A Verdict on Josh McDowell

Gordon B. Hazen

Table of Contents

Introduction

A note on format

6/23/99 Luke's account of the birth of Jesus

7/30/99 NT Error rates; disputed passages affecting articles of faith

8/6/99 Historians' criteria for reliability

8/11/99 Eyewitness testimony

11/1/99 Paul's silence on the life of Christ

11/18/99 Motives of McDowell and motives of Paul

12/6/99 Rebuttal on Paul's silence

12/28/99 Rebuttals on Luke's nativity account

1/2/00 Luke's nativity account: Commentaries of Clark and of Archer

1/4/00 Atonement in Luke

1/5/00 Correction on Luke's omission of Mark 10:45

1/20/00 Luke's nativity account: Joseph Free's discussion

 

Introduction

Josh McDowell's book Evidence That Demands a Verdict has been variously described as an authoritative defense of Christianity and a masterpiece of Christian apologetics, which provides scholarly, intelligent, well-grounded answers to questions about the Christian faith. In the summer of 1999, my brother, a fundamentalist Christian, invited me to engage in an email discussion of the historical reliability of the New Testament, specifically focusing on McDowell's defense of NT historicity. As a result, I began a six-month investigation of McDowell's Chapter 4, entitled "The reliability of the Bible".

By checking McDowell's sources and consulting works of NT scholars, I was eventually able to discover that much of what McDowell presents is untrustworthy, misleading or simply incorrect. In the ensuing six months, my brother and I engaged in detailed email discussions in which we debated the McDowell's evidence. I give below a transcript of our discussions. My hope is that the detailed evidence presented here will give both Christians and non-Christians ammunition to help expose and rebut the distortions and falsehoods being promulgated by McDowell and other like-minded fundamentalists.

McDowell's book can be highly misleading to an unwary reader. He is a "compiler": He scans the literature and picks out quotes which support or seem to support the case he is trying to make, ignoring all contrary material. He is not above lifting quotes out of context and alleging they pertain to subjects they do not. He cites from individual sources selectively, omitting what doesn't support his position. He exaggerates the degree to which his sources support his claims. Presenting only supporting material to the reader prevents any nuanced discussion of controversial issues and gives the reader the misleading impression of scholarly unanimity in support of McDowell's assertions. It is only by following up on McDowell's citations and seeking out opposing scholarly literature that an unwary reader can discover McDowell's deceptiveness. Most readers have neither the time nor the inclination for such research, and many conservative Christians are glad to see apparent scholarly support for what they already "know" is true. Unfortunately for them and the unwary they seek to influence, that support is a mirage and a deception. [More details.]

There are other rebuttals of McDowell's work available on the Internet, foremost of which is Jeffery Jay Lowder's The Ruling on McDowell's "Evidence". Lowder presents a chapter-by-chapter reply to McDowell. However, Lowder's material on McDowell's chapter 4 does not contain detailed rebuttals to McDowell's specific claims, which is what a reader will find here. The Secular Web references other rebuttals to McDowell as well.The Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance present a discussion of Biblical inerrancy which is relevant to many of McDowell's claims. One may also find critical reviews of McDowell at Amazon.com, interspersed among fundamentalist accolades.

Once again, the material I present here covers only parts - I think the most significant parts - of McDowell's chapter 4.

 

A note on format

In the following material, my brother and I refer to each other by first name, of course. My brother's name is Bob, and my name is Gordy. Blocks of text preceded by the heading "Bob:" indicate that Bob is speaking, and blocks of text preceded by the heading "Gordy:" indicate that Gordy is speaking. Since these are letters, salutations also appear, e.g., "Bob,". Do not confuse these with headings.

6/23/99 Luke's account of the birth of Jesus

Bob,

As I mentioned last time, I'd already been comparing McDowell (1972, 14th printing 1977) with my book Wells (1999). One of the comparisons I was interested in was the nativity story in the new testament, on which McDowell's and Well's conclusions are pretty much opposite. McDowell's treatment of Luke's nativity story is on p. 73 of my edition, but in case you've got a different edition, here are McDowell's section/ subsections where I found the material, from broadest to narrowest. (I presume you understand McDowell's section labeling scheme.)

Chapter 4: The Reliability of the Bible

4A. The Reliability and Trustworthiness of Scripture

5B. External Evidence Test for Reliability of Scripture

3C. Evidence from Archaeology

2D. New Testament Examples

1E. Luke's reliability as a historian is unquestionable.

Anyway, since McDowell's exposition was considerably more abridged than Wells', I thought I would check out McDowell's citations on this topic. I was able to find the primary one of the two references he uses, Elder (1962). While I was in the Biblical Archaeology section of the library, I also saw Thompson (1962) and Yamauchi (1972), which I also checked out. (Complete references below).

My detailed check of references did not go well for McDowell, who appears (as of 1972) to be unaware of some evidence and exaggerating other evidence for his case. Details below.

McDowell discusses three issues with regard to Luke's nativity story:

1. WAS THERE A ROMAN CENSUS AT THE TIME OF JESUS' BIRTH?

2. WAS QUIRINIUS GOVERNOR OF SYRIA AT THE TIME OF JESUS' BIRTH?

3. WAS EVERYONE REQUIRED TO RETURN TO THEIR ANCESTRAL HOME?

I'll split up my message into sections accordingly.

As I'm sure you're aware, all commentators agree that the time of Jesus' birth was near the end of the reign of King Herod of Judea and that Herod died in 4 BC.

CONCLUSION

REFERENCES

 

1. WAS THERE A ROMAN CENSUS AT THE TIME OF JESUS' BIRTH?

McDowell states that "archaeological discoveries prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Romans ... held censuses every 14 years. This procedure was indeed begun under Augustus and the first took place in either 23-22 BC or 9-8 BC. The latter would be the one to which Luke refers." (p.73) He cites Elder (pp. 159-160).

Elder cites a "large Egyptian papyrus" telling of enrollments in AD 174-175, 160-161, and 146-47, intervals of 14 years. He cites earlier papyri telling of enrollments in AD 62-63 and 20-21. He cites another telling of exemptions from the poll tax in AD 14. So the earliest census Elder cites is AD 20-21, although it is reasonable to infer a census 14 years earlier than AD 20-21, that is in AD 6-7, due to the existence of the poll tax in AD 14. However, Elder notes that Augustus began his reign in 27 BC and says:

"Since Augustus records that he set about early in his reign to organize the empire, the first census may have been either in 23-22 BC or in 9-8 BC; the latter would be the census to which the Gospel of Luke refers." (p. 160).

That is the totality of Elder's evidence that there was a census in 9-8 BC. The big question is whether setting out "early in his reign to organize the empire" means (1) having a census, and (2) having one early in his reign. Not at all clear, it seems to me.

Thompson (1962) mentions documentary Egyptian evidence of regular 14-year censuses from AD 90 to 230, and Thompson indicates that Ramsay (uncited) speaks of censuses in AD 62, 48, 34 and 20. None of my sources indicate any record of a census earlier than AD 20, although several infer such a census in AD 6 based on evidence such as the poll tax I mentioned and the timing of Quirinius' governorship if Syria, which I discuss below.

Thompson mentions that the "first enrollment when Quirinius was Governor" should be "distinguished from the later census referred to in Acts 5:37," which would have been in AD 6, and that "the one before this would be 8 BC." However, Acts 5:37 mentions only that "Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census..." and even this is not asserted by Luke but only put by Luke into the mouth of a Pharisee named Gamaliel. Luke does not mention a time for the census or whether it was the first, second or whatever. Thompson can quote no other evidence for a census in 8 BC. [Further discussion below.] McDowell does not cite Thompson anyway, and I'm just mentioning Thompson because what he says is relevant.

My conclusion: McDowell is definitely exaggerating the available evidence when he claims unequivocally that there was a census in 9-8 BC.
[For further information, see below.]

 

2. WAS QUIRINIUS GOVERNOR OF SYRIA AT THE TIME OF JESUS' BIRTH?

McDowell states:

"Secondly, we find evidence that Quirinius was governor of Syria around 7 BC. This assumption is based on an inscription found in Antioch ascribing to Quirinius this post. As a result of this finding, it is now supposed that he was governor twice. Once in 7 BC and the other time in 6 AD (the date ascribed by Josephus)." (p. 73)

He cites Elder. But Elder is considerably less confident of this conclusion. He states that "the exact history of the movements of Quirinius is still uncertain." According to Elder, the Antioch evidence identifies Quirinius as "prefect", and records his election as "magistrate, in recognition of his victory over the Hamonades, and proves that Quirinius was in the area as a commander at this date [10-7 BC]" Elder concludes that "Quirinius was at Antioch early enough to have been governor at the time of a census when Jesus was born." That is the strongest statement Elder can make.

And anyway, as Elder notes, Antioch is in Galatia. Wells (1999, p. 276) cites Feldman (1984, p. 712) to the effect that it has been convincingly shown that Quirinius was governor of Galatia, not Syria, at the time.

There are more problems, of which McDowell was apparently unaware. As Yamauchi notes (1972, p. 99), "The difficulty of placing Quirinius as legate in Syria before 4 BC is that from other texts we have a fairly complete list of legates." According to Wells (1999, p. 276), Syria was governed from 10/9 to 7/6 BC by Sentius Saturninus, and from 7/6 to 4 BC by Quintilius Varus. Yamauchi also mentions Saturninus as Syrian governor at that time. This leaves no room for Quirinius as governor when Luke claims. Wells, Yamauchi and Thompson quote apologists who assert that Quirinius was "extraordinary imperial legate" to Syria at that time in connection with his command against the Hamonades, but as I've said, that would have been to Galatia, not Syria.

There are yet more problems. According to Wells (pp 117-118), Judea under Herod was a client state, not a part of the Roman empire, so was not subject to a census, although Herod may well have had to pay a tribute to Rome. Upon Herod's death, his kingdom was divided between his sons: Archelaus was given Judea, and Antipas given Galilee. Archelaus was deposed in AD 6 and Judea (but not Galilee) was made part of the Roman empire and subject to census. (Antipas continued as ruler of Galilee until AD 39.) Wells states "It is quite obvious that Luke had this census of AD 6 in mind, but antedated it and supposed it to have occurred in Herod's lifetime."

My conclusion: McDowell was uninformed, and even stretched the information he had to try to make his case.

[For further information, see below and below and below]

3. WAS EVERYONE REQUIRED TO RETURN TO THEIR ANCESTRAL HOME?

Elder, Thompson, Yamauchi, Wells, and McDowell all mention the Egyptian document which McDowell presents as follows:

"Because of the approaching census it is necessary that all those residing for any cause away from their homes should at once prepare to return to their own governments in order that they may complete the family registration of the enrollment and that the tilled lands may retain those belonging to them" (p. 73)

Only Wells responds critically (p. 117). He notes that "homes" is a translation of "idia" and "idia" can mean either one's "private property" or one's "peculiar district". He quotes papyrologists to the effect that the intended meaning is probably "private property." But Joseph had no private property in Bethlehem, for otherwise why did Joseph and Mary seek refuge at an inn, as Luke claims? Even if the meaning is "peculiar district", Joseph in Judea under Herod in 7 BC or in Galilee under Antipas in 6 AD would not have been subject to the Roman decree since as Wells has noted, Judea in 7 BC and Galilee in 6 AD were client states and not part of the empire.

