, "It is my judgement, having been present, that Jesus was being deliberately hyperbolic and that he considered there to be an exception--namely, fornication--and this is what that means," etc. That's the kind of thing rulings are for--deciding how a relatively cryptic statement applies and what tacit exceptions there may be. But it's totally different to pretend that Jesus actually *uttered* that exception.

The gospels writers would have followed something along the lines of what Paul did in 1st Cor 7? Distinct between the apostles teaching from Jesus' words or a form of them?

I think we have evidence that they *did* do so--both that they made that distinction and that they reported accurately, real historical incidents and sayings, when they reported what Jesus said. See the references in the main post to places in the gospels where the distinction is made explicitly. There is also the repeated emphasis on the part of various disciples upon truth--yes, *empirical* truth. There is also Papias's emphasis upon getting as close as possible to what Jesus had actually said, the words of Jesus himself. There are undesigned coincidences sometimes concerning the words of Jesus that show that they are empirically what Jesus really uttered, not creative extrapolations or made-up discourses.

Moreover, since pretending that Jesus said something that was instead their application or gloss would be potentially confusing to the audience, the burden of proof lies on the person who says they would *not* do so. And that burden of proof just hasn't been satisfied.

Referring to "chreia" doesn't satisfy it. Vaguely talking again and again about "standards of the time" doesn't satisfy it unless you can flesh that out with *concrete evidence* that it was a "standard of the time" for a disciple to pretend that his own gloss or application was actually said by his teacher. Referring to "Greco-Roman bioi" doesn't satisfy that burden of proof, for all the reasons I've given in my series. And so forth.

I find that a great many of our problems in these areas arise from a failure by scholars to understand that when they make these claims they have to make an argument. They mistake a mere assertion for an argument. And the assertion is often based upon a flimsy argument or no argument at all. It's like, "I made this conjecture and I repeated 'Judge them by the standards of the time' five hundred times, and so now I'm done."

Or *extremely* weak analogies will be made, such as to Old Testament anthropomorphism in which God is described as having literal hands and so forth. So voila! If that isn't literal, then I guess maybe it was fine to make up some of the "I am" statements. Why not?

To which a reasonable person should reply, "Is that really your argument?"

I'm currently going through some of the Early Church Fathers to see what they say about the idea of such literary devices, and whether or not they took the Gospels to be using them.

Eusebius* in his Church History Book 1, Chapter 7 was already talking about "The Alleged Discrepancy in the Gospels in regard to the Genealogy of Christ". That is actually the title of the chapter. His answer is that in one book it is Jesus' ancestry according to nature, and another due to law. He attributes this answer to Africanus. He also describes those who allege an error as "the opinions of others as forced and deceptive, he give the account which he had received from tradition in these words".

If this answer had already become tradition, then it must have been already in use before Eusebius. Unless you want to accuse Eusebius of using such a literary device to defend the Gospels against something that supposedly wasn't a problem to the ancients to begin with.

I'm going to finish reading that, and next up I plan on reading Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho. I've read some other titles, but didn't find any relevance to the topic at hand.

*One of the ones with a specified date on the website I was using. I wanted some earlier individuals, but didn't remember the timeline. Fortunately I found one pretty easily. I should have done that sooner.

The sheer fact that they were trying to do harmonies and grapple with alleged discrepancies in a factual manner, to figure out what really happened, shows that they took these documents as historical in nature, even on matters of detail. This is another issue where we need to let ancient people speak for themselves. The idea that one finds a widespread semi-postmodernism among "the ancients," a disdain for boring old literal fact in older readers of the gospels, or that that is our modern hangup, is simply not borne out by the evidence.

Instead, it is the literary device theorists who are being anachronistic, and in multiple ways. One way is reading back into the ancients a disdain for literal truth which is actually the effect of a jaded, postmodern era (our own). The evidence is that if anything the earliest readers were even more "naive" (as it would be thought) than people today, wanting things to fit together literally in the narratives.

Another way they are anachronistic is by dreaming up extremely elaborate theological motives for which there is not the slightest evidence and then assuming that an early author would have had those motives and an early audience would have divined them by ESP. For example, John's alleged motive to move the Temple cleansing in order symbolically to make all of Jesus' ministry "be" (metaphorically) in Passion Week. This is incredibly convoluted, and there is not the faintest reason to think that either John or his audience thought that way. It's the product of a modern, literary-minded NT critic, read back into an ancient author and his audience.

Another way in which literary device theorists are anachronistic is the insistence that a chronology is supposed to be present in the narrative when at times the author is writing without any particular order indicated. I have multiple examples of this in a post on overreading, here. By the very principle that the ancient authors were somewhat more inclined than we are simply to "chunk things in" (which is not a literary device, by the way!) without intending to indicate chronological order, there is no *need* for a literary device in which an author *changes* the order of events.

