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Dancing with the distinguished professor--Post I

Late last week the podcast aired of my debate, recorded April 11, with Craig A. Evans on the subject "Is John's Gospel Historically Accurate" or (as stated on the podcast) "Does John's Gospel Present an Historically Accurate Picture of Jesus?" Here is the link. (Note to the podcast-averse, among whom I count myself: Evans's and my debate does not take the whole of the podcast. Our section goes to about 1 hour and 11 minutes. There is also a transcript available now thanks to reader Sean. See here.) Here are Part II and Part III of my analysis.

The debate represented a disappointing performance on the part of Dr. Evans, who (as we were reminded repeatedly) is the Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University. Not only did Dr. Evans seriously misrepresent his own statements from 2012, he also was extremely unclear concerning his own current positions on the historicity of John, shifting within the course of this debate itself. To make matters worse, he repeatedly made use of outright false statements of fact in order to give various impressions. These included most prominently the false statement that there are seven "long I am discourses" in the Gospel of John, both preceded and followed by repeated references to these supposed (plural) "I am discourses."

My remarks on the debate will not follow any highly organized order and for that reason will be organized under headers for easier browsing.

A couple of links to positive evidence

I hope to write much more on the positive evidence for the historicity of John's Gospel. I had hoped that we would have more time in this debate to get into that material, of which I prepared a great deal, but Dr. Evans's habit of talking at length while not answering questions directly made it difficult to get to that point, and I was able only to include a few references.

Let me remind the reader that I have an entire book, Hidden in Plain View, that is particularly relevant to John's Gospel. In Hidden in Plain View I point out more than once that John's Gospel has more undesigned coincidences for its unique material than any other Gospel. This directly contradicts the portrait of John as embellishing more than the synoptic authors. To the contrary, the more unique material John gives us, the more opportunity we have to confirm his knowledge of (and literal trustworthiness concerning) events and of the words and doings of Jesus. So please get and read or re-read Hidden in Plain View if you are interested in positive evidence for the reliability of John.

In my webinar on maximal data, beginning about here, I also discuss the presence of unexplained allusions and unnecessary details in John and the way that these show his intention to be understood historically. They give serious verisimilitude to his narrative and show it to be exactly the opposite of an allegory or a parable.

In the course of the debate with Dr. Evans I mentioned other points, such as the unity of Jesus' personality and character throughout all four Gospels, with John mentioning separate sayings and incidents that show the same Jesus as what we find in the synoptics.

I also mentioned two particular points on which some people have asked for links, so I wanted to put those here early in this post. The chart by the unitarian author James Drummond showing that John does not actually have Jesus talking longer than he does in Matthew is found here. The section of Stanley Leathes in which he gives parallels between Jesus in John and in the synoptics is found here.

It has been such a privilege for me to get to know various older authors and to begin to recover what has been lost. That knowledge, which came from Esteemed Husband, Tim McGrew, is what gave rise to Hidden in Plain View. We must continue the important work of fighting chronological snobbery and recovering perspective from the democracy of the dead.

Outright inaccuracies concerning Scripture and Wisdom literature

It is sometimes said that only those with a particular credential in either New Testament studies or classics have any right to address matters of New Testament studies. This sort of pointless credentialism, used as a sheer distraction from the arguments, is all-too-common among devotees of literary device theories. Given this sort of credentialism, it is particularly striking that Evans repeatedly, throughout the debate, made use of overtly, objectively false statements about the contents of Scripture itself, which is supposedly his specialty rather than mine. Perhaps just knowing the Bible is sometimes more helpful than being a New Testament scholar.

The most prominent of these is the statement at minute 18:30ff, alluded to throughout the entire debate, that there are many "I am discourses" in the Gospel of John that constitute one of the most "distinctive features" of that Gospel. In response to a deferential request from the host that Evans would specify ("for those who are not as familiar as you are, obviously, with these texts") what he is referring to as "I am discourses," Evans says,

One of the most distinctive features about John is where Jesus just begins to speak at length, nothing like this in the synoptics....But in John, Jesus will say "I am the light of the world," and he'll go on and on and on for many verses.