Wells (pp. 116-117) also quotes Sanders (1993, p. 86): "According to Luke's own genealogy (3:23-38), David had lived 42 generations before Joseph. Why should Joseph have had to register in the town of one of his ancestors forty-two generations earlier? ... David doubtless had tens of thousands of descendants who were alive at the time. Could they all identify themselves? If so, how would they all register in a little village?"

It might be replied that it was Joseph's father or grandfather who might have lived in Bethlehem. But then why would Joseph not seek shelter with them or other relatives, instead of the inn? And why then would Luke mention only David as the ancestor from Bethlehem? Luke's claim that Joseph went Bethlehem to register because he was "of the house and family of David" doesn't seem to hold together.

My conclusion: The fault here is more Luke's than McDowell's. But the evidence has much less impact than McDowell seems to think. [Further discussion below.]

 

CONCLUSION

I think my unwillingness to trust McDowell is more than justified by the evidence I've presented above. Note that I didn't spend days looking through the library for evidence to discredit McDowell. This topic was the first and only attempt I made to check his sources. On that basis, it is not unreasonable to expect that a lot more of what McDowell puts out is suspect. I am not saying I'm not unwilling to examine what he says further. But don't claim I am closed-minded if I don't accept McDowell's conclusions without checking them out.

By the way, the evidence I've summarized above also undermines McDowell's claim that "Luke's reliability as an historian is unquestionable" (p. 72). I think there is considerable doubt as to Luke's reliability based on what I've mentioned above.

REFERENCES

J. Elder (1960), Prophets, Idols and Diggers: Scientific Proof of Bible History. Indianapolis and New York: Bobs-Merrill.

L.H. Feldman (1984), Josephus and Modern Scholarship, 1937-1980. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

E.P. Sanders (1993), The Historical Figure of Jesus. London: Lane

J.A. Thompson (1962), The Bible and Archaeology. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing.

G.A. Wells (1999), The Jesus Myth. Chicago: Open Court.

E.M. Yamauchi (1972), The Stones and the Scriptures. Philadelphia and New York: J.B. Lippincott.

7/30/99 NT Error rates; disputed passages affecting articles of faith

Bob,

I've been reading more of McDowell's Chapter 4 on the reliability of the Bible and comparing it to other reading I've also been doing. I'm at this point in McDowell's hierarchy:

4A. THE RELIABILITY AND TRUSTWORTHINESS OF SCRIPTURE

2B. THE BIBLIOGRAPHIC TEST FOR THE RELIABILITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

1C. SCHOLARS TESTIFY OF THE MANUSCRIPT AUTHORITY (pp. 43-46, 1977 edition).

Below are my thoughts on what McDowell says. I confine myself to this section (1C) for now. Since we haven't talked about stuff like this before, I'm unsure of what you know and don't know, and what background information you accept or don't accept. So fill me in if necessary.

Gordy

Here is an outline of what is to come:

1. ERROR RATE FOR NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS

2. DO ARTICLES OF FAITH DEPEND ON DISPUTED PASSAGES?

2.1 The Doctrine of Atonement in Luke

2.2 The Endings of Mark's Gospel

3. CONCLUSIONS

REFERENCES

 

1. ERROR RATE FOR NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS

I agree with the authors McDowell quotes that the alleged "150,000 textual variations" is sort of a red herring, especially if counted in the way Geisler and Nix point out (one spelling error in 3000 manuscripts = 3000 variations). What we're talking about here are changes in manuscripts produced when they were copied by hand, so I would expect the error rate to be pretty small.

Although a large error rate would disqualify the manuscripts as reliable texts, a small error rate does not by itself validate the historical accuracy of a manuscript. For one thing, the "original" text might not be accurate, even if it is accurately copied. Second, it doesn't take much corruption (percentage-wise) of a text to alter its meaning on the historicity of key theological issues (examples below).

Third, based on McDowell's choice of quotations, one might get the impression that the errors he speaks of consist of a word here, a line there. In fact, one can point out discrepancies involving the addition of one or more entire "paragraphs" (see below), a situation which would cast considerably more doubt on historicity. Finally, historicity depends as much or more on comparing different writers than on examining the accuracy with which one writer was preserved.

So overall, McDowell's debunking of the "150,000 variations" and his support of a low percentage error rate don't impress me much.

2. DO ARTICLES OF FAITH DEPEND ON DISPUTED PASSAGES?

The second point made by the authors McDowell quotes is that no major article of faith is put into doubt due to disputed passages in the New Testament. For example,

"...nor is one article of faith or moral precept either perverted or lost ... choose as awkwardly as you will, choose the worst by design, out of the whole lump of readings." (Warfield 55/163).

I think this claim is simply false, and I can give two examples from Parker (1997) which illustrate why.

2.1 The Doctrine of Atonement in Luke

Let's look at Luke 22.19-20. In verses 17-20 are Jesus' words about the bread and the cup at the last supper. Here is the accepted text of verses 17-20, as it appears in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus:

 

(17) And taking the cup giving thanks he said
Take this and
divide it amongst yourselves
(18) For I say to you
I shall not henceforth drink of the fruit of the vine,
until the kingdom of God comes.
(19) And taking bread, giving thanks he broke it, and gave it to them, saying
This is my body, that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
(20) And the cup likewise after supper, saying
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
that is shed for you.

Here is the text as it appears in Codex Bezae:

(17) And taking the cup giving thanks he said
Take this
divide it amongst yourselves
(18) For I say to you
henceforth I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine,
until the kingdom of God comes.
(19) And taking bread, giving thanks he broke it, and gave it to them, saying
This is my body.

So Codex Bezae does not have the material of part of verse 19 and of verse 20 which appear in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. The extra material in Sinaiticus and Vaticanus introduces the notion of atonement ("my body that is given for you ... my blood that is shed for you.") Without this material, there is no doctrine of atonement in Luke! (or for that matter, in Luke's other gospel, Acts.) Here is what Wells (1999) says on this issue:

"[This material] is widely regarded as added by a later hand so as to bring Luke's version of the eucharistic words into line with that of Mark and Matthew. The key elements of the vocabulary of these verses are otherwise foreign to Luke, who elsewhere consistently portrays the death of Jesus not as an atoning sacrifice, but as a miscarriage of justice that God reversed by vindicating him at the resurrection. Luke has even eliminated the notion of atonement from the one source we are virtually certain he had before him, namely the gospel of Mark; for he omits Mk. 10:45 ("the Son of man came ... to give his life a ransom for many") and so presumably did not find its theology acceptable." (Wells 1999, p. 255).

If 19b-20 are not added verses, then it is harder to explain the awkwardness of Luke's writing of the cup, which is mentioned as being taken first before the bread (verse 17) and then taken yet again after the bread (verse 20).

That Luke does not include the doctrine of atonement in his scriptures is evidence that it may not have been an original teaching of Jesus, and instead may have been introduced by Paul. Indeed, Luke 22:19b-20 is strikingly similar to 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, as Parker points out.

So not only are McDowell and his quoted authors wrong that no doubt can be cast on an article of faith by disputed passages - they are wrong on one of the most central articles of faith in Christianity! [For further discussion see below.]

2.2 The Endings of Mark's Gospel

The accepted text of Mark 16 tells of the discovery of the empty tomb (verses 1-8) and the resurrection appearances of Jesus (verses 9-20). But verses 9-20 are completely missing from Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. These manuscripts simply end with verse 8.

That verses 9-20 were added as opposed to subtracted seems most likely: There is no obvious motivation for the deletion of these passages. Moreover, verse 9 seems to introduce Mary Magdalene as if for the first time, when she has already appeared in verse 1 at the tomb, a much more likely error if verses 9-20 were added than if verses 1-20 were composed as a whole and then 9-20 deleted. Also, from Codex Bobbiensis, there is a second, different ending after verse 8 which mentions no resurrection appearances at all.

In my view this throws considerable doubt on the historicity of verses 9-20. Of course, one could argue that verses 9-20 were added based on the testimony of reliable witnesses. But then one is forced to conclude that Mark was unaware of the resurrection appearances when he wrote his gospel, which seems unbelievable to me if in fact they occurred. Or one could I suppose argue that Mark composed his gospel in stages and only added 9-20 later. But again, why if he knew of the resurrection appearances and was already relating the story of the empty tomb would he not immediately include the subsequent resurrection appearances?

I can think of no other likely alternative than that Mark did not know of the resurrection appearances when he wrote his Gospel. And if Mark, the earliest gospel writer and closest to the events he described, was unaware of the appearances, then their historicity is doubtful. Once again, McDowell and his quoted authors are wrong that no disputed passages cast doubt upon articles of faith - and the resurrection appearances are not minor articles of faith! [For further discussion see below.]

3. CONCLUSIONS

The conclusion that Luke 22:19b-20 and Mark 16:9-20 were added to the gospels calls into question the commitment of the early church to the accurate transmission of its original documents. As you may know, these are only two examples of New Testament text which scholars have solid ground for believing to be later interpolations. As Parker says in his analysis of the last three chapters of Luke,

"...the sum total provides incontrovertible evidence that the text of these chapters was not fixed, and indeed continued to grow for centuries after its composition." (Parker 1997, p. 172)

"...behind the various texts and groups of witnesses there may be observed a tradition that permitted and encouraged the expansion of the Lukan passion narrative" (Parker 1997, p. 173)

Indeed, this is Parker's perspective on all the gospels, as evidenced by the title of his book, "The Living Text of the Gospels". [Further discussion below.]

McDowell is aware of and summarizes the different codexes I have cited above, but apparently is not aware of the discrepancies between them, or chooses not to mention them. Once again, I think McDowell gives us far from a complete picture here.

REFERENCES

D.C. Parker (1997), The Living Text of the Gospels. Cambridge University Press.

G.A. Wells (1999), The Jesus Myth. Chicago: Open Court.

8/6/99 Historians' criteria for reliability

Hi Bob,

I continue with my response to McDowell's chapter 4. I intend here to discuss Subsections 2C through 8C in Subsection 2B of Section 4A. Here are the Section headings:

4A. THE RELIABILITY AND TRUSTWORTHINESS OF SCRIPTURE

2B. THE BIBLIOGRAPHIC TEST FOR THE RELIABILITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

(Sections 2C through 8C)

I divide what I write below into three sections:

1. HISTORIANS' CRITERIA FOR RELIABILITY

2. TWO MINOR POINTS

3. CONCLUSION

Gordy

REFERENCES

1. HISTORIANS' CRITERIA FOR RELIABILITY

In Sections 2C though 5C McDowell seeks to establish NT reliability based on two criteria:

(1) The sheer number of available NT manuscripts;

(2) The comparatively short transmission interval for many NT manuscripts;

where by transmission interval, I mean the time interval between the dates of composition of the original NT manuscripts and the dates for the earliest copies available to us today.

The Greenlee quote in Section 5C is representative:

"...the number of available MSS of the New Testament is overwhelmingly greater than those of any other work of ancient literature. In the third place, the earliest extant MSS of the NT were written much closer to the date of the original writing than is the case in almost any other piece of ancient literature."

For example, McDowell points out that we have thousands of ancient manuscripts containing portions of the NT. Codex Sinaiticus (350 AD) and Codex Vaticanus (325-50 AD) are the earliest manuscripts McDowell mentions which contain substantially all of the NT, although there exist earlier fragments dating to the second century. This gives a transmission interval of roughly 250 years for complete NT copies, and 50-100 years for fragments. Contrast this with Caesar's writings of 50 BC or so, the 10 copies which are available to us dating to 900 AD, having therefore a transmission interval of nearly 1000 years.