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2017/11/licona_gospel_examples_iii_ove.html

The sheer fact that they were trying to do harmonies and grapple with alleged discrepancies in a factual manner, to figure out what really happened, shows that they took these documents as historical in nature, even on matters of detail. This is another issue where we need to let ancient people speak for themselves. The idea that one finds a widespread semi-postmodernism among "the ancients," a disdain for boring old literal fact in older readers of the gospels, or that that is our modern hangup, is simply not borne out by the evidence.

No, it isn't. The more I read of ancient literature, especially ancient Judeo-Christian the more I see an intense focus on the literal historical truth.

Instead, it is the literary device theorists who are being anachronistic, and in multiple ways. One way is reading back into the ancients a disdain for literal truth which is actually the effect of a jaded, postmodern era (our own). The evidence is that if anything the earliest readers were even more "naive" (as it would be thought) than people today, wanting things to fit together literally in the narratives.

This fits in with one of the Early Church Fathers I was reading earlier today that seemed to think that the Phoenix was an actual living bird, and was a living sign of the resurrection of Christ. His words don't make sense otherwise.

Another way they are anachronistic is by dreaming up extremely elaborate theological motives for which there is not the slightest evidence and then assuming that an early author would have had those motives and an early audience would have divined them by ESP. For example, John's alleged motive to move the Temple cleansing in order symbolically to make all of Jesus' ministry "be" (metaphorically) in Passion Week. This is incredibly convoluted, and there is not the faintest reason to think that either John or his audience thought that way. It's the product of a modern, literary-minded NT critic, read back into an ancient author and his audience.

The question I always want to ask people who make such claims is this. Why on earth do you think that such a symbolic meaning would ever be desirable to anyone at all? What is the actual lesson in a Passion Week that contains the entirety of Jesus' ministry?

Another way in which literary device theorists are anachronistic is the insistence that a chronology is supposed to be present in the narrative when at times the author is writing without any particular order indicated. I have multiple examples of this in a post on overreading, here. By the very principle that the ancient authors were somewhat more inclined than we are simply to "chunk things in" (which is not a literary device, by the way!) without intending to indicate chronological order, there is no *need* for a literary device in which an author *changes* the order of events.

Yup. It's not something limited to ancient people either. Unless you are talking about a doctors appointment, there are a lot of people in my family that don't care about precise chronological detail.

Anyone who has read the writings of Augustine, or anyone earlier can see that they thought of scripture as historically truthful. Augustine went so far as to say that if we ever come across an error in scripture the options are: we have misunderstood, the text has been corrupted, or we are missing some evidence. The contradiction mongers are trying to be accepted by the Bart Ehrman's of the world.

Speaking of Ehrman, I listened to his interview on Sam Harris' podcast today. Harris asked him what his go to contradiction in the gospels is. Ehrman said he always goes to the discrepancy over the day of the crucifixion. I find that astonishing, because it seems to me that the gospels do not disagree over the day of the crucifixion, and it has been shown since A.T. Robertson. He said that he uses that passage in his classes to disabuse his Christian students that scripture is God's word. Now we have Evangelicals agreeing with him, and there is absolutely no reason to. It seems that we have entered peek madness.

Gee, any apologist worth his salt could do better than that if he wanted to think up a "go-to" contradiction in the gospels. That one has been answered completely. But, yes, we do have evangelicals agreeing with him and not only on that one but on things still more flimsy, things that don't even require an answer because there is no apparent problem to be answered unless one *starts* with the assumption that the gospels are substantially fictional. I call those "utterly unforced errors." For example, why does anyone even think there is some "problem" with the scene where Jesus breathes on his disciples? Because it's weird? Sure, it's weird. Because we don't quite know why Jesus said, "Receive the Holy Ghost" if the Holy Ghost was going to come at Pentecost? Yeah, that's why it's kind of weird. Theologically speaking. But as a piece of putatively historical narrative of an action of Jesus, it doesn't *contradict* some other scene elsewhere, not even on its face. So Jesus did and said something we don't understand. What else is new?

Dear Lydia,

You wrote:

“For example, why does anyone even think there is some "problem" with the scene where Jesus breathes on his disciples? Because it's weird? Sure, it's weird. Because we don't quite know why Jesus said, "Receive the Holy Ghost" if the Holy Ghost was going to come at Pentecost? Yeah, that's why it's kind of weird. Theologically speaking. But as a piece of putatively historical narrative of an action of Jesus, it doesn't *contradict* some other scene elsewhere, not even on its face. So Jesus did and said something we don't understand. What else is new?”

I have spent the last twenty years studying Charismatic theology in great detail: the theology, the sociology, the linguistics, the neuroscience, the history of pneumatological manifestations, etc. to the point where I could write a dissertation on the use and misuse of the theology. I hope to write a book, some day, on the origins and phenomena of the modern Pentecostal movement.