Besides, "I am the light of the world" Evans lists at this point, "I am the bread of life," "I am the way, the truth, and the life," "I am the good shepherd," and "I am the resurrection and the life." At about minute 19:15 he says,

These are the I am discourses. There are about seven of them. They're very thematic. They're very theological. They have a very high Christology. And Jesus speaks more or less as Wisdom speaks.

Throughout the debate, this supposed set ("The I am discourses") serves various functions for Evans. He uses references to the "I am discourses" most prominently in the early part of the debate to imply that his position in 2012 concerns merely these "discourses" and hence that it was limited and had nothing to do with a generalized questioning of the historicity of John's genre--an obvious misrepresentation if one reads his lengthy and emphatic remarks at that time. He also uses the phrase "the I am discourses" or "the long I am discourses" to imply that, since length is an issue he emphasizes as an alleged feature of these many discourses, he is not questioning the "I am" sayings themselves but merely our having these alleged lengthy discourses from "top to bottom." The truth comes out on that, however, later in the podcast (51:15) when he actually says that it is the phrase "I am" itself that arouses his suspicions that John is rewriting Jesus' words to make Jesus "sound like Wisdom." This abandons the pretense that the question is merely about the verbatim recording of full, lengthy discourses. But earlier in the debate, the claim of many "I am discourses" is useful to Evans for that purpose. The host, Justin Brierley, believes Evans (why wouldn't he?) that there are these many "I am discourses" and even attempts to correct me (minute 41:46) when I am defending the historicity of the so-called Farewell Discourse in John 14-16. Justin thinks I'm talking about a passage that Evans isn't talking about, since Evans is allegedly talking about the (plural) "I am discourses" instead. But in fact (as I pointed out at minute 39:25), my addressing the Farewell Discourse was an attempt to try to talk about something Evans might have had in mind, since it is the longest discourse in John, sometimes questioned for that very reason (as Evans himself emphasizes length of Jesus' discourses as allegedly unusual in John), and since it contains a short section (eight verses) in which Jesus says and expounds on, "I am the true vine." (John 15:1-8) Some of the surrounding dialogue at the beginning of chapter 14 (which is sometimes treated as part of a continuous discourse, though in fact it is not) contains "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Hence it seemed to me, since I knew that the reference to plural "I am discourses" is incorrect taken literally, that the Farewell Discourse might be a candidate for Evans's skepticism.

That there are not seven, nor even several, "long I am discourses" in John can be seen simply by opening one's Bible. Check out "I am the light of the world," which Evans explicitly claims inaugurates such a discourse in which Jesus "goes on and on and on." On the contrary, it is a short saying that takes up one single verse (John 8:12) and is immediately followed by a challenge from the crowd to the effect that Jesus' testimony is not true since he is testifying to himself. This inaugurates a back-and-forth dialogue, not about his being the light of the world but about testimony, Abraham, and who their father is and who Jesus' father is, culminating in "Before Abraham was, I am" in verse 58, at which point they try to stone him. There is no long discourse anywhere in sight. If instead Evans meant to refer to John 9:5, where Jesus also says, "I am the light of the world," he's also out of luck. For Jesus' comment there is immediately followed, in the next verse, by his healing the man born blind.

What about "I am the resurrection and the life"? That's John 11:25. Jesus' short saying about himself there ends with his asking Martha if she believes what he has told her. This is followed by further dialogue with Mary, whom Martha fetches, and by the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Again, there is no long "I am" discourse anywhere. What about "I am the good shepherd"? This occurs in John 10:11 and is followed by a few verses (through verse 18, to be precise) in which Jesus expands upon this particular metaphor, but that hardly qualifies as a long discourse in which he "goes on and on."

What about "I am the way, the truth, and the life"? Nope, no luck there. Jesus says that in John 14:6-7. Right after that Philip asks him to show them the Father, and Jesus answers by talking about his union with the Father through verse 11, followed by other topics. There is no long, thematic discourse at all based on "I am the way, the truth, and the life," and in fact it is followed immediately by dialogue.