The conclusion McDowell wants us to draw is set forth by, for example, a second Greenlee quote in Section 5C:

"Since scholars accept as generally trustworthy the writings of the ancient classics even though the earliest MSS were written so long after the original writings and the number of extant MSS is in many instances so small, it is clear that the reliability of the text of the NT is likewise assured."

In short, as McDowell claims in his conclusion to Chapter 4, "If one discards the Bible as being unreliable, then he must discard almost all literature of antiquity."

This conclusion is extremely naive, so much so that in my view either McDowell has been taken in by the Christian apologists he quotes or he is trying to do the same to us. McDowell's conclusion rests on the assumption that the only criteria for historical reliability are manuscript count and transmission interval. While these criteria have value, they are not the primary ones by which historians evaluate reliability. As Wells points out (1999, p.10), historians look for independent and corroborating testimonies from proximal witnesses, that is, witnesses situated as close as possible in time and place to the events in question. For example, ten corroborating manuscripts testifying to events in the life of Jesus which are all copies of an earlier manuscript are no more convincing than the earlier manuscript by itself. On the other hand, if there were 10 corroborating manuscripts authored independently by 10 different writers, that would constitute much more compelling evidence.

It is independent corroborating testimony that is important. A large count of corroborating manuscripts is evidence for reliable transmission of manuscripts from the fourth century to us, but it is not evidence of independent corroborating testimony on the life of Jesus, because most manuscripts are copies of earlier ones or records of preceding oral tradition. In fact one can argue that there is very little independent evidence of events in Jesus' lifetime, that the evidence that does exist is only weakly corroborating, and that the witnesses are not all that proximal. But I leave this discussion for the future.

Returning to McDowell's criteria, much more important than transmission interval is the proximity in time between the writing of the original manuscript and the dates of the events described in the manuscript. Caesar was an eyewitness to many of the events he describes in his Commentaries. The elapsed time between the wars and Caesar's writing is a matter of months or a few years. The fact that the transmission interval is nearly 1000 years is not highly relevant to historians' assessment of reliability. In contrast, the elapsed time for Gospel reports is probably 40 years for Mark and 60 - 70 years for the other three Gospels. Moreover, the Gospel accounts were not written by eyewitnesses. So based on spatial and temporal proximity alone, it is reasonable to give more credence to Caesar's Commentaries than to the Gospels.

Of course the issue of the historical reliability of the Gospels is much more involved than this. I only want to point out how misleading are McDowell's use of manuscript count and transmission interval as criteria for historical reliability, and to point out the criteria that historians actually use.

McDowell's Section 7C (MANUSCRIPT RELIABILITY SUPPORTED BY EARLY CHURCH SCHOLARS) makes the point that there are more than 36,000 NT citations in the extent writings of church scholars of the second and third centuries, enough to reconstruct most of the NT. This evidence is in the same vein as McDowell's earlier evidence on manuscript count, and I respond in the same way: It is not corroborating evidence which is important but independent corroborating evidence. Since the church fathers merely quote the earlier NT writings, they do not provide independent corroborating evidence of NT reliability. The most one can say is that here is evidence that manuscripts had not become very corrupted by the second or third century. But McDowell undercuts even that conclusion when he passes on Joseph Angus' warnings about the limitations of the early patristic writings, namely: (1) quotes are sometimes used without verbal accuracy, and (2) some copyists were prone to mistakes or to intentional alteration. So it is far from clear to me what if anything McDowell's Section 7C accomplishes.

2. TWO MINOR POINTS

As an aside, let me point out that it is not very surprising that there are so many more NT manuscripts than other classical manuscripts such as Caesar or Tacitus. As Wells states (1999, p. 3), "...if there had been a Tacitus club in every European town for 1000 or more years with as much influence as the local Christian clergy, sections of the Annals would not have been lost."

As another aside, let me contest the assertion McDowell quotes from Geisler and Nix in Section 5C:

"Only 40 lines (or 400 words) of the New Testament are in doubt, whereas 764 lines of the Iliad are questioned. This 5 percent textual corruption compares with one-half of one percent of similar emendations in the New Testament."

This assertion really belongs back in McDowell's Section 1C on error rates in the NT. In any case, it can be called into question. Parker finds 40 verses in the last three chapters of Luke alone:

"In our investigations we have uncovered evidence in rather more than 40 verses out of the last 167 of Luke's Gospel, about a quarter of them. Some of the readings might be best described as quaint....In several others we can see, as in so many other places, a difficulty or an unfortunate phrase being removed .... But the sum total provides incontrovertible evidence that the text of these chapters was not fixed, and indeed continued to grow for centuries after its composition" (Parker 1997, p. 172).

3. CONCLUSION

McDowell's uses of manuscript count and transmission interval to establish historical reliability of the NT are genuinely misleading and not generally indicative of what historians do. McDowell states in his conclusion to Chapter 4:

"One problem I face is the desire on the part of many to apply one standard or test to secular literature and another to the Bible. One needs to apply the same test, whether the literature under investigation is secular or religious."

McDowell alleges the intellectual dishonesty of others, but at the same time is blind to similar shortcomings in either himself or the authors he quotes.

REFERENCES

D.C. Parker (1997), The Living Text of the Gospels. Cambridge University Press.

G.A. Wells (1999), The Jesus Myth. Chicago: Open Court.

8/11/99 Eyewitness testimony

Hi Bob,

Here's another installment on McDowell. I look at the next section of Chapter 4, which is subsection 2C of subsection 4B of section 4A:

4A THE RELIABILITY AND TRUSTWORTHINESS OF SCRIPTURE

4B THE INTERNAL TEST FOR RELIABILITY OF THE SCRIPTURES

2C PRIMARY SOURCE VALUE

This is very interesting material. Here is an outline of what I write below:

1. EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY

1.1 Luke's claims of eyewitness testimony

1.2 Eyewitness claims in II Peter

1.3 Eyewitness claims in 1 John

1.4 Eyewitness claims in Acts

1.5 Eyewitness claim in John

1.6 Another eyewitness claim from Acts

1.7 Early Christians' knowledge of the sayings of Jesus

1.8 Conclusion on eyewitness testimony

2. IF GOSPEL STORIES ARE NOT TRUE, WHY DID NO ONE BLOW THE WHISTLE?

2.1 Discussion

2.2 Conclusion

REFERENCES

Gordy

1. EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY

1.1 Luke's claims of eyewitness testimony

Luke 1:1-3

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus.

This is weak evidence of eyewitness testimony. Notice that Luke does not claim to be an eyewitness. He does not claim to have spoken to eyewitnesses. He only claims eyewitnesses have handed things down to "us". What is the basis for his claim? He does not tell us. We know, for example, that Luke used Mark as source material. Does Luke know that Mark's sources were eyewitnesses, or is he merely assuming so? There is no way for us to tell. Are all of Luke's sources as remote as Mark? If so, then this is very weak evidence for eyewitness testimony indeed.

1.2 Eyewitness claims in II Peter

II Peter 1:16

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

It is unclear for exactly what events eyewitnesses claims are being made here. The context may help. Here is II Peter 1:17-18:

(17) For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (18) We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

No other specific events are mentioned in II Peter. Is the author of II Peter referring only to the events of verses 17-18 or to other unspecified events in the life of Jesus? It is hard to tell.

The confidence we can place in this claim of first-hand witness is diminished by the fact that most scholars do not believe that the apostle Peter was the author of II Peter. For example, Wells writes:

Thompson adds that this letter is arguably the very latest NT epistle: scholars are now nearly unanimous that it is pseudepigraphical, and many of them date it in the second century. France allows that today, even among evangelical Christians, few would try to defend its Petrine authorship with any enthusiasm. (Wells 1999, p. 68)

And again:

Bauckham notes, in his survey of relevant research, that "since the beginning of the century... the pseudepigraphical character of the work has come to be almost universally recognized." He thinks it may have been written about AD 80-100, although he allows that many date it later, as the very latest of all the NT books ...

Donald Guthrie, a scrupulously fair though conservative commentator, allows that it was "neglected" until the third century, and that this "indicates a certain lack of confidence in the book." J.N.D. Kelly remarks, more trenchantly, that if it "really is the product of Peter's pen, the slowness and reluctance of the Church, especially at Rome, to accord it recognition present a serious problem." He places it among "the luxuriant crop of pseudo-Petrine literature which sprang up around the memory of the Prince of the apostles" and which included the very popular Apocalypse of Peter (approximately AD 135), the Preaching of Peter (early second century), the Gospel of Peter and the Acts of Peter. He adds that still more writings with Peter's name attached have come to light among those found near Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945. (Wells 1996, p. 89)

1.3 Eyewitness claims in 1 John

1 John 1:3-

"...what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

Again, here is an eyewitness claim without any specific mention of exactly what was witnessed. It is difficult to know what to make of this. What specifically was seen and heard? And who is making the claim? Is the author the apostle John? Wells states:

The author is not to be uncritically equated with the author of the fourth gospel, for this epistle differs markedly from that gospel in doctrine; and its text, as opposed to the title it has been given, is anonymous. (Wells 1996, p. 89)

1.4 Eyewitness claims in Acts

Acts 2:22

"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know..."

Luke is conveying a speech of Peter. So Luke claims that Peter claims that Jerusalem residents have seen miracles and wonders and signs of an unspecified nature and number. Unfortunately, Luke does not tell us how he comes to know or reconstruct this speech. Wells writes:

[T]here are good reasons for not accepting this and other speeches as early material assimilated into Acts: the proofs from scripture they offer depend on the Greek OT (often where it deviates from the Hebrew) and so were concocted in a Hellenistic community, not spoken persuasively to the Jews in Jerusalem, as Acts would have us believe. (Wells 1999, p. 143)

1.5 Eyewitness claim in John

John 19:35

"And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also my believe.

Again, witness to what? Here the context provides the answer. The witness is to the piercing of Jesus side by a spear, nothing else. Here are John 19:34 and 36:

(34) Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water....(36) These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will be broken," and, as another scripture says, "They will look on the one they have pierced."

So by not specifying the context, McDowell lets the reader jump to the conclusion that this eyewitness claim is much broader than it really is.

It is surprising that McDowell does not also quote from the twenty-first chapter of John:

(20) Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them ... (24) This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

Here "these things" apparently does refer to the entire gospel of John, and verse 24 seems to claim that the beloved disciple is the writer of this gospel. This is a much stronger eyewitness claim. Unfortunately, this entire last chapter of John seems to be a later addition. Wells writes:

That the final chapter 21 of the fourth gospel, where the eyewitness claim occurs, was written by the author of chapters 1-20 is maintained only by the most conservative commentators. The whole of this final chapter comes after a direct address to the reader clearly meant as a solemn conclusion to the gospel [i.e., 20:30-31]. (Wells 1996 pp 87-88)

And again:

Only the most conservative scholars regard chapter 21 as part of the gospel, and not as a clumsy appendix where the disciples, returning to their old profession (long since abandoned) as fishermen in Galilee, have apparently forgotten that the risen one instructed them in chapter 20 to go out as missionaries and gave them the Holy Ghost to that they can forgive sins or withhold such forgiveness. (Wells 1999 p. 140)

It must be admitted there is no existing manuscript evidence that chapter 21 is an addition. However, there is strong manuscript evidence that at least one other passage in John is a later addition, namely the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53 - 8:11). So additions to John are not without precedent.

1.6 Another eyewitness claim from Acts

Acts 26:24-26

And while Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad" But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.