As for the passage you cite, it presents no difficulty. Let us look at the passage in more detail (John 20: 19-24):

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.

This is the first day of the week, the Day of Ressurection. More than that, it is evening. Moreover, it is a gathering of the Apostles and other disciples. What else recently happened in the evening involving a gathering? The Last Supper. In the Farewell Discourse, Jesus promises (John 16: 7-15, John 17:17-18):

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

...Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.
As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

As predicted, the disciples were in fear after Jesus died, but His first words upon see them, that evening, are, “Peace [eirene] be with you.” Now, the Greek is substituting, eirene, for Shalom, most probably. Peace is the tranquility that flows from God’s right order. In greeting the disciples with peace, Jesus is not only saying, “hello,” but that through His Ressurection, God’s right order has been restored, redemption has been completed. Now, Shalom (or Shabbat Shalom) is, traditionally, used to end the Seder or Passover meal (the nirtzah, Next Year in Jerusalem, was a 15th-century addition of the diaspora and would, obviously, not have existed at this time). The Long Passover was begun on Holy Thursday, but was finished on this evening of Easter, when Jesus, essentially, dismissed the dinner, finally.

In showing the disciples His hands and side, Jesus is sanctifying (setting apart to bear witness) them in the truth, the reality of the Resdurection, that everything He said, the Word, is true.
Then, the gathering is sent into the world (John 17: 18).

As the Father sent Him, now Jesus sends the disciples. Notice that He breaths on them. In Greek, the passage is:

kai legō houtos emphysaō kai legō autos lambanō hagios pneuma
and when he had said this he breathed on them and said to them receive the Holy Spirit (breath)

The word, emphysaō is used only once in Scripture, in this passage, but the LXX (Septuagint) uses the word in Genesis when God breathed life into Adam. Thus, Jesus, as God, is breathing life into man a second time. This is the second creation of man, the second life, the redemption. The breath of the Word sends the Holy Breath, the Holy Wind, the Holy Spirit into man, in place of the natural spirit in Genesis. If the natural spirit is taken from man, he dies, but this Holy Spirit is to eternal life and will never be taken from them.

Jesus said that when the Spirit comes, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Spirit is the one who convicts, but the Spirit does not stop with conviction. A man in sin is spiritually dead. The world in the grips of Original Sin, was spiritually dead. When Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples, He gave them new life. He forgave them the Original Sin; just so, Jesus then delegates to man to revive those in sin by the forgiveness through the Spirit He has breathed into them. Just as Adam’s breath (i.e., his life) gave life to his offspring by a choice, so to, does Jesus give the gift of regeneration through the disciples to those who are dead in sin if they forgive them the sin.

Now, just as the Last Supper was an institution or revelation of the Eucharist in private, the Lamb of God, the Body of Christ, before it was on display to the world at the Crucifixion, St. John is making a parallel, here, with Pentecost being instituted or revealed in private before it was on display to the world at Pentecost. In both cases there is a delay from the announcement to the act. This is why there seems to be two manifestation of the coming of the Spirit, one public, one private. There is a period of waiting in both until what is manifest in private is shouted from the roof top.

So, nothing weird about this scene. It is the second act in the redemption of man. It has a similar structure to the first act: prophecy, private institution, public display.

The Chicken


I suppose the literal question would be, "So did they 'get' the Holy Spirit then, or not?"

And I honestly don't know the answer to that. But that is fine. I don't have to know the answer to everything, and the fact that I *don't know* does not in any way impugn the historicity of the event! What we do seem to see is that the Holy Spirit only sent them forth to preach on Pentecost and first gave them the gift of tongues (whatever that amounted to) on the day of Pentecost. To a reader, they seem stronger, more confident, and more ready on Pentecost.

No, they did not receive the Holy Spirit at that time. Thomas was not there, so it would have disturbed the unity of the Church. This is the institution, not the reception. If they had received the Holy Spirit, then, they would not still have been gathered in the upper room at Pentecost. This is like priestly training to hear Confessions before the actual ordination.

My take on things.

The Chicken

Lydia,

The very eminent Anglo-Catholic scholar Charles Gore (he was a noted social conservative, BTW), made the case in 1911 (at great length, on grounds of both internal and external evidence) that the "except for sexual immorality" clause was invented by Matthew and that it did not represent the teaching of Jesus. His opinion was that the prohibition on divorce by Jesus was absolute.


http://anglicanhistory.org/gore/divorce1911.html

I note that it appears that Bishop Gore's arguments stem from a) a denial of authentic Matthean authorship (so Matthew couldn't really have *remembered* that phrase) and b) the over-rated claim that the disciples couldn't have been astonished and disturbed unless Jesus had uttered an exceptionless prohibition.