And so it goes. Though "I am the true vine" (John 15:1) (which Evans stated in 2012 was not historical) occurs within the course of the Farewell Discourse, Jesus' thematic exposition of that particular claim about himself continues for only eight verses, after which a new topic is introduced.

For all of the "I am" statements in John (both with and without predicates) with a single exception (which I'll come back to in a moment), one of the following is true: Either 1) The statement occurs only in a single verse, followed by dialogue or action, or 2) the statement inaugurates only a brief thematic exposition of its topic.

The single exception is "I am the bread of life," which (depending on where one starts counting) is the theme of a discourse encompassing about twenty-five verses from John 6:32-58. Even this is broken up by exclamations from the crowd at verses 31, 41-42, and 52, so it is not continuous discourse, but after each outbreak, Jesus does continue with the same theme.

Thus, there is only one (slightly) long "I am discourse" in the entire Gospel of John. If one really wanted to stretch it, one could amalgamate Jesus' comments on sheep, shepherds, robbers, and two sayings--"I am the door," and "I am the good shepherd"--in John 10 to piece together a so-called "I am discourse" from John 10:1-15, but such a procedure would be straining. No "I am" saying even occurs in that passage until verse 7 ("I am the door of the sheep).

When Evans refers to seven "I am discourses" he is presumably thinking of the seven "I am" sayings with predicates. But these do not correspond, as he claims, to anything remotely close to seven long, thematic "I am discourses." Evans is simply conflating scholarly doubts about the "I am" sayings with scholarly skepticism about alleged lengthy discourses in John, which creates nothing but confusion.

Another outright falsehood was this claim from Evans concerning "Wisdom literature" at about minute 51:15

Second one is, the 'I am' way of speaking--"I am this," and "I am that," various attributes--is a feature that we find in wisdom tradition both inside canonical scripture and outside in the approximate time, the century or two leading up to the church, and so that then makes us wonder, "Hmm, maybe John is taking Jesus' teaching..." ... and presenting it as though Jesus is Wisdom speaking.

Notice how specific Evans is. He does not simply say that Wisdom praises herself and Jesus also praises himself. He does not simply say that both Wisdom and Jesus (since they are praising themselves) use the word "I" quite a bit. Instead, he claims specifically that there is an "I am way of speaking" that is characteristic of the personification of Wisdom. This fits with his statements in 2012 about the allegedly allegorical nature of the "I am" sayings, where he said, upon being challenged by Ehrman about a whole list of "I am" sayings, that in the Old Testament allegories of Lady Wisdom, no one takes this to have recounted a literal occasion when such a person walked around and talked.

Evans's claim about an "I am way of speaking" that characterizes Wisdom literature is simply false. The only reference he gives (at about minute 19:15) is Sirach 24, available in translation here and in the Septuagint Greek here. Other places where Lady Wisdom is personified are Proverbs 1 and Proverbs 8 and 9.

In not a single one of these places does Wisdom use "I am this" and "I am that" followed by various attributes. Go ahead; read for yourself. In Sirach 24:24 (sometimes listed as verse 18), the English translation gives "I am the mother of fair love", but in the Septuagint the verb is understood. There is no "ego eimi," nor would the occurrence of such a single instance amount to a typically Wisdom-like "I am way of speaking" in any event.

This "I am way of speaking" as typical of Lady Wisdom is entirely an invention of Evans's. It does not occur in the text he cites nor in other candidate passages. To be sure, Wisdom praises herself and says a lot of high-toned things about herself, but it would sound like a much less impressive parallel to say, "Lady Wisdom praises herself when personified, and when Jesus uses 'I am' sayings he is also praising himself, so maybe John changed Jesus' words and wrote up passages that were never uttered by Jesus in order to make Jesus sound like Lady Wisdom."

In case I was overlooking something, I consulted Old Testament scholar C. Jack Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary, and he confirmed what I was finding. He gave me permission to quote him on this topic:

First, there is (AFAIK) nothing distinctively wisdom-ish about the combination egō eimi; in fact, this combination is not frequent in Proverbs & Wisdom of Solomon & Sirach (Prov. 8:30 hardly establishes a style). The combination of words is clear enough, BTW, so there’s no reason to associate the words with a particular style or way of speaking.