McDowell has again taken a quote out of context, no doubt intending the reader to infer that "these things" that have not escaped notice and have "not been done in a corner" are in fact events from the life of Jesus. In fact, the events Paul refers to are from his own life, not Jesus' life. In Acts 26:1-23, Paul is speaking to King Agrippa, the Roman ruler Portius Festus, and other high ranking officers and leading men of Caesarea. Paul relates how in the past he had persecuted Christians, how Jesus had appeared and spoken to him on the road to Damascus, and how he had subsequently preached repentance to the people of Damascus, Jerusalem and Judea. He does not speak directly about any happenings in the life of Jesus. So when he says "the king knows about these matters" and "none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner", he is speaking about his own actions, not any of the actions or events in the life of Jesus.

1.7 Early Christians' knowledge of the sayings of Jesus

McDowell quotes F.F. Bruce as follows:

Indeed, the evidence is that the early Christians were careful to distinguish between the sayings of Jesus and their own inferences of judgments. Paul, for example, when discussing the vexed questions of marriage and divorce in I Corinthians vii, is careful to make this distinction between his own advice on the subject and the Lord's decisive ruling: "I, not the Lord," and again, "Not I, but the Lord." (Bruce 7/33,44-46)

It can in fact be argued that Paul knew very little of the sayings of Jesus. I will say more about this in the next section. Here are three comments from Wells:

A very relevant point is Paul's own insistence that the gospel he preached did not reach him "from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11-12). He reiterates this independence from what his fellow apostles had been teaching: "I conferred not with flesh and blood, neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me" (verses 16-17) ... (Wells 1999 p. 54)

All that one can extract from Paul by way of knowledge of Jesus's teachings is some half-dozen mentions of "words" or "commands" of "the Lord", mostly on relatively peripheral matters. Some of these were certainly not spoken by the pre-crucifixion Jesus. 2 Cor. 12:9, for instance, is expressly said to be what the Lord said personally to Paul, in answer to a prayer, and so the speaker must have been the risen Lord, as Paul did not know Jesus before his resurrection and, as a persecutor of Christians, certainly did not then pray to him. (Wells 1999 p. 60)

Some of Paul's words of the Lord are regarded even by numerous Christian commentators as words of the risen Jesus, given to early Christian prophets speaking in his name. It is perhaps significant that we are here dealing with words of "the Lord", not of 'Jesus'. This in itself suggests that the appeal is not to an earthly teacher, but "to the risen, reigning Christ, the church's Lord" (Furnish 1968, p. 56; authors italics). Although Paul uses the name 'Jesus' 142 times, "no saying is ever presented as a saying of Jesus" (Boring 1991, p. 114). Such words of the Lord may be called 'prophetic' because they represent, not what a historical Jesus had once said, but what he now says in his resurrected state.

(Wells 1999 p. 61)

1.8 Conclusion on eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness claims in the New Testament are few and far between. There simply are no New Testament writers who (1) claim to be eyewitnesses themselves, and (2) state exactly what they were witnesses to, and (3) whose identity can be verified with any confidence. To say that we know anything of the life of Jesus based on eyewitness testimony is clearly an exaggeration.

2. IF GOSPEL STORIES ARE NOT TRUE, WHY DID NO ONE BLOW THE WHISTLE?

McDowell further quotes F.F. Bruce:

And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only to glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said 'We are witnesses of these things,' but also, 'As you yourselves also know' (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective. 7/33,44-46

2.1 Discussion

There are many ways to respond to this line of reasoning. First, were there really no attempts to correct early Christian preaching? For example, Talmud writings do survive which deny the virgin birth (see McDowell's Chapter 5). The fact that there are not many such attempts is not all that surprising: It is a truism that the victors get to write history, and Christianity certainly was victorious. The views of Christian "heretics" are in many cases available to us today only in a second-hand fashion through the orthodox Christian writers who denounced them. The Ebionites, for example, and other "adoptionists" did deny the virgin birth (e.g., Ehrman 1993). Matthew 28 tries to discredit Jewish rumors that Jesus' body was stolen by disciples, rumors which are available to us today only because Matthew denounces them. Who knows what other attempts to disconfirm Christian "history" may have been suppressed?

Even granting that there were few or no attempts by hostile witnesses to discredit early Christian preaching, to conclude based on Bruce's argument that the Gospels are historically accurate portrayals of the life of Jesus, one must believe that (1) the early preaching mentioned actually occurred in the presence of unfriendly eyewitnesses, and (2) the content of this preaching coincided substantially with the Gospel stories. Let's look at each these points separately.

(1) Did the early preaching mentioned actually occur in the presence of unfriendly eyewitnesses?

To vouch for Peter's preaching in Jerusalem we have Luke's report in Acts, written at least 60 years later. As I've already mentioned, there are good reasons for doubting the authenticity of this and other speeches presented in Acts. In addition, Wells makes the following points:

Davis, taking what is said here in Acts at face value, speaks of "Jerusalem apparently seething with reports of Jesus's resurrection a few weeks after the crucifixion" (p. 80). In fact, however, the Christian community there will have been unobtrusive and as good as unnoticed. Dibelius has made the point, calling these people "a band gathered together in a common belief in Jesus Christ and in the expectation of his coming again..., leading a quiet and in the Jewish sense 'pious' existence", a "modest existence", sustained only by "the victorious conviction of the believers" (1956, p. 124). (Wells 1999 pp. 129-130)

Note also that much early preaching occurred in Greek communities at some distance from Jerusalem. The likelihood of unfriendly eyewitnesses at these locations is considerably less.

Moving to the latter third of the first century, the impact of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 cannot be overlooked. Mack describes the effect of the turmoil in Palestine in AD 66-73:

Reading the history of the war written by Josephus, one gets the impression that the internecine conflicts within Judea and Jerusalem were as devastating to the social order as the armies of the Romans were to the city walls and defenses. When it was over, the temple was in ruins, Jerusalem was a burned wasteland, and many of the people of Judea had been uprooted and scattered throughout Palestine, Transjordan, and the cities along the coast. (Mack 1993 p. 171)

Would there have been any unfriendly eyewitnesses at all available to take Christian preachers to task after AD 70? Such individuals may have been few and far between.

(2) Did the content of early preaching coincide substantially with the Gospel stories?

As just mentioned, the reports of preaching in Acts were written some 60 years later. Do we have any more contemporary reports of what Christian evangelists were saying about Jesus before AD 70? We do have the indirect evidence of what the epistles of Paul and others say about the life of Jesus. The astonishing fact is that these epistles convey virtually no information about the life or even the teachings of Jesus.

Paul's genuine writings (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galations), his probable genuine writings (Phillipians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon, Colossians) and the early non-Pauline epistles prior to AD 90 (2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Hebrews, 1 Peter, James, 1 2 and 3 John) do not mention Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, the virgin birth, Nazareth, any of the miracles performed by Jesus, the fact that Jesus taught in parables, the ethical teachings of Jesus, the transfiguration, the betrayal by Judas, Peter's denying Jesus three times, the trial before Pilate, the place of his crucifixion, women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus, the empty tomb, or the resurrection appearances immediately following the discovery of the empty tomb.

What these letters do mention are the last supper, the eucharist, the crucifixion, the resurrection on the third day, and some later post-resurrection appearances, but no other details of Jesus' life. Paul mentions miracles, signs and wonders associated with gifts of the spirit, without any acknowledgement that Jesus was credited with such deeds. Moreover, Paul does not make use of Jesus' teachings as stated in the gospels even when it would have been to his advantage to do so, and sometimes even goes against those teachings. (Martin 1991 and Wells 1996, 1999 give details.) Significantly, this silence about the details of Jesus' life is not maintained in epistles written in the early second century, sufficiently late for their authors to have been aware of at least some of the synoptic tradition.

A reasonable although not uncontroversial conclusion is that much of the Gospel tradition is merely legendary accretion, stories that evolved after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 or at some distance from Jerusalem, and that the early preaching about Jesus prior to AD 70 and nearer to Jerusalem mentioned only Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances. The latter are difficult to refute, as they involve personal eyewitness experiences. Who is to say reports that so-and-so saw the risen Christ did not occur if one was not there and does not know so-and-so?

Wells' thesis that Paul and other early epistle writers knew very little of Jesus' life and teachings as it appears in the Gospels is defended at length in his several books and also discussed by Martin (1991). It is not easily dismissed, and in my view is the strongest argument available that the Gospel stories are largely a matter of legend. [For further discussion see below and below.]

[A note added later (6/13/01): Some of the Gospel stories would also have been difficult for Jesusí followers to refute if they were not true.For example, the story of the empty tomb, not mentioned by Paul, has its earliest telling in Mark 16:1-8.(These are the final verses of Mark in the most reliable manuscripts.)These verses describe Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome as being the sole witnesses of the empty tomb and the angel proclaiming Jesusí resurrection.The last verse in Mark (16:8) reads ďTrembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.Ē (NIV)A follower protesting the story could be reassured that he had not heard about it because the women had ďsaid nothing to anyone.ĒIf the alleged eyewitness women were not around to object 25 to 35 years later when Mark was written, who could say the story was not true?]

2.2 Conclusion

Why did no one blow the whistle on Christian preachers? Quite possibly early Christian preaching contained so little detail about the life of Jesus that critical witnesses had nothing to refute. It was only after hostile witnesses were dead and gone that legendary stories had the freedom to develop unfettered.

REFERENCES

Bart D. Ehrman (1993), The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. Oxford University Press.

Burton L. Mack (1993), The Lost Gospel of Q: The Book of Q and Christian Origins. San Francisco: Harper.

Michael Martin (1991), The Case Against Christianity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

G.A. Wells (1996), The Jesus Legend. Chicago: Open Court.

G.A. Wells (1999), The Jesus Myth. Chicago: Open Court.

 

11/1/99 Paul's silence on the life of Christ

Dear Gordy,

Here are a couple thoughts Iíve been considering, and I want to get them off to you while the memory of the New York Yankees Word Series victory is still fresh in our minds.

A. Why Paul mentions so little of the life and works of Christ

B. A current parallel

C. The role of believing [not included here]

A. Why Paul mentions so little of the life and works of Christ

There are several possibilities to consider.

Case 1. The gospels were indeed not written yet, because this Jesus was a legend who never existed as the gospels describe him, because the gospels were retrospective fakes produced to support this fictitious legend that Paul was in the midst of creating.

The next three cases each are based on Jesus being a real, historical figure who did the things that were later recorded in the Gospels. Keep in mind that "oral tradition" mentioned below is not meant to carry the connotations that we often associate with that phrase today - just word-of-mouth reports with variable reliabilities, second hand stories, and rumors. Oral tradition in the intertestamental period is known to have highly reliable and very structured. It apparently also included instances of rabbis memorizing entire books of the OT - I recently read that one rabbi is reported to have memorized the entire OT itself (I actually find that amazing at least, and possibly hard to believe, but I read it, I think, in Blomberg). [For a response, see below.]

 

Case 2. The gospels were in fact already written and were in common circulation at the time of Paulís writings. But Paul did not quote from or refer to them, for two primary reasons - one negative, one positive. For the negative reason, he did not quote from or refer to the gospels because the gospels were so commonly known that he simply didnít have to (see my remark below about the Yankees winning the World Series last night).