Btw, I know plenty of men in our own day who would be very annoyed at being told that they literally cannot divorce their wives unless the wives are literally sexually unfaithful. ("But what if...??") I don't imagine Jesus' disciples were all that different in that regard.

To follow up on Chicken's comment: Catholic theology makes a very definite distinction between the effects of different sacraments: baptism entails receiving sanctifying grace, i.e. God in the soul as dwelling therein - all of God, the whole Trinity- however, in a special way, Holy Communion and Confirmation (while also increasing sanctifying grace) in a special way involve receiving Jesus and the Holy Spirit (respectively), as sacramentally distinct graces. Thus a person who already has been baptized and therefore has the indwelling of the Trinity, receives confirmation and thus receives the Holy Spirit in a more complete sense. This is backed up by the passages in Acts where the apostles "lay hands on" Christians who had already been baptized, but had "not yet received the Spirit". (Most explicitly, Acts 8:15-17)

I have heard a couple of priests preach on the passage of Jesus breathing on the Apostles and saying "receive the Holy Spirit", with this idea: though the Apostles had received grace and the cleansing of original sin during their 3 years with Jesus, they sinned grievously against Him on Holy Thursday. Thus they had lost that grace and were again in sin. Jesus on Easter Sunday restored them to the state of grace by forgiving their sins. But this does not imply the elevation of grace that comes with Confirmation, which is receiving the power of the Spirit in a special way.

I don't know that this resolves all of the difficulties with the passage. I do think it to be very strange and crabbed to suggest that the Apostles were with Jesus for 3 years and STILL had not received the grace that we normally receive in baptism, removing the stain of original sin and giving us spiritual life. Why would Jesus hold back on that? After all, even though the signs and "sacraments" of the Old Testament did not give grace of their own power (unlike the sacraments of the New Covenant, which do - ex opere operato), it is naturally held that many Jews of the Old Testament were indeed redeemed by grace, believing in the Messiah to come. It is explicitly held that Abraham was redeemed by his faith. Still more, then, would we hold that the Apostles, who were sent out by Jesus to baptize, have been restored to grace during their 3 years with Him. So after they had sinned gravely against Jesus in their fear of the Jews and Romans, they needed to be restored to peace with Him.

If it weren't shocking, it would be amusing that Gore, so clearly conservative in his marital analysis, depends so fully and readily on the historico-critical methods in interpreting the difference between Mark and Matthew. His blythe, almost off-hand comment that

But there is another method of interpreting the New Testament, from which we cannot, without unfaithfulness to truth, seek to exclude men; and that is the method of free [17/18] historical and critical inquiry, which approaches the sacred books as if they were any other ancient books, and admits no antecedent impossibility of contradiction between one passage and another. I would approach these passages in the first Gospel by this method first of all.

is not in the least bit "conservative" in its tenor or implications, and shows us how if you disconnect social conservatism from principled roots, all you get is a hodge-podge of thinking.

As to the specific analysis of the passage in Matthew as distinct from Mark, notes the words "except for fornication", but Gore passes right over the distinction in who causes the following sin of adultery: Matthew claims that except if the wife has already been unfaithful, the divorcing husband causes her to commit adultery. For in their culture the woman had no means of support apart from her husband, so if he divorces her and is no longer responsible for her support, she has no means of support, and will end up doing whatever she has available - thus to divorce her is to condemn her to a life of sin. But if she has already been violating the marriage bed, then divorcing her is not the cause of her violating the marriage bed.

If Gore were as cautious and careful in interpreting the gospels as he was in noting the historical meaning of English law, he would have been able to find this in the explanations of the Fathers, and would not have had any reason to resort to his ridiculous attempt to pass off the historico-critical method (and throwing Matt's difference out on its ear) as just as appropriate methods of exegesis.

Actually, that is pretty well-known about Gore: That he accepted higher criticism of Scripture. He's definitely not "conservative" in his approach to biblical studies. People get confused about this because he was more orthodox in doctrine and on social matters than some others of his time.

Dear Tony,

You wrote:

"I have heard a couple of priests preach on the passage of Jesus breathing on the Apostles and saying "receive the Holy Spirit", with this idea: though the Apostles had received grace and the cleansing of original sin during their 3 years with Jesus, they sinned grievously against Him on Holy Thursday. Thus they had lost that grace and were again in sin. Jesus on Easter Sunday restored them to the state of grace by forgiving their sins. But this does not imply the elevation of grace that comes with Confirmation, which is receiving the power of the Spirit in a special way."

Those priest are wrong. First off, John did not sin on Holy Thursday, so there was no need for him to be forgiven and it would be especially odd for John not to mention the need for forgiveness in his own Gospel, if either he or most of the other Apostles needed it. Secondly, only Peter denied Christ. What could the others do? Christ forbade them from fighting for him and the guards didn't care about them (they didn't try to arrest them - Jesus asked that they be let go). In fact, we only know that they were scattered, which was the only thing they could do, so their exact moral state is unknown.