Second, even should there be such a style, I have no idea how that leads to the conclusion that we are free to discount the likelihood that Jesus actually said these things.

Third, I do think that the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 1–9 (added with a number of other factors) does underlie NT Christology (I have argued in print, for example, that it lies behind the “hymn” of Colossians 1). But if that’s true, there’s no reason why Jesus wouldn’t have known it of himself, and said so.

These are not the only inaccuracies in Evans's factual statements (even aside from his inaccuracies about his own words in 2012). For example, he also claims that the additional material in John at the beginning of Jesus' ministry is before the baptism of John (minute 35:30), but this is false. The additional material at the beginning of Jesus' ministry is after the baptism of John but before the beginning of Jesus' Galilean ministry. This is fairly minor, but worth noting in passing.

Recall as well, as noted in my previous post, that back in 2012 Evans made the inaccurate statement that there were church fathers who questioned the canonicity of John.

I bring all of these up both because these matters lie within Evans's area of specialty and (allegedly) not within mine and also because in the cases of the claims about Wisdom literature and about the supposed seven "I am discourses," the false statements played an important role in Evans's self-presentation and/or his argument. It thus becomes important to point out that Evans's factual claims must be checked rather than accepted uncritically, even within his own area of expertise.

Inaccurate portrayal of his own remarks in 2012

At several points Dr. Evans represented his own remarks from 2012 in ways that simply were not accurate. Here I have to point out that Evans was not (as one might have thought) relying only on hazy, six-year-old memories. On the contrary. Last September, only eight months ago, a clip showing the first segment that I have transcribed here came to light. Some concerned people wrote personally to Evans to ask for his clarification. He implied to them quite clearly that he watched the segment, then he proceeded to misrepresent his remarks in the same manner that he did here in the debate on Unbelievable--namely, that he was merely saying that the "I am discourses" were not recorded "verbatim." (I also quoted several of his own remarks to him at minute 11:27.)

Evans makes the same false statements concerning the "I am discourses" and the supposed only point he was making to Ehrman in this debate at minute 17:30 and following. He even goes so far as to say that he did not address "Before Abraham was, I am," and that Bart didn't ask him about it, which is absolutely false. Bart asks him about that statement emphatically. See the transcript. Again, this false statement concerns the portion of his comments that were brought to his attention, that he was asked about, and that he watched on video just last fall.

At minute 21 he states, again, that the "only point I was trying to make to Bart Ehrman" was that John shapes the "I am discourses" in a way that "sounds like Wisdom" rather than recording verbatim. Once again, this is a severe misrepresentation of his statements in 2012, which are all a matter of public record. At that time he did not in any way limit his remarks to some particular discourses, nor was his "only point" about some particular discourses or about verbatim transcription. Rather, he suggested again and again that John in general is a different genre from the synoptics, that it is not historical in genre, that it contains only "nuggets" of history, and so forth. Here are just a few selected comments. Again, please see the transcript for more, and watch the videos if you have the slightest doubt:

So I suspect we [he and Ehrman] don’t have too much difference on John. My view is the gospel of John is a horse of another color altogether. It’s a different genre.
I think John is studded with historical details. Maybe you called them nuggets. That’s not a bad way of describing John. But I think the synoptics are more than just some nuggets.
And by the way, Bart, I object to saying it’s not historically accurate. Well, if something isn’t exactly historical, how is it not historically accurate? It’d be like saying, "You mean the parable, the parable was a fiction Jesus told? It’s not historically accurate?"
Ehrman: Okay, you are not going to use John as a blueprint for writing the historical life of Jesus. Because you think it’s metaphorical.

[Evans nods]: Fair enough.

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.

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.

So I’m urging people here, traditional Christians or conservative Christians, to take a new look at John and not fret over how you can make it harmonize with the synoptic Jesus.