For the positive reason, he did not quote from or refer to the gospels because he saw [i.e., God inspired and led him to see] that there was more of a need to interpret the entire appearance of Christ and the significance of Godís incarnation rather than interpret specific actions and particular sayings of Christ. In other words, while the specifics and particulars were already well known and in common circulation at the time of Paulís writings, what was needed was not so much an interpretation of these specifics and particulars but a grand interpretation of this grand event - the audacious claim of Godís incarnation - his humanity, his divinity, the reasons for and meaning of his crucifixion and resurrection and ascension - especially as they related to prophecies. [For a response, see below.]

Case 3. The gospels were only just being written at the time of Paulís writings and/or were coming into prominent circulation at the time of Paulís writings, so Paul did not have access to the written accounts of the life of Christ, although he did have knowledge from the oral accounts of the life of Christ. So while Case 2 above posits the contemporaneous pre-existence of written accounts, Case 3 here posits the absence of written accounts but the presence of the oral accounts. It may have been the case here that Paul did not quote from or refer to the oral accounts because he saw the need (i.e., was inspired by God) as in Case 2 to provide a grand interpretation of Godís incarnation, especially as it related to prophecies.

Case 4. The gospels were in fact not even written yet. The rest of Case 3 after its opening sentence applies here.

FWIW, these 4 cases that Iíve outlined are not quoted from any source, because I just composed them myself. I am not a scholar; I am an informed layman. From an informed laymanís point of view, Cases 2, 3, and 4 seem reasonable, although I think Case 2 is the most reasonable and most consistent with the evidence. [For a response, see below.]

B. A current parallel

Here is one contemporary occurence that may parallel why Paul did NOT quote from the gospels or refer to them. It just so happens that I have at my desk todayís sports page (Th, Oct.28, 1999). Paulís situation is almost like reading todayís sports page commentary by a local sportswriter on the significance of the Yankeesí World Series victory last night. This newspaper commentator doesnít mention specific plays or actions of particular players, nor does he quote any playersí words, nor does he refer to what happened in any particular inning - in fact, I search in vain for a single reference by this writer to any specific play of any of the four games of the entire 1999 World Series (St. Paul Pioneer Press, sportspage 1, Tom Powers). But he does write an entire column about the significance of the New York Yankees having played in and won so many World Series in the past 78 years. The fact that the writer does not mention any specific action from the 1999 World Series does not mean that he does not have the written factual accounts of the Series at his disposal; in fact a thorough written account of the details and facts and flow of the game are contained in the same section of the paper, with the beginning of this description just inches away from his own column and the remainder of the description continued on the same page on which his own commentary is continued. His lack of quotes from major figures like Paul OíNeill or Joe Torre - and his lack of specific game highlights - does NOT mean that he was therefore making up the Yankeesí 1999 World Series victory because it hadnít yet occurred.

It does mean a lot about his reasons for writing what he wrote, however. There are at least two reasons that I can think of that could explain why this columnist-commentator didnít mention the contemporaneous inning-by-inning or play-by-play documentation or any specific actions of any specific person. First, he assumed (correctly) that virtually anyone reading his column will either already be familiar with the facts of the Series or will have simultaneous access to the documentation elsewhere on the sports page or elsewhere in their lives, like TV, radio, or sports magazines. Second, he saw the purpose of his writing as not at all to document but to explain, expand, and comment.

So he doesnít quote either the inning-by-inning account elsewhere in the same newspaper or the play-by-play announcer on local radio or TV last night - because he doesnít have to; he doesnít want to; he doesnít need to. This is a fairly common type of occurrence that could be cited repeatedly on different topics, where a commentator expands upon, explains, and comments on a contemporaneously documented account to which the writer had access - i.e., a factual report on the front page of a newspaper side-by-side with a commentary or analysis of that event that is virtually devoid of references to specific actions or sayings of that same event. We could cite a lot of modern and historical occurrences in which this is precisely the format the we observed - analysis and commentary next to factual accounts - the bombing of that Oklahoma City federal building; the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980; any national or prominent election; the Kosovo war; etc., etc. etc. I would also guess that if we went back in history we would find similar such dualities, like in the assassination of Lincoln, to cite one example.

One of the reasons why Case 2 above is so believable is that we see the same things occurring repeatedly in our own lives and throughout history - the kind of things just described in the above paragraph.

[For a response, see below.]

11/18/99 Motives of McDowell and motives of Paul

Hi Bob,

Here are some responses to the posts you sent 9/25/99. This is a little long, but it breaks into four independent parts (A,E,F,G) plus three somewhat dependent parts (B,C,D), so you can read it in pieces if you like.

Look forward to seeing you guys over Thanksgiving.

Gordy

A. History being written by the winners

B. More critique of McDowell

C. McDowell's motives

D. Paulís motives

E. Legend

F. What I meant about argument style [not included here]

G. Encouraging irrationality [not included here]

Reference

A. History being written by the winners

Concerning this topic, you wrote:

Iíve heard this comment for at least the past 10-12 years, and the main thing that comes to mind is simply that Christianity and Christians were not "winners" in this sense for hundreds of years. Both the first and second century saw Christians persecuted violently, beheaded, crucified, fed to lions, shivering to death naked on frozen lakes overnight, cowering in catacombs in Rome, watching their children being killed by lions while they watched, and so forth. The early history of Christianity is not one of winners but of people being rejected, scorned, killed, downtrodden, and defeated. The early Christians were not "winners" in the historical sense of that word until sometime in the 5th century, when Constantine became a Christian. (Bob 9/25/99)

First, for whatever it's worth, Constantine became a Christian in the fourth century (313 AD). But secondly, I'm not sure why you think your comments are relevant to the context in which my original comment occurred. Here is what I said:

First, were there really no attempts to correct early Christian preaching? For example, Talmud writings do survive which deny the virgin birth (see McDowell's Chapter 5). The fact that there are not many such attempts is not all that surprising: It is a truism that the victors get to write history, and Christianity certainly was victorious. The views of Christian "heretics" are in many cases available to us today only in a second-hand fashion through the orthodox Christian writers who denounced them. The Ebionites, for example, and other "adoptionists" did deny the virgin birth (e.g., Ehrman 1993). Matthew 28 tries to discredit Jewish rumors that Jesus' body was stolen by disciples, rumors which are available to us today only because Matthew denounces them. Who knows what other attempts to disconfirm Christian "history" may have been suppressed? (Gordy 8/11/99)

Christians definitely were the winners for over a millenium, at least in Western civilization. And because of that, the neglect, suppression or rewriting of history by Christian authorities is simply a fact. For example, I don't think any reputable historian believes that portion of the Antiquities in which Josephus apparently calls Jesus the Messiah and affirms the resurrection was not a corruption introduced by later Christian copyists.

So fine - I admit your point that Christians were definitely not winners for the first two or three hundred years, but so what? Other than sort of a feel-good "we were just as down-trodden as you" response, I'm not sure where this argument gets you. Later Christians were winners long enough and powerful enough to suppress history, regardless of how victimized they were in the first two or three centuries.

B. More critique of McDowell

"I have had an inkling over the years that McDowell brings to his writings a certain evangelical fervor and flavor that affects the scholarly emphasis that he himself is trying to make...

"So here's my suggestion: why don't we turn away from McDowell per se and turn toward the NT/Bible itself more. ... So thatís my suggestion. Let me know what you think." (Bob 9/25/99)

Turning to other sources or topics besides McDowell is fine with me. But I'd like to first talk a little more about McDowell, for a couple of reasons. First, if I don't set some of this stuff down now, I will simply forget it and won't be able to reconstruct it easily after I return certain references to the library. Second, McDowell's behavior and motives are relevant to another point I want to discuss later.

So first I want to discuss McDowell a little more. This is mostly for the record, and I don't expect you to necessarily respond point-by-point.

McDowell's evangelical ferver takes a specific form that can be highly misleading to an unwary reader. He is, as I think you said in a previous message, a "compiler" - he scans the literature and picks out quotes which support or seem to support the case he is trying to make.

Sometimes a quote he uses does not really support the case he advocates. For example, as I've pointed out before, McDowell cites (1977 p. 8) the "none of this has been done in a corner" passage (Acts 26:24-28) in support of his claim (p. 7) that "[t]he writers of the New Testament appealed to the firsthand knowledge of their readers or listeners concerning the facts and evidence about the person of Christ." McDowell does not inform the reader but surely must know that Paul is referring in this passage not to Jesus' deeds but events in Paul's own life.

McDowell also cites passages selectively. For example, McDowell in his Chapter 8 cites Rogers (1936) several times in support of his contention of early church belief in the virgin birth. But Rogers disagrees with McDowell that Isaiah 7:14 ("Behold a virgin will conceive ...") is a fullfilled prophecy. Does McDowell cite Rogers when in his Chapter 9 McDowell puts forth Isaiah 7:14 as an example of fulfilled prophecy? No! No citation even though a relevant passage from Rogers directly follows a passage McDowell has already cited regarding early church belief in the virgin birth. Take a look:

"In the very early days of the church, there was a group called the Ebionites. They objected to the church's use of the passage in Isaiah concerning the virgin bearing a son (Isaiah 7:14). They said that the verse should be translated 'a young woman.' 37/105 The important point is that the church believed in the Virgin Birth." (McDowell 1977 p. 119)

The citation 37/105 is to Rogers (1936). Here we find:

"Then there were the Ebionites of whom Irenaeus also speaks.... They objected to the Church's use of the passage in Isaiah vii.: 'Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.' They said the words simply meant 'a young woman,' and were so rendered in the version they used. In this they were right, but their objection shows that the belief of the Church was in the Virgin Birth." (Rogers 1936, p. 105)

In this they were right, says Rogers - the virgin reference in Isaiah really meant "young woman". It's the very next sentence following what McDowell does cite - McDowell couldn't have missed it. But does he cite Rogers in his discussion of Isaiah 7:14? Not at all.

Another topic McDowell discusses in an appendix to his book is the discrepancy between Mathew and Luke regarding the geneology of Jesus. McDowell's position is that the Luke geneology is really the lineage of Mary, so that the initial reference to Joseph being "the son of Heli" must really mean Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli. Here is what Rogers says:

"This, of course, was noticed long ago, and various reasons have been suggested for the difference. It has been supposed that one traces the descent of Joseph and the other of St. Mary, and that 'the son of Heli' means 'the son-in-law of Heli,' a not very probable explanation. ... A more plausible explanation is that 'son' means 'heir to,' and that one document, or both, may be based on merely legal claims." (Rogers 1936 p.110)

A not very probable explanation, says Rogers. Of course, McDowell gives no mention of this opposing view, even though he surely is aware of it. Selective citation again.

So in summary, McDowell

1. Cites from individual sources selectively, omitting what doesn't support his position (the Rogers citations above);

2. Exaggerates the degree to which his sources support his claims (the Elder citations I discussed 6/23/99 regarding a census and the governorship of Quirinius near the time of Jesus' birth);

3. Takes quotations out of context to make them seem to support his claims when they do not (the Acts 26:24-28 quote and the John 19:35 quote I discuss in my 8/11/99 post);

4. Exaggerates historical reliability of NT by focusing on limited criteria for historical reliability (no. of manuscript copies and transmission interval) and ignoring criteria historians use (early and independent testimony) (my 8/6/99 post).

I suspect what McDowell has done is to comb the literature for quotations and arguments which support his position, ignoring all contrary material. Presenting only supporting material to the reader prevents any nuanced discussion of controversial issues and gives the reader the misleading impression of scholarly unanimity in support of what McDowell claims.