Peter was forgiven at the seashore with the three-fold affirmation of his love for Christ.

No. The breathing narrative is pretty clearly a parallel institution narrative. Just as the Eucharist, Baptism, Confession, Confirmation, Orders, Marriage, and Extreme Unction did not acquire a supernatural character until after Pentecost, even though Christ instituted the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, none of the disciples could confect the Eucharist until Pentecost, so Jesus confecting the Eucharist on Holy Thursday was a foreshadowing, a first instance, a pattern of what the Apostles would do in persona Christi after Pentecost.

Likewise, the breathing on the Apostles on Easter evening was a foreshadowing of what the Apostles would do in persona Christi after Pentecost. If Christ were actually forgiving their sins, he would have made an auricular announcement so that there would be no confusion, as He did with the man on the mat.

So, no forgiveness and no receiving of the Holy Spirit at that time.

As for confirmation, so many people, including many Charismatic commentators in the Church get this wrong. It is not a, "release of the Holy Spirit," as McDonnell and Monteque suggest. It is a filling up of the Holy Spirit, like a gas tank.

In Confirmation, one's ontological status changes. One is marked or sealed in the Holy Spirit, which is language of ownership. In Baptism, one is incorporated into the Body of Christ by adoption. In Confirmation, that bond is made exclusive. The Blessed Trinity, through the primary action of the Holy Spirit, acts to strengthen the size of your scabbard, as it were, so that you can hold a bigger sword in the Church militant and imprints a larger emblem on the scabbard so that everyone will know for whom you fight. Thus, someone who is confirmed sins more gravely for the same act that someone who is merely baptized.

As to how much of the Holy Spirit one has, that is a poor statement of the question. A baptized child can have more of the Holy Spirit than a confirmed adult if she keeps the Faith to a higher degree. Faith is the proximate means of union with Christ and Faith is not, in itself, strengthen at Confirmation. Confirmation may make the content of your Faith able to be deeper, but it does not make it truer. True is true and if the simple faith of the Baptized more closely conform them to Christ than the in principle deeper, but unrealized faith of the Confirmandi, them it is proper to say that the baptized person shares better and more in the Holy Spirit than the confirmed person.

Because one is sealed in Confirmation, the soul's strength is made greater or, equivalently, it is made deeper, in a sense, so that it can go farther and deeper in knowing and defending the Faith, but one must actually walk farther and believe more deeply in order to put to use the graces given in the Sacrament.

In a prosaic way, one may say that Baptism is like marriage, where you walk hand-in-hand with your spouse; Confirmation is like holding their hand, but, also, looking into only their eyes. One, usually, find more depth about a person in the eyes than the hands, but someone holding the hand tightly will reveal the love between the husband and wife more fully than someone who looked into their spouse's eyes but kept blinking or looking away.

The Chicken

That should read, "It is not a filling up of the Holy Spirit, like a gas tank.". Sorry. That completely changes the argument.

The Chicken

Those priest are wrong. First off, John did not sin on Holy Thursday, so there was no need for him to be forgiven and it would be especially odd for John not to mention the need for forgiveness in his own Gospel, if either he or most of the other Apostles needed it. Secondly, only Peter denied Christ. What could the others do? Christ forbade them from fighting for him and the guards didn't care about them (they didn't try to arrest them

Well, that's not quite what the gospels narrate, I don't think. First of all, Christ predicts that they will ALL fall away:

"You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

By "fall away". Christ seems to mean something shameful, for that is exactly how the Apostles took it.

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

And

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Further, when the time actually came, the guards did not "just leave them":

Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.

To show that they did not just walk away, but fled from the guards in order not to be taken, Mark is emphatic on how desperate they were:

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

That's not a picture of the guards just taking Jesus and leaving the rest in peace. And whether the guards would have or would not have ultimately done anything with the other disciples, we can't know, because what happened was what Jesus predicted: they all fell away and fled. We don't know for sure, but some speculate that the "young man" was John, though there are other suggestions.

Was this sinful on their part? Why else would they all have promised: "oh no, we won't do that, we would never abandon you"? Because it was shameful. Because when the priests were examining Jesus, they could have testified to the truth. Because He was their friend, and needed support. Because they were ashamed of being counted with Him when it counted. True, Peter is the only one who lied in order to deny Jesus, but they ALL denied him in their hearts by running away. So the Fathers accounted it, for example, Remigius (as mentioned by Aquinas in the Catena Aurae):

In this act was shown the Apostles' frailty; in the first ardor of their faith they had promised to die with Him, but in their fear they forgot their promise and fled. The same we may see in those who undertake great things for the love of God, but who fail to fulfill what they undertake; they ought not to despair, but to rise again with the Apostles, and recover themselves by penitence.