Obviously, these comments, including those which Evans watched just last fall and some from later in the Q & A of the 2012 debate, are saying a great deal more than just that we would not historically find an "I am discourse" "top to bottom" and "verbatim." Moreover, Evans was not merely correcting a false dichotomy on the part of Ehrman. In conversation with Ehrman he was meeting him more than halfway, agreeing that John is "metaphorical" and assuring him emphatically that John is only incidentally historical. Then in response to the audience informing them that conservative Christians need to stop attempting to harmonize the Jesus of John with the Jesus of the synoptics.

If, as he tried in some measure to imply early in the debate, Evans now wants to embrace an almost entirely historical Gospel of John, except for some carefully circumscribed "discourses" (once he figures out which discourses those are), this is a vast change from his position in 2012, and he should admit as much. There, the emphasis was precisely the opposite: For 2012 Evans, history in John was to be found only in "nuggets," while the Gospel as a whole was a "horse of a different color."

We should not allow Evans to change the past, for if we allow the past to be obscured, we will also allow truth to be obscured both about the present views of Evans and other scholars and also about the Gospel of John itself.

In my next post I will begin by discussing the highly specific question I asked Evans about two particular sayings of Jesus and his surprising answer.

Part II

Part III

Comments (16)

Just time for a quick point: if one accepts the possibility that Christ really is the Word of God (the Logos), then the Lady Wisdom feature of the Wisdom Books could be taken to constitute a pointer specifically a the person of Jesus Christ. I.E. another form of the prefigurement or the "type" we find throughout the OT: Joseph being sold into slavery and going down to Egypt, Moses' birth, etc. If so, it would not be strange at all if Jesus own self-expression were to call to mind Lady Wisdom, it would have been intentional. Indeed, Christ the divine Person would have been the cause of the expressions of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs, Sirach, etc. In order to find in Christ's expressions a distinctive reference back to the Lady Wisdom expressions as something that seems to constitute a reason for suggesting that John put words in Jesus' mouth, one would have to simply reject beforehand any notion of Jesus being the Word of God. But that would be a theological pre-supposition that Evans is bringing to the question of how to understand the passages in John, one that is hardly justified before one has taken on the task of understanding John. Or so it seems to me.

Yes, I agree that that has to be taken into account. If there is an allusion in Jesus' words to Wisdom, that would be a very real possibility. In general, this sort of thing is never considered. For example, if someone says that Jesus' temptation in the wilderness and the time period after the resurrection probably weren't really forty days because it seems like a symbolic number, such a theorist is ignoring the fact that God fairly *directly* controlled the number of days in both cases and could decide to *make* it a number of days that would have symbolic meaning. If Jesus' words to the disciples at the catch of fish in John 21 resemble what he said to them at a different catch of fish in Luke (asking them if they'd caught anything the previous night, etc.), we should remember that Jesus had a sense of humor and would have remembered the earlier occasion. And so forth.

Moreover, even from a human point of view there is no reason to think that Jesus didn't *know* the books of Proverbs and Sirach.

If Jesus really did go "on and on for many verses talking like Wisdom" in some highly specific and clearly recognizable way, which Evans wrongly states is the case, then this would mean that *either* the passages were "made to look that way" or else Jesus was making a quite *heavy* allusion. And it would be a question of how probable one thought the latter.

But it is pretty concerning when the parallels are stated, explicitly and in detail, falsely. That just has to be called out, especially since the person in question is taken to be an expert.

Jesus, and His followers identified Him as Wisdom in many places.

Matthew 8:20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Wisdom is said to have no place to live until God assigned such a place.

Matthew 11:16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Proverbs 1:24-28 Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you -- when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. "Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Sirach 6:19-31 Come to (Wisdom) like one who plows and sows. Put your neck into her collar. Bind your shoulders and carry her...Come unto her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might...For at last you will find the rest she gives...Then her fetters will become for you a strong defense, and her collar a glorious robe. Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds a purple cord.

Matthew 12:42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

Witherington write about the preceding verse.

If it is true that Jesus made a claim that something greater than Solomon was present in and through his ministry, one must ask what it could be...Surely the most straightforward answer would be that Wisdom had come in person.

These same allusions are made in Luke.

That's just some from the synoptics and what they allude to. There are also references in 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and of course John. If he is consistent he will throw out all of those too.