C. McDowell's motives

In his conclusion to Chapter 4 on the historical reliability of the Bible, McDowell makes the following claim:

"After trying to shatter the historicity and validity of the Scripture, I came to the conclusion that they [sic] are historically trustworthy." (McDowell 1977 p. 76)

In light of the way McDowell selectively and deceptively cites his sources, there is simply no way that McDowell is "trying to shatter the historicity and validity of the Scripture." But what then is he attempting to do? What motivates him? Is he a liar? If not, then does he really believe the claims he makes?

I don't think there is a simple answer, but my guess is that McDowell is simply carried away by evangelical ferver, as you suggest. There are a couple of comments from the forward and preface to McDowell's book that are relevant to this issue:

"Thus, it is the Christian who will derive the greatest benefit from reading Evidence That Demands a Verdict. It will not only strengthen his own faith in Christ, but it will provide evidence that will enable him to share his faith more effectively with others. (William R. Bright in a forward to McDowell 1977)

"The proper motivation behind the use of these lecture notes is to glorify and magnify Christ - not to win an argument. Apologetics is not for proving the Word of God but simply for providing a basis for faith." (McDowell 1977 p. iii)

McDowell's goals are apologetic, not historic accuracy, not truth. McDowell believes truth supports his apologetic claims, but he believes this so strongly that he does not feel obliged to treat his evidence carefully. Ok so maybe the evidence doesn't very strongly support Luke's claims about the time of Christ's birth, but McDowell knows Luke's claims are true, so what harm is there in convincing others that the evidential support is strong? Maybe Acts 26:24-26 doesn't really provide evidence that the events in Jesus' life were well known at the time, but surely they were, so what's the harm in using Acts to convince others of that? Especially if the others are Christians whose faith will thereby be strengthened, who are anyway looking for reassurance in their beliefs, and who will therefore not critically examine what McDowell says?

Does McDowell believe that he is promulgating falsehoods? Obviously not. He strongly believes he is promulgating truth. He so strongly believes this that he feels no obligation to adhere to nondeceptive methods of argumentation.

Do you think McDowell would die for his beliefs? I suspect he would. I think his evangelical fervor would carry him that far. Does that mean I should trust what he says? Obviously not.

All this is relevant to your psychological analysis of proto-Christians. As you say, people will die for certain things, if they believe them strongly enough. But I think there is a simultaneous tendency in the other direction too: If people become so strongly committed to a movement that they find themselves taking extreme measures in its behalf, that itself will induce further unquestioning belief in the movement. Commitment to the movement will overwhelm commitment to truth. McDowell is a case in point. Perhaps certain proto-Christians are as well. Clearly they exhibited evangelical fervor and sometimes even died for their beliefs. Does that mean I should trust what they say? I don't think so.

D. Paulís motives

You wrote:

What puzzles me is how critics can claim that these proto-Christians like Paul not only made up these things but also then died for things they knew were false. I just donít get that. It doesnít make sense. (Bob 9/25/99)

 

You're right - it doesn't make sense. It's also not what I or any critics I have read believe about Paul. As I've pointed out, Paul makes very few claims about the words and life of Jesus. His authentic works mention only the eucharist, the crucifixion, the resurrection on the third day, and some later post-resurrection appearances, but no other details of Jesus' life. The only miraculous events Paul mentions are the resurrection and some post-resurrection appearances, and of these he witnessed only Jesus' appearance to him on the road to Damascus. I don't think he made up any of these miraculous claims. I think he really believes they happened. But whether he also believed or even knew about the detailed stories in the gospels is far from clear, as I've mentioned.

Yes, Paul died for his beliefs, or at least for his missionary activities in bringing people to Christ. Does that lend authenticity to the stories in the Gospels? Perhaps it does if Paul knew those stories and believed them - but whether he did is far from clear to me. A subsequent letter of yours addresses this very topic, so I'll respond in more detail to this issue later. But if the Gospel stories were legends which developed after Paul's death or without his knowledge, then the fervency of Paul's beliefs lend no support to the Gospel stories at all.

Does Paul's death lend authenticity to the actual claims he does make about Jesus in his writings? Perhaps to some degree, but then again, perhaps Paul was a McDowell-style evangelist who believed he was spreading truth, but whose commitment to his own movement in fact overwhelmed his commitment to truth.

E. Legend

One comment about your critique of the trilemma, for example: McDowell did not originate this trilemma; many others have written about this, including C.S.Lewis back in the 1940s or so. My read on the trilemma device is that for most Christian apologists, the fourth option of "legend" is something that was simply not considered, not out of dishonesty or laziness but because it seems to have been dismissed almost without a thought, since most Christian scholars that I have spoken with and read do not think that the evidence and timeframe was such that there was even time for a legend to develop. (Bob 9/25/99)

I don't think you can maintain the position that the legend option never even occurred to most Christian apologists. The notion of the Gospels as myth or as apologetic tools was introduced in the 19th century and continued from then to the present day. For example, Blomberg writes:

In the 1830s, D.F. Strauss ushered in a new era in dealing with the Gospels. He rejected both the traditional attempts to harmonize them and the rationalistic school of thought in favor of an understanding Jesus' more spectacular deeds and claims as myths - pious but fictitious legends that couched theological beliefs about Jesus in narrative form. (Blomberg 1997, p. 78).

Throughout the nineteenth century numerous scholars also composed "lives of Jesus." Believing that the Gospels were a blend of fact and fiction, they sought to strip away the later theological interpretations of the early church from the "historical Jesus." (Blomberg 1997, p. 78).

The dominant figure in the history of biblical criticism and theology during the first half of the 1900s was Rudolf Bultmann.... [Bultmann] consistently set out to demonstrate that we could know virtually nothing about the historical Jesus because of the interweaving of history and faith throughout the Gospels. (Blomberg 1997 p. 181)

Reference

Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 1997.

12/6/99 Rebuttal on Paul's silence

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the enjoyable time over Thanksgiving. This is a reply to the first two sections of your 11/1/99 post. I have some comments on your third section "The Role of Believing", but I'll have to get to these later.

Gordy

A. A Better Description of What I Think Happened

B. The Reliability of Oral Tradition

C. Were Paul and the Gospels Contemporaneous?

D. Paul's Silence

E. Tom Power's Silence

F. References

G. Appendix: The Tom Powers Article

 

A. A Better Description of What I Think Happened

In your discussion of why Paul mentions so little of the life and works of Christ, you formulate Case 1 presumably as representative of my position, but I wonder whether you are not, like McDowell ("liar, lunatic, lord"), simply formulating a position that is easy to attack and defeat. Your Case 1, which follows, doesn't describe what I or many scholars think happened.

Case 1. The gospels were indeed not written yet, because this Jesus was a legend who never existed as the gospels describe him, because the gospels were retrospective fakes produced to support this fictitious legend that Paul was in the midst of creating. (Bob 11/1/99)

In response, let me say that your standards for judging modern versus ancient Christian writings seem contradictory: If McDowell contains falsehoods, then you say he is simply overzealous. If the gospels or Paul contain historical falsehoods, then you say early Christians were fakers, liars and deliberate creators of fiction. Surely you realize that not all falsehoods are deliberate lies. Legend does not necessarily mean fake. For example, in your discussion of Tom Powers' 10/28/99 St. Paul Pioneer Press commentary article, you have created the "legend" that Powers does not quote Joe Torre, when in fact he does so twice (see below). I do not thereby conclude you are a liar or faker. I think you were merely carried away in your attempt to make what looked to you like a convincing point.

My suspicion is that early Christian writers were all too much like your characterization of McDowell: writers who in their fervor intentionally or unintentionally overstate their case. Here is what I, along with many NT scholars, believe:

Case 1A: The gospels were not written when Paul composed most of his letters. Jesus never existed as the gospels describe him because the gospels record unreliable oral tradition, molded by the needs and desires of communities who passed the tradition on. Communities which included McDowell-style evangelists who "knew" they had the truth and had no compunction about enshrining that "truth" in written form; individuals whose commitment to furthering the movement and converting others was stronger than their commitment to historical accuracy.

This by no means indicates that everything in the gospels is false. However, I think suspicion is more than justified for extreme claims like virgin births and risings from the dead.

B. The Reliability of Oral Tradition

You bring up the topic of reliability of oral tradition:

The next three cases each are based on Jesus being a real, historical figure who did the things that were later recorded in the Gospels. Keep in mind that "oral tradition" mentioned below is not meant to carry the connotations that we often associate with that phrase today - just word-of-mouth reports with variable reliabilities, second hand stories, and rumors. Oral tradition in the intertestamental period is known to have highly reliable and very structured. It apparently also included instances of rabbis memorizing entire books of the OT - I recently read that one rabbi is reported to have memorized the entire OT itself (I actually find that amazing at least, and possibly hard to believe, but I read it, I think, in Blomberg). (Bob 11/1/99)

Yes, Blomberg does claim (without citing any proof) that "venerated rabbis had at times committed the entire Bible (our 'Old Testament') to memory." (1997, p. 84) But as Crosson notes (1998, pp 50-52), memorizing a written text is quite different from memorizing oral tradition. With a written text, the memorizer can always check the absolute correctness of his account by referring to the "gold standard" - the written text. The memorized account cannot therefore drift very far from the true account. For a memorizer of oral tradition, however, there is no "gold standard" to compare with - all one has are successive memorized versions of unknown accuracy. The potential for drift is substantially greater, even when there is a commitment to historical accuracy, a commitment which we have no good reason to suppose existed.

What is the basis of your claim that "oral tradition in the intertestamental period is known to have highly reliable and very structured"? Yes, Blomberg does claim that it "would have been quite normal and expected for Jesus' disciples ... to commit to memory significant portions of his teaching and ... great works, and to have remembered those accounts accurately for a significant span of time." (1997, p. 84) But of course this is only educated speculation - Blomberg can cite no evidence. He also admits that "none of this would have precluded the disciples from paraphrasing, interpreting, and rearranging the material they had learned; that, too was the convention of the day." (1997, p. 84)

Mark's accuracy in reproducing old testament passages is not encouraging, as Helms points out (1999, pp. 3-4). Here is Mark 1:2-3:

It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
"I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way" -
"a voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' "

But only the last three lines come from Isaiah (40:3), and even here Mark has changed "for our God" found in Isaiah to "for him" - no feat of memorization is happening here. Worse, the first two lines are not from Isaiah, but seem to come from Septuagint Exodus 23:20 (the Greek is virtually identical), and then Hebrew Malachi 3:1.

Mark doesn't even get the Ten Commandments right, having Jesus invent a new commandment "do not defraud" in Mark 10:19. Mark's commitment, or his source's commitment, to historically accurate transmission of written text - even sacred text - is not high. Can we be any more confident about the accuracy of his transmission of oral tradition? Matthew and Luke, having access to the "gold standard" written OT, realize Mark's mistake and delete "do not defraud". But for Markan inaccuracies in oral tradition they would have no such gold standard.

C. Were Paul and the Gospels Contemporaneous?

You continue on to discuss three related cases:

Case 2. The gospels were in fact already written and were in common circulation at the time of Paulís writings. ...

Case 3. The gospels were only just being written at the time of Paulís writings and/or were coming into prominent circulation at the time of Paulís writings, so Paul did not have access to the written accounts of the life of Christ, although he did have knowledge from the oral accounts of the life of Christ. ...

Case 4. The gospels were in fact not even written yet. ...

From an informed laymanís point of view, Cases 2, 3, and 4 seem reasonable, although I think Case 2 is the most reasonable and most consistent with the evidence.