I note that other commentators suggest that Jesus forgives the Apostles when he says "Peace be with you" right off. But this word of blessing seems rather addressed to their fright and agitation at seeing him, than to their having sinned against him.

It is indeed possible that Jesus was presenting in private what would happen publicly at the Pentecost, but the words "receive the Holy Spirit" seem directly bound to the immediately following words:

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

In the course of the Last Supper he constituted in the Apostles his successor priests, able to re-present the one single sacrifice of the New Covenant. Here (back in the Upper Room) he adds to them the priestly power to forgive sins. Thus his breathing and saying "receive the Holy Spirit" seems most directly that of conferring that power. However, the absolving power of the priesthood is not directly related to receiving Confirmation, so it would be little odd if Christ were to be mixing the symbols of the two.

Dear Tony,

John 18: 8-11 is the passage I am thinking of:

"7 Again he asked them, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth."
8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go."
9 This was to fulfil the word which he had spoken, "Of those whom thou gavest me I lost not one."
10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus.
11 Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?"
12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews seized Jesus and bound him."

Peter tried to fight. Jesus forbade him. He asked that the other Apostles be spared. Jesus, clearly, would not accept that they fight for him. If they had, they might have been lost. If it were a sin for them to leave, then Jesus would have, likewise, been guilty of consenting to the sin, which is an impossibility.

To fall away, if you are citing Matthew, is, actually, the verb, diaskorpizo, from which we get diaspora and means to scatter, as in scattering seed. It does not mean to fall away due to a lack of faith.
I haven't checked the other Gospels to see if another verb is used in a parallel passage.

As for breathing the Holy Spirit into them, read my linquistic comment, above. That particular formulation is unique in the Greek New Testament. The reception is via the breath. This is directly from Genesis. The words are identical for the creation of life for Adam and the new life for the Apostles. This could imply forgiveness of sins, but not necessarily. Adam had no sin when he was brought to life. What about John? John, certainly, did not run away, but did he not, also, receive the breath on Easter evening? It is probable, also, that Mary was present. I find the notion of this being primarily about forgiving their sins to be not that strongly supported from the organization of the passage.

Anyways, it is good to discuss these things. To my knowledge, the Church has not definitively pronounced on this passage, so there is room for discussion.

The Chicken

Chicken, as far as I know you are right that the Church has not spoken definitively on this, so there is room for debate.

I was using ALL of the gospel accounts, John as well as the others. They must harmonize. Matthew also has Peter striking with the sword, and Jesus rebuking him. By this Jesus makes it clear that they were not to fight for Him. He says nothing about their fleeing or just plain leaving. They could have stayed. They could have just followed along. They might have said "if you are going to take him, you're going to have to take me" (although that would fit poorly with "Of those whom thou gavest me I lost not one," unless Jesus arranged to have them "taken" but then released later.)

What about John? John, certainly, did not run away, but did he not, also, receive the breath on Easter evening?

This is not what is indicated in the passages that say that they all dispersed. "Then everyone deserted him and fled." The Greek has "pantes aphentes auton ephygon", where aphentes is "having deserted," and ephygon is "fled". Pantes, of course, is "all".

Jesus also said they would all fall away, not some. The Greek is "Pantes hymeis skandalisthesesthe en emoi." Literally, "all of you will be scandalized on account of me." There is no sign in any of the gospels that John did not flee. The only indication is that he did not flee very far or very long: like Peter, he follows the crowd to the high priest's house. This does not mean that he stayed with Jesus. If John had explicitly stayed with Jesus, this would have made mincemeat out of the theories that the "young man" who fled without his clothes was John - such a theory could never have even gotten started. The natural reading of all 4 gospels together is that they all fled, but Peter and John circled back around and followed the crowd. It was dark, there was lots of confusion, it's quite reasonable.

It is possible that when Jesus predicts "all", and when the gospel writer says "all fled", they both mean it in the generic sense - that as a generality they fled, not that necessarily every single one. But there is no specific indication that any of them did not flee. And because Peter makes a big deal out of it "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will," the unanimity of the "all" becomes more important. His exclamation would not be nearly so memorable if the overall meaning was "most of you are going to flee", and "most of them fled".

As for breathing the Holy Spirit into them, read my linquistic comment, above.

You seem to think I am disagreeing with the notion that there is a parallel with Genesis and Jesus' "breathing" the Holy Spirit on them. I don't. The issue is not whether there is some kind of parallel, the question is WHAT kind.

The traditional Catholic teaching is that when God created Adam and Eve, He created them in the state of grace. This is what "original justice" implies. The whole doctrine of grace is that man cannot act in a righteous way without grace, man cannot be pleasing to God and gain merit, without grace; for every choice of a rational being is righteous ONLY if it is made with God as his proper and due end, but doing so requires knowing God not as nature can know Him, but only as we can know him as elevated by grace. It is not only those who have fallen who need grace, grace is necessary per se for a created being to act righteously and gain merit.