I forgot to add this earlier, sorry. You can find a more in depth treatment of the passages in question here. http://www.tektonics.org/jesusclaims/trinitydefense.php

I really like that, Ben. Very interesting.

And it provides the basis of what I would call a "Stanley Leathes style" argument for the historicity of the material in John, *even if* there were some parallels to Wisdom in Jesus' speech. (Though as I have said, the specific parallel claims that Evans makes about an "I am way of speaking" are outright false.)

I really like that, Ben. Very interesting.

And it provides the basis of what I would call a "Stanley Leathes style" argument for the historicity of the material in John, *even if* there were some parallels to Wisdom in Jesus' speech. (Though as I have said, the specific parallel claims that Evans makes about an "I am way of speaking" are outright false.)

I've noticed that many of the arguments used in order to dehistoricize the Bible are either easily shown to be false even at a cursory glance*, or don't actually support an ahistorical reading. Sometimes to the extent of supporting the opposite of their intended purpose.

Ben, those are very important parallels between Wisdom and Jesus in Matthew. And you're certainly right that it isn't only in Matthew, but was an idea diffused throughout other NT scripture.

Lydia, assuming for the sake of this question that Craig is right in his use of Matthew 13:52 and his craia point, how does he get from 'Jesus instructs his disciples to adapt and rework his teaching' to 'Jesus instructs his disciples to adapt, drastically restylize, etc. their reports of his ministry'?

Going back to the OT, Nehemiah 8:8 in particular, we see that when the exiles came back to Jerusalem, the Law was read to them, but then it was explained, exposited, interpreted, and made clear. The priests adapted the Law, but they didn't conflate what the Law said with what their interpretation of it was, putting the latter, as it were, into the mouth of Moses. But, if this analogy is any good, what Craig seems to be suggesting is going on in John is like if these priests didn't so much report the Law, but rather their commentary or interpretation of it.

Put another way, why does he thinks his point from Matthew 13:52 supports altering the Gospels, instead of just adapting what is contained therein in evangelizing or in worship?

And he suggests that what's going in John as far as adapting and reshaping and interpreting Jesus is like what we supposedly see in teaching handbooks of the day - though around 50 minutes, he says, 'even if it's on the fringe' whatever that means. And he again says that Matthew 13:52 enjoined this on the disciples. But if Christ did, why do we see such unremarkable alteration in the Synoptics? Were they not carrying out what Christ enjoined on them?

Excellent points, Sean.

On "chreia," see my post here. Evans is just going off the deep end with the word. He's not the only one to have done so. That stuff about "chreia" has been around for a while in NT studies. But it's very much unjustified. There is no actual evidence that the "pedagogic principles of the day" taught students to do what he's claiming, and the word "chreia" just means "anecdote." It isn't a technical term for a semi-fictionalized-but-historical-looking story. Here's my post on that. Since I already knew previously that it was Evans's "thing," and he had material out there on it already, I wrote that up ahead of time.


Your point about his not distinguishing teaching in their own voice with feigning that Jesus said the things they wished to teach is spot-on, and it's a point I made around minute 55. Evans actually had the face to ask me (which I answered just before then) if I believe in paraphrase, and then he also asked me if I believed that the disciples were enjoined to teach and to elaborate upon Jesus' words.

These are the fallacies of equivocation and false dilemma (respectively), which is of course red meat to an analytic philosopher. Indeed, whenever he made some attempt to go on the attack, it was a tactical error, because his "questions" were extremely easy to answer just by showing their faulty and invidious assumptions--the misleading use of "paraphrase" and the bizarre implication that the disciples were nothing but "trained parrots" rather than true learners, and incapable of teaching and applying doctrine on their own, if they did not write up dramatic inventions in which they put the teaching into the mouth of Jesus! These were easy to shoot down.

The interpretation of Matt. 13:52 as enjoining *that* is utterly unjustified. As you say, there's not the remotest reason to think that Jesus ever told them to do anything of the kind. The verse is somewhat cryptic anyway. It *may* refer to the teaching they will do later on. Or it may just in general refer to the fact that the kingdom of God brings new doctrines (e.g., the atonement, the unity of Jews and Gentiles, the Trinity, to name just three), and that "scribes instructed in the kingdom" will have the opportunity to teach these new doctrines as well as what God had previously revealed. Or perhaps some other meaning.