(Bob, 11/1/99)

In reply, let me ask: consistent with what evidence? Paul's ministry ran from the 30s AD to the late 50s and early 60s. Paul was under house arrest in Rome in 62 AD, and the standard view is that Paul was killed in Rome during the Christian persecutions by Nero in 64 AD. Blomberg has Mark most probably written in the 60s AD. Many scholars place Mark into the early 70s. Matthew and Luke are usually placed into the 80s or 90s. The case for Paul having direct access to the written gospels seems weak. Can you defend it more strongly? No doubt Paul had access to some stage of oral tradition, but it is far from clear whether that oral tradition included what we today find in the gospels - that is the very point I question.

D. Paul's Silence

You respond to comments in one of my earlier posts (8/11/99) regarding the "mysterious" silence of Paul regarding the life and teachings of Jesus. Why did Paul not refer to the gospel tradition more? You write:

For the negative reason, he did not quote from or refer to the gospels because the gospels were so commonly known that he simply didn't have to (see my remark below about the Yankees winning the World Series last night). For the positive reason, he did not quote from or refer to the gospels because he saw [i.e., God inspired and led him to see] that there was more of a need to interpret the entire appearance of Christ and the significance of Godís incarnation rather than interpret specific actions and particular sayings of Christ. ... (Bob 11/1/99)

Yes, these are plausible reasons. But I think you are here missing the second part of what I brought up about Paul's silence: He is silent even when it would have been natural and effective for him to use gospel material. Here's what I said:

Paul mentions miracles, signs and wonders associated with gifts of the spirit, without any acknowledgement that Jesus was credited with such deeds. Moreover, Paul does not make use of Jesus' teachings as stated in the gospels even when it would have been to his advantage to do so, and sometimes even goes against those teachings. (Martin 1991 and Wells 1996, 1999 give details.) Significantly, this silence about the details of Jesus' life is not maintained in epistles written in the early second century, sufficiently late for their authors to have been aware of at least some of the synoptic tradition. (Gordy 8/11/99)

Yes, perhaps Paul wanted in places to talk about significance rather than specific actions or sayings. But we know that Paul also had other motives. He wanted to address controversies that had arisen in the Christian communities to which he wrote. Is it permissible for Christian Jews and Christian gentiles to eat together? Do Christians need to be circumcised? Certainly, citing relevant gospel teachings of Jesus would have been persuasive, but Paul does not do so, even though he sometimes cites the OT. "Again, Paul tells his Christian readers to 'bless those that persecute you', bids them 'judge not', and urges them to 'pay taxes'. Surely in such instances he might reasonably be expected to have invoked the authority of Jesus, had he known that Jesus had taught the very same doctrines, as according to the gospels he had." (Wells 1997, p. 13).

Yes, it is true that mentioning the words or deeds of Jesus would sometimes have been superfluous had they been familiar. But mentioning familiar teachings or deeds of Jesus would have been especially effective if they supported Paul's positions on the controversial issues he sometimes addressed. So why no mention?

Take a look at Wells and at Martin for details. We can discuss their arguments one-by-one if you like. My point is that you have to do more than explain why Paul doesn't refer to much of the gospels - you have to explain why he failed to do so when a reference would have been to his clear advantage.

 

E. Tom Power's Silence

You defend your thesis concerning Paul's silence by attempting to show that contemporary writers are equally as silent on well-known details as you claim Paul was. As an example, you cite a commentary article by Tom Powers in the sports section of the 10/28/99 St. Paul Pioneer Press, pointing out Power's silence on key details of the Yankee's game-4 victory over the Braves in the World Series.

Through the miracle of Internet technology :-), I was able to obtain a copy of this article ("Clemens Just The Latest To Profit From Juggernaut") and have read it. Believe it or not, Power's article actually supports my contentions, and does not, as you claim, tend to refute them. Specifically, if you ask whether Tom Powers is silent regarding the details of the series even when it would have been natural and effective for him to cite them, the answer is clearly no, he is not silent and does in fact cite relevant details when it is to his advantage.

First, your statement that Power's article concerns "the significance of the New York Yankees having played in and won so many World Series in the past 78 years" is only a partial summary of Power's thesis. Power's points are (1) that in an era of shifting franchises and inevitable change, the Yankees have been a constant in the world of sports - very good for a very long time; and (2) they maintain this position in a businesslike way by using fat salaries to lure and keep the brightest stars.

In support of position (1), Powers states:

a. The Yankees have stayed in the Bronx, worn the same pinstripes and played in the same ballpark.

b. They have 25 world series titles.

c. They have three world series championships in the last four years.

d. On average, the Yankees win one World Series every four years. More recently, they have won 12 consecutive World Series games.

e. They won game 1 in Atlanta by beating Braves ace Greg Maddox.

f. They swept the Braves.

g. Braves manager Bobby Cox was dejected after the series loss.

h. ``There's no question that this club was very, very special,'' Torre said. (Your assertion that Powers does not quote Joe Torre was wrong - he does so twice.)

In support of position (2), Powers states:

a. Roger Clemens is one example of an imported star. The premier pitcher in the American League for years, he had chalked up 247 victories. Not one of them in the World Series, however, until Wednesday night.

b. Clemens pitched 7 2/3 terrific innings.

c. For the bulk of his career, Clemens was the stopper for the archrival Boston Red Sox.

d. Afterward, Clemens' sons met him on the field and jumped in his arms. Manager Joe Torre kissed him on the neck.

e. As Clemen's longtime Red Sox teammate Wade Boggs did in 1996, he finally became a champion by joining the once-hated New York Yankees.

f. At 37 years and 2 months, Clemens was the oldest starter to win the deciding game of a World Series since Allie Reynolds (a Yankee, of course) did so in 1953 at 38.

g. ``It was a perfect way to end the World Series,'' Torre said. ``The man coming here because he wanted the World Series ring. It seemed like the perfect setup.''

h. As another example of a transplanted star, Chuck Knoblauch, since bolting the Twins, has won two consecutive World Series with the Yankees.

i. Twins fans not yet over the Chuck Knoblauch thing probably will giggle over the fact he was not on the field for the final out of Wednesday's game. He was replaced by Luis Sojo after the seventh inning for defensive purposes. Sure enough, Sojo made a nice play on Chipper Jones in the eighth inning while Knobber watched from the bench. (So, contrary to your assertion, there is a reference to a specific play in one of the four games.)

So there are lots of details about the series and about Yankee history which Powers cites when it is in his interest to do so. It is true, as you say, that Powers does not refer to "specific plays or actions of particular players, nor does he quote any playersí words, nor [with the Sojo exception above] does he refer to what happened in any particular inning." (Bob 11/1/99). But this is beside the point - these items would have been irrelevant to Powers' theses. However, when details are relevant, he does cite them.

On the other hand, suppose Powers had not mentioned one or more of these details, and we were reconstructing events 100 years from now. For example, suppose he had not mentioned Chuck Knoblauch. Wouldn't we think this was odd? Powers' major thesis concerns transplanted stars. If Knoblauch was indeed a star transplanted to the Yankees from the very city from which Powers writes, why would Powers not mention him? Wouldn't this lack of mention throw suspicion on whether Knoblauch's was even present on the Yankees during the series? Wouldn't we wonder whether perhaps Knoblauch was injured, or perhaps was never even traded to the Yankees in the first place? Perhaps our other sources indicating that Knoblauch was a 1999 Yankees team member are mistaken? This reasoning is perfectly proper, and to invoke it we need not assume anyone was lying, as you seem wont to do. Mistakes happen. If Powers does not mention Knoblauch, then perhaps our other sources are wrong, or perhaps Powers' proximity in time to the 1999 World Series is not what he seems to claim. Perhaps he is only passing on a story that someone told him. There are lots of possibilities.

In summary, your example really supports the thesis that I advocate along with Wells and Martin: It is perfectly reasonable to question an authors knowledge of material he fails to mention when mentioning it is to his clear advantage. That Paul seems not to do so is very suspicious if he indeed had access to the gospels.

F. References

Craig L. Blomberg (1997), Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, Broadman & Holeman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.

John Dominic Crosson (1998), The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus, Harper, San Francisco.

Randal McCraw Helms (1999), Who Wrote the Gospels?, Millennium Press, Altadena, California.

G. Appendix: The Tom Powers Article

ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS

CLEMENS JUST THE LATEST TO PROFIT FROM JUGGERNAUT

Thursday, October 28, 1999

Section: SPORTS

Page: 1D

Tom Powers, Staff Columnist

Franchises shift from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Milwaukee to Atlanta, Washington to Minnesota. Caps and jerseys go in and out of style. Ballparks are built, used for a while, then abandoned.

The New York Yankees have stayed in the Bronx, worn the same pinstripes and played in the same ballpark. And they continue to topple all challengers.

Change is inevitable, of course. Fans used to holler, ``Kill the umpire.'' Now they make an honest attempt to do just that. Fans used to call visiting ballplayers ``bums.'' Now they drop their pants and show 'em theirs.

But the Yankees are the closest thing there is to a constant in the world of sports. They've been so good for so long they have outlived the slogans once meant to deride them.

Rooting for the Yankees no longer is like rooting for U.S. Steel. In the era of the new economy, it's like rooting for Microsoft. Or for some other high-tech giant that gobbles up the opposition.

They are flush with cash, and it's burning a hole in their pockets. So they assemble a killer team. Then they point, click and destroy the opposition.

Imagine, 25 World Series titles, the latest secured with a sweep over the outclassed Atlanta Braves after a 4-1 victory Wednesday night.

``Well, this is what everybody said it was all about,'' winning pitcher Roger Clemens said. ``I finally know what it feels like to be a Yankee.''

Of their three championship teams in the past four years, this one may not have been the best. But it certainly was good enough. They really clinched the title by winning the first game in Atlanta against ace Greg Maddux. The Braves have been hanging their heads since.

``We would have liked to have made it a better contest, that's for sure,'' dejected Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

No chance. The Yankees also are big business personified. The brightest stars come to town and are allowed to stay as long as they earn their fat salaries.

Clemens is one such star. The premier pitcher in the American League for years, he had chalked up 247 victories. Not one of them in the World Series, however, until Wednesday night.

Thinking back to his arrival in spring training, Clemens recalled the Yankees showing him their World Series rings.

``They said, `We're going to get you one,''' said Clemens, who pitched 7 2/3 terrific innings. ``I feel blessed.''

For the bulk of his career, Clemens was the stopper for the archrival Boston Red Sox. Like just about everyone not situated in New York proper, he wasn't a big Yankees fan. But all ballplayers eventually get to the point in their careers where, above all else, they want to win.

Hello, New York.

He was thrilled with the trade, in which he had a lot of input, that put him in the Bronx last spring.

Afterward, Clemens' sons met him on the field and jumped in his arms. Manager Joe Torre kissed him on the neck. And, as longtime Red Sox teammate Wade Boggs did in 1996, he finally became a champion by joining the once-hated New York Yankees.

At 37 years and 2 months, he was the oldest starter to win the deciding game of a World Series since Allie Reynolds (a Yankee, of course) did so in 1953 at 38.

``It was a perfect way to end the World Series,'' Torre said. ``The man coming here because he wanted the World Series ring. It seemed like the perfect setup.''

As for the Braves, they are considered by some misguided souls to be the team of the '90s. Yes, they were regulars in the postseason. But it should be noted they have won exactly as many championships in this decade as the Minnesota Twins: one.

The Yankees, on the other hand, are the team of the century. On average, they win one World Series every four years. More recently, they have won 12 consecutive World Series games.

Full credit should go to their spark-plug second baseman, old What's His Name.