Therefore, when God breathes life into Adam, this can be read BOTH in terms of Adam's natural life, and in terms of supernatural life via grace.

It is an open question whether Adam also received the benefits we receive in Confirmation. On the one hand, Adam was made "perfect", and his state of original justice was far better than our state. But he was not confirmed in grace, since he still had to undergo the trial, and he fell.

There is no doubt that the text of Jesus breathing on them implies some kind of grace. The question is rather what sort. While it is fair to look at the action from the GENERAL context and its parallels (such as to Genesis), it is also significant to read in in its immediate context as well, where it follows Jesus saying "As the Father has sent me, so I send you", and where Jesus immediately after has the instruction about forgiving or retaining sins. The "sending" is like the Great Commission, but seems to be distinct from it. Was it too a private, anticipatory foreshadowing? Then how does that fit with the absolution instruction? The idea of a private institution followed later by a public event is a fine hypothesis, but it is not perfect. It does not deal with the "if you forgive men's sins" part. And the Catholic Church has always ascribed that passage as providing the basis for the priestly power of giving absolution in confession, whereas the Pentecost graces were received by all present in the Upper Room, and we have reason to think that there were some there who were not the Apostles.

Difficulties remain.

Also: while it is possible to say Mass twice or receive Holy Communion twice, it is not possible to be confirmed twice. If the Apostles received the grace of Confirmation when Jesus breathed on them, then they could not have received it on Pentecost; the event would have been rather the making manifest what had already happened. But this is not how the Apostles or the Church refers to it: they "received power" with the Holy Spirit, power to heal, to speak in tongues, to preach boldly and fearlessly, etc. These are taken to be the work of Pentecost. But they are the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation.

Dear Tony,

You wrote:

"This is not what is indicated in the passages that say that they all dispersed. "Then everyone deserted him and fled." The Greek has "pantes aphentes auton ephygon", where aphentes is "having deserted," and ephygon is "fled". Pantes, of course, is "all"."

Well, that should not be read as all all, but most all, since John was at the Cross. The other Gospels didn't include this because they did not see John at the Cross, because they had fled.

"There is no sign in any of the gospels that John did not flee. The only indication is that he did not flee very far or very long: like Peter, he follows the crowd to the high priest's house. This does not mean that he stayed with Jesus. If John had explicitly stayed with Jesus, this would have made mincemeat out of the theories that the "young man" who fled without his clothes was John - such a theory could never have even gotten started. The natural reading of all 4 gospels together is that they all fled, but Peter and John circled back around and followed the crowd. It was dark, there was lots of confusion, it's quite reasonable."

In John 18: 12-15, it says, "So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews seized Jesus and bound him.
[13] First they led him to Annas; for he was the father-in-law of Ca'iaphas, who was high priest that year.
[14] It was Ca'iaphas who had given counsel to the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
[15] Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. As this disciple was known to the high priest, he entered the court of the high priest along with Jesus..."

Matt 26:58, "But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end."

Mark 14:54, "And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire."

Luke 22:54, "Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off."

There is no indication from this passage that either Peter or John fled. The movement was one continuous one from the Garden to Annas. They would have easily blended in with the crowd.

The man who fled without his clock is, traditionally, John-Mark, who would follow Peter and be his secretary, later, not John.

"There is no doubt that the text of Jesus breathing on them implies some kind of grace."

In ancient Hebrew, healing, titles, etc, were communicated, often, by passing bodily fluids - thus, Jesus healed the blind man by making a paste of mud with his own spittle. Jesus communicated His spirit to the Apostles by the most appropriate means, breath, since the Spirit is a Holy breath or wind. Is he giving them grace, well, everything Jesus gives is a grace. Is he giving them sacramental grace? No. That would wait until Pentecost.

" It does not deal with the "if you forgive men's sins" part."

The phase, "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained," uses the verb, aphiēmi, for you remit or you forgive and it is in the active subjunctive second aorist tense, states something not actually in existence at the time, so it is talking about a future time. Thus, Jesus was giving them the ability to forgive sins in the future (after Pentecost), but not that evening. Likewise, when Jesus says, "Receive the Holy Spirit," the verb, lambanō, is likewise, in the second Aorist, active subjunctive, indicating something contrary to the present condition.

" If the Apostles received the grace of Confirmation when Jesus breathed on them, then they could not have received it on Pentecost; the event would have been rather the making manifest what had already happened. But this is not how the Apostles or the Church refers to it: they "received power" with the Holy Spirit, power to heal, to speak in tongues, to preach boldly and fearlessly, etc. These are taken to be the work of Pentecost. But they are the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation."

Of course. That's what I said: they did not receive the Holy Spirit on Easter evening. It is a promise that would be realized on Pentecost.