And he again says that Matthew 13:52 enjoined this on the disciples. But if Christ did, why do we see such unremarkable alteration in the Synoptics? Were they not carrying out what Christ enjoined on them?

Yes, shrewd point. Well, something Evans and I didn't get into is the extent to which he thinks the synoptics are actually fictionalized, just not as much as John. For example, it is Evans who says that Matthew invented the involvement of the mother of James and John in asking that they be on Jesus' right and left hands. This was supposedly to "cast them in a better light." This is in his commentary on Matthew. And he appears to waver somewhat on the extent to which the infancy narratives are invented. In his commentary he seems to think Matthew's is historical. But in a Q & A after a debate with Richard Carrier, in response to a question, he seemed extremely open to Robert Gundry's very extreme "midrash" view according to which a huge amount of Matthew's infancy narrative is made up out of whole cloth.

But beyond that, I suppose what he'd say (or have to say) in answer to your question is that Jesus enjoined them to do *some* putting words in his mouth but left it up to them how far they wanted to go with that! And that the "Johannine community" just did more of it.

I should add here, apropos of Matthew 13:52, a shrewd point that a friend made: if we accepted the claim that the evangelists considered themselves licensed to exercise wide latitude in the sayings and discourses they attributed to Jesus, what right would we have to think that Jesus said anything like these words at all?

I thought about that for a while. I assume that anything one tried in that regard would be met by Evans with a shocked face and something like, "But didn't you understand? The paraphrase is supposed to be true to the original meaning! And since this *is* the original meaning, well, then..."

But a little imagination allows one to press the point. Suppose that the historical saying were, "The kingdom of heaven is like a house filled with things both old and new." And Matthew added the bit about the scribe instructed in the kingdom bringing things out of his treasury.

That is *modest* compared to the kinds of "paraphrases" that get licensed by these guys. Very modest. Clearly it's the kind of thing that they would in other circumstances consider an uncontroversial case of "ipsissima vox paraphrase."

But this hypothetical historical saying leaves out even the reference to the scribe and his having been instructed. Thus it leaves out even the thin shred of verbal evidence on which Evans has to rely to get his wild overinterpretation.

Or, to make it even more amusing, suppose that the historical saying were essentially the same as Matthew 13:52, *except that* it added, "But the scribe must bring forth his own treasures and not say that they are another's," or something like that--which could be interpreted to rule out putting words in someone's mouth. And Matthew just didn't happen to write that down.

We can do all kinds of things with this, particularly since Evans's interpretation itself is so weird and tendentious in the first place.

If even purportedly conservative or evangelical NT scholarship casts aspersions on thinking of the gospels as consistently and accurately describing events and words of Jesus and others, where (outside of some subjective experience or action by God) is the force of the testimony to point somebody to the conclusion that this Jesus was not just an interesting character or a sage fellow, but was (in fact) "the word made flesh" who in the beginning was with God and was God? One may as well (it seems) be mildly agnostic about the whole historic Christianity thing given how much ground is needlessly ceded to the skeptics.

Anyway, keep up the good work. As you so correctly point out, it is about evidence and argumentation, not credentials or guild membership. I have great respect for the "opponents" in this debate (Wallace, Licona, Evans) but I just don't feel the force of their case. It will be interesting when your work is directly addressed with the time and respect it deserves.

It will be interesting when your work is directly addressed with the time and respect it deserves.

At this rate, that will be a flying pig moment. I do not expect it to happen at all from any of these players in the game.

Craig Evans at least *did* the debate. Licona declined it. This is the result of one of the only bits of engagement there has been from a well-known advocate of a literary device view, and let's just say that the quality of the arguments on his side left a great deal to be desired. And there was some gratuitous condescension thrown in in the course of it.