Twins fans not yet over the Chuck Knoblauch thing probably will giggle over the fact he was not on the field for the final out of Wednesday's game. He was replaced by Luis Sojo after the seventh inning for defensive purposes.

Sure enough, Sojo made a nice play on Chipper Jones in the eighth inning while Knobber watched from the bench. But since bolting the Twins, Knoblauch has won two consecutive World Series. So he's having the last laugh.

``There's no question that this club was very, very special,'' Torre said.

Special, but, in a way, like all the other Yankees championship teams.

Yeah, there's death, taxes and the New York Yankees.

Tom Powers' column regularly appears Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at tpowers@pioneerpress.com.

All content © 1999 ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS and may not be republished without permission

12/28/99 Rebuttals on Luke's nativity account

Hi Bob,

I see you've had some free time over Christmas break! Here's a response to the first of the three messages I've received from you lately. Like you, I may not have time to say much more in the near future.

Happy new year to the Hazens. :-)

Gordy

Outline:

A. WAS THERE A ROMAN CENSUS AT THE TIME OF JESUS' BIRTH? [not included here]

B. WAS QUIRINIUS GOVERNOR OF SYRIA AT JESUS' BIRTH?

C. WAS EVERYONE REQUIRED TO RETURN TO THEIR ANCESTRAL HOME?

D. CONCLUDING REMARKS

All quotes preceded by "Bob:" in this post are from your 12/21/99 post. Everything preceded by "Gordy:" is my current reply.

B. WAS QUIRINIUS GOVERNOR OF SYRIA AT JESUS' BIRTH?

 

Bob:

In light of this cautionary advice, here is another interpretation of the political aspect of Lukeís nativity account:

"The enrollment or census (not Ďtaxingí) of Augustus is surrounded by numerous problems. There is, however, sufficient evidence to show that a census of this nature was possible, that it could have taken place within the kingdom of a Roman client king, and that it was based on where one resided or held property....

Gordy:

I'd like to see this evidence!

Bob continues:

... The real problem is the date. Quirinius was governor of Syria from AD 6, and during this time there was a rebellion over the imposition of the census (Acts 5:37 and Josephus). Jesus, however, was born before the death of Herod (4 BC). Possible solutions are: a) ĎQuiriniusí is a textual error for ĎSaturninusí, governor 9-6 BC. b) Quirinius may have held an earlier post in the East, during which he initiated the census. This could not, however, have been the governorship of Syria, as W.Ramsay held. E.Stauffer has argued that he had a Ďroving commisioní in the eastern Empire. c) Since this was the first enrollment in Judea, the process of listing the people and then actually taxing them would take several years. Luke mentions the name of Quirinius as the well-known governor under whom the process was completed after Herodís death; and the rising in Acts 5:37 will then have taken place when the new tax was first collected." (The Eerdmanns Bible Commentary on Luke).

Gordy:

Note that (a) requires Luke or a copyist to have made a mistake, and (b) requires him to have been ambiguous or misleading or uninformed, since Quirinius definitely did hold the governorship in AD 6. Either of these diminish his reliability as a historian. Regarding (c), according to Schurer, the census in AD 6 was initiated by Quirinius, who had just become governor of Syria, because Augustus had deposed Herod's successor Archelaus and Judea (but not Galilee) was put under the authority of the province of Syria. If this is so, then this census could not have started under Herod, because its impetus lay in Augustus' removal of Herod's successor. So I don't think (c) is even a possibility.

In sum, your first two options (a), (b) definitely do diminish Luke (the document, if not the person) as a reliable historian, and your third option (c) does not look feasible.

 

C. WAS EVERYONE REQUIRED TO RETURN TO THEIR ANCESTRAL HOME?

Bob:

This set of objections (about everyone being required to return to their ancestral home) is not difficult to deal with. The starred items are explained below.

1. You say that "[Wells] notes that Ďhomesí is a translation of Ďidiaí and Ďidiaí can mean either one's Ďprivate propertyí or one's Ďpeculiar districtí." Yes, but only can mean, since "idia" can also mean "homes", as the translation itself shows, and Wellsí choice of other meanings does not preclude it from simply meaning "homes" in the first place. ...

 

Gordy:

Wells does not arbitrarily choose to believe. Wells not only refers to the papyrologists but also gives their reasons. Read the first full paragraph p. 117 in Wells. You are the one who wants to believe the interpretation "homes" with no other reason than "hey, it could be". You are the one who is arbitrarily choosing to believe.

Bob continues:

... It could also mean "household" or "people" or even "friends" as the Analytical Greek Lexicon shows. Even papyrologists who claim that the intended meaning is probably Ďprivate propertyí doesnít necessitate that it meant private property, ...

Gordy:

And your statement that it doesn't necessitate that it meant 'private property' doesn't necessitate that it meant "household" or "people" or "friends". The Analytical Greek Lexicon knows nothing of the context in which 'idia' was used here. In contrast, the papyrologists Wells mentions base their conclusion on the context in which the word occurs. And that context favors 'private property' as the interpretation. Read p. 117 in Wells.

By the way, why are you here arguing against the 'private property' interpretation, when above you quote the Eerdmanns Bible Commentary on Luke to the effect that the "census ... was based on where one resided or held property" ?

Bob continues:

...and if so, then Wellsí difficulty here evaporates.

 

Gordy:

No it doesn't. If the meaning is "peculiar district", Joseph in Judea or in Galilee under Herod prior to 4 BC (or even in Galilee under Antipas in AD 6) would not have been subject to the Roman decree since as Wells has noted, Judea/Galilee in 4 BC (and even Galilee in 6 AD) were client states and not part of the empire. And for what plausible purpose would anyone be required to return to the "peculiar district" of their ancestor 42 generations removed, as Luke claims?

Bob:

*1.a. Seeking lodging at an inn in Bethlehem does not contradict the possibility of having private property there. There are two plausible explanations:

*1.a.i. Joseph had private property in Bethlehem, but there was no adequate housing on the property. It was just land, either with no housing at all or with housing that was dilapidated. After all, he didnít live in Bethlehem; he lived in Nazareth.

*1.a.ii. Joseph had private property in Bethlehem and there WAS housing on the property but it was already occupied, either by renters or squatters or relatives. If he had this private property in Bethlehem, he simply left it there relatively unattended personally, since he did live in Nazareth.

Gordy:

Your explanation creates as many problems as it solves. First, if Joseph had private property in Bethlehem, and that was the reason he needed to travel there, then why does Luke not mention the private property at all, but state instead that his reason for traveling to Bethlehem was that he was of the house and lineage of David? Second, if there was no adequate housing on the property, or the housing was occupied, then why does Luke not mention either of these as a reason Jesus was born in a manger, and instead merely say that there was no room at the inn? Both of these silences on Luke's part are very suspicious if Joseph in fact had private property in Bethlehem.

Bob:

2. "David doubtless had tens of thousands of descendants who were alive at the time. Could they all identify themselves?" They probably could have, knowing the importance the Jews placed on lineage. Obviously, David certainly did have tens of thousands of descendents who were alive at the time. Given the propensity of the Jews of that time to be very concerned and exactingly analytical about lineage (you would have loved them in that regard!), it is not implausible that virtually every single Jew of that era could trace lineage all the way back to Abraham, starting quite easily with which of the twelve tribes they belonged to.

Gordy:

You're saying it does not make it so. What evidence can you cite? This quote is from Sanders, a source you yourself recommended, and a new testament scholar. He is skeptical that they could all identify themselves, so why should I, or anyone, believe you?

Moreover, McDowell (if not Luke) seems to be arguing (p. 73) that everyone did have to return to his ancestral home. To support McDowell in this, you would have to argue that everyone in the Roman Empire would be able to identify ancestors many generations removed, not just the Jews.

Bob:

*3. "If so, how would they all register in a little village?" Not all of them would necessarily have had to register in Bethlehem. Luke records that "all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph went up from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David...because he was of the house and lineage of David." Your later note "that it was Joseph's father or grandfather who might have lived in Bethlehem" is all that is needed. Joseph went back to Bethlehem because thatís where his immediately preceding direct ancestors were from. Most of the "tens of thousands of descendants who were alive at the time" may well have gone to cities other than Bethlehem because they were born in cities other than Bethlehem, despite still being "of the house and lineage of David." The phrasing "...because he was of the house and lineage of David" can be rephrased to "...because he was of a lineage that came from David" - Joseph was an offspring of Davidís lineage - an offspring of someone who was an offspring of David. Both Joseph and this someone who was an offspring of David (and it could but doesnít need to go back more than one generation to his father) could have been born in Bethlehem.

Gordy:

I think I would retract my earlier speculation on parents or grandparents. If what you say is so, why would Luke mention the house of David at all? Why would Luke not simply say Joseph went to Bethlehem because he or his father or grandfather was born in Bethlehem? Your hypothesis does not at all explain why Luke wrote what he did.

Bob:

4. "But then why would Joseph not seek shelter with them or other relatives, instead of the inn?" There are several independent plausible explanations here. ...

*4.a. The first is to consider that perhaps Joseph simply had no immediate family in Bethlehem, even though thatís where he may have been born and raised. ...

4.b. The second point is that maybe Joseph DID seek shelter with other relatives but didnít get it. ...

4.c.i. Joseph may have refused to stay with relatives for various reasons or may have been refused for various reasons. [my paraphrase]

4.d. Josephís relativesí homes could have already been full of other relatives. ...

Gordy:

Yes, these are explanations of why Joseph might not have sought or obtained shelter with relatives. But you omit my sentence "And why then would Luke mention only David as the ancestor from Bethlehem?" How do you explain Luke not mentioning relatives if the relatives (even if deceased) were the reason Joseph had to journey to Bethlehem? If Joseph did seek shelter with relatives but didn't get it, why did Luke omit saying so and instead mention only the full inn? If Joseph refused shelter from relatives or was refused, why did Luke omit saying so and instead mention only the full inn? If Joseph's relatives' homes were already full, why did Luke omit saying so and instead mention only the full inn? And it is not sufficient to simply say that Luke does not give us exhaustive knowledge. Why did Luke choose to give us this particular partial knowledge if it was misleading? Again, your explanations create as many problems as they solve.

Bob:

The ease with which this last particular set of objections is resolved raises the question of why they are considered difficulties in the first place. I ran these objections regarding this part of Lukeís narrative separately past Sarah, Brandon, and Trevor, and the starred items above are some of the plausible explanations that an 11-year old, a 15-year old, and/or a laywoman independently came up with in a few minutes on a Sunday morning (some of the responses were redundant, others were unique).

Gordy:

As you can see, the objections are not, in my opinion, resolved by these explanations, much less resolved easily. The result of asking children and a laywoman to explain something in a few minutes is that they give inadequate explanations.

Bob:

Gordy, when you say, "The fault here is more Luke's than McDowell's", that seems to be a premature generalization about Luke and a hasty attribution of fault to the documentís author, as opposed to an acknowledgement of a difficulty as Horn explains above.

Gordy:

So you admit there are difficulties. Then what is wrong with me saying what is obviously true, namely that the difficulties are more Luke's fault than McDowell's? And the difficulties remain - your explanations don't help. That is not a premature generalization - it is an adequate summary of things.

D. CONCLUDING REMARKS

Bob:

What I just realized was more what I meant was more along the lines of "Be careful in rejecting the Bible, because of what might be at stake." If the Bible is true, it doesnít make sense to be sloppy or hasty in rejecting it. Help me out here, Gordo