Hi Lydia.
Thanks again for your articles, they are really eye opening.
I had been a little hesitating to talk again scholars, I do want to engage critically but I don't know how. I think is because the gap of knowledge, It will take me a few years to do it properly, until then I hope to keep reading your works.

Btw I have your book already!

Atte, Nicolas.

Thank you, Nicolas, for your encouragement!

Doesn't a lot of this just have to do with trying to stay "fresh," "relevant," and "groundbreaking" in the world of academia? Maybe it's a simplistic view, but the entire world of academia seems intent on seeing all history in a "new light" because apparently there is no interest in publishing traditional views on the history of America, Western Civilization, or Christianity. Everything has to be unraveled in order to unveil deceit and oppression visible only to far-left academics.

Well, that should not be read as all all, but most all, since John was at the Cross. The other Gospels didn't include this because they did not see John at the Cross, because they had fled.

Chicken, I acknowledge the possibility that "all" in "they all fled" is meant to be the general "all", meaning most or nearly all, not the definitive and literal "all" of perfect unanimity.

But it does not fit very well with Christ's specific warning beforehand at the Last Supper that they would all abandon him, and in particular Peter's confident repudiation "Even if all fall away, I will not", which Jesus tells him is unfounded confidence. Peter's rejection of the prediction doesn't make sense using "all" in the "nearly all" sense of: "even if most of them fall away, I will not". It works best as Peter meaning that he will "stand alone" if necessary. Taking Jesus' original prophecy, Peter's rejection, and Christ's correction and further prophecy, the natural reading is "all" probably is the inclusive and complete all. The further unfolding in the actual events in the Garden keep to that tenor: the flight of the "young man" clearly indicates the desperation of the disciples to not be caught up with Jesus, and if any DIDN'T flee, it would be very odd for none of the four accounts not to mention it.

If Peter did not flee but "stayed with" Jesus, why would he have been "far off" instead of, well, WITH Jesus? If he was not afraid of being saddled with paying the price of being a friend of Jesus, he would have just stuck right close to him. Of course he was afraid, that's why he denied being a friend / follower of Jesus. Which implies that he was NOT immediately and clearly identifiable as "friend of Jesus" because he had not stayed put within a few paces of Jesus the whole time, he had departed to some distance. He fled. (Most probably), only after he departed from Jesus, hastily, did he slow down and decide to stay with the crowd, or turn back to get as close as the outer part of the crowd.

But if Peter had fled, while the gospels accredit Peter with following Jesus from far off, so also did John. Only John recounts that "other disciple" also being there, and John indicates nothing of NOT having fled. He only indicates as being as close as Peter, nothing more. If John was no closer than Peter, and Peter had fled, then it is more natural to consider that John had fled as well.

Well, that should not be read as all all, but most all, since John was at the Cross. The other Gospels didn't include this because they did not see John at the Cross, because they had fled.

It is completely irrelevant whether the other gospel writers were eye witnesses themselves to John being at the foot of the Cross, because they probably were not eyewitnesses themselves to ANY of the events they recount - what happened with the chief priest, Pilate, the veil of the Temple, the words and actions of the guards mocking Jesus in the praetorium, etc. They certainly relied on the testimony of others to at least some of these events. Luke, of course, relied on the testimony of others for ALL of it.

The man who fled without his clock is, traditionally, John-Mark, who would follow Peter and be his secretary, later, not John.

I agree that this is a common opinion, but it is nothing more than a common opinion, it certainly is not Tradition. There remain difficulties with it. But if one prefers to give credit to the common opinion of many, including some Fathers, one should also give credit to the many Fathers who account the flight of the apostles as a wrong.

Mark P., it may be partly that. But most of the ideas *actually* being promoted are higher critical theories that are actually very old.

I think what is far more at work is the notion on the part of scholars like Dr. Evans that the church is being hurt by being "overly rigid." In politics this is known as "taking an issue away from the other side." They truly believe that if they can get self-styled conservatives to preemptively concede that the gospel authors changed all kinds of things or that swathes of the Gospel of John are ahistorical, this will render those conservative Christians immune to certain attacks from Bart Ehrman & co. because the Christians will have moved on to supporting their faith on some basis *other* than that the gospels are normal reportage!

This is, to put it mildly, a very dangerous game.

Meanwhile, the scholars themselves don't look like "fundamentalists" in the guild. They are quite willing to be despised by and seen as fighting Ehrman himself. But they wouldn't want NT Wright and Dale Allison to think they are rigid, literalist, fundamentalists. There is a hierarchy of these things. The "guild" has its layers, and the layer where the literary device theorists are positioning themselves, with sophisticated-sounding Greek words, is nicely in the middle of the pack--less liberal than Ehrman but not so conservative as, say, D.A. Carson. Much less those crazy outsiders the McGrews. :-)

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