Indeed, I wondered more than once if he'd even been listening to what I was saying, despite the fact that the audio equipment had been tested beforehand and was ostensibly working well for us to hear each other. But he often seemed not to have been paying attention--e.g., when he suggested that something at the heart of the difference between us (seriously?) was my having a major aversion to the possibility of composite discourses. Like *that* was what I had *ever* made a locus of criticism concerning his views. (Hint: It never was.) And he suggested this as some kind of key to our disagreement *after* I had expressly raised that possibility myself already in the debate. Twice, by my recollection. Presumably he would have *liked* it if that were what our disagreement came down to, but wishful thinking doesn't work very well in these situations.

Hi Lydia. I think you did a great job. I found Dr.Evans was back peddling on his comments that he issued in his debate with Dr.Ehrman. What I heard on Unbelievable radio and what he said to Ehrman appeared very different.

Evans' argument on John utilizing Sophia or Wisdom motifs in his portrait of Jesus in his gospel I think was weak. In Luke 24:27,44 Jesus taught His disciples to read and interpret the Old Testament through Christological lenses. They were to read and understand it in a Christotelic fashion. The Law, Prophets, and Psalms (whole Hebrew Bible) is about Jesus. Jesus is the true Exegete of the Father (John 1:18) and He taught His disciples to exegete Scripture with Him as the ultimate reference point. Thus applying Wisdom motifs to Jesus is hardly surprising.

Tony Costa, thank you!

Right--in other words, Jesus *himself* might easily have applied OT themes or Scriptures to himself, so that is hardly evidence that he did not personally and historically utter something.

I am about to post Part II of my analysis. Part III will be entirely a survey of the positive evidence I was able to bring out in the debate, even under somewhat adverse rhetorical circumstances.

Craig Evans at least *did* the debate. Licona declined it. This is the result of one of the only bits of engagement there has been from a well-known advocate of a literary device view, and let's just say that the quality of the arguments on his side left a great deal to be desired. And there was some gratuitous condescension thrown in in the course of it.

The underlined is the kind of thing that really bugs me, but it always shows up if anyone dares speak out against some of the nonsense posing itself as scholarship. I've also noticed that many rely on a method of self preservation for their arguments. They do this by saying that anyone who disagrees with them simply doesn't understand the argument at all. Now, obviously there will likely be some people who don't understand, it's not going to be the case for every critic.

I would like to add to what I said in the post, in case anyone misses it, that the term "discourses" occurs nowhere in the dialogue with Ehrman about the I am sayings, neither uttered by Ehrman nor by Evans. Ehrman asks about *sayings*, not discourses. Neither of them so much as *brings up* the question of whether lengthy discourses were uttered "top to bottom." So Evans's statement that the "only point" he was making to Bart concerned the transcription of long discourses is not only false but *blatantly* false, since the transcription of long discourses was literally not even a subject they discussed.

One member of the audience, later in the Q & A (not Ehrman), does bring up the supposed problem of lengthy discourses, but does this as only one part of a broader question about whether John's portrait is reliable. Moreover, when Evans answers that audience question, he does *not* limit his skepticism to the "long speeches" part of the question but rather states unequivocally that *sayings* such as "I am the true vine," etc. reflect the understanding of the Johannine community *rather than* things that Jesus actually went around and said. And in answer to a different questioner he refers to the "Johannine sayings, with a few exceptions," *not* to long discourses. He also refers there more sweepingly to "the distinctive material in John," which is obviously quite a broad category, accuses it of not being multiply attested, and says that it "doesn’t fit the early first century Jewish setting oftentimes."

Ironically, allusions to Sirach presumably *would* fit pretty well with a first-century Jewish setting, so if that were what Evans were talking about, his complaint about "not fitting with the early first century Jewish setting" would be almost incoherent. Nor is there any sense in which mere *length* would make a discourse un-Jewish. (Did all Jewish teachers speak only briefly? Obviously not.) My guess is that this "oftentimes" was one of his usual amalgamations or exaggerations and that an example he would have brought up if pressed would be the man being cast out of the synagogue in John 9, which is often criticized by "critical scholars" as allegedly anachronistic. I was prepared to discuss that if he brought it up in the debate, but here I'll just note that that would be casting doubt upon a portion of the narrative that is not anything like a long discourse!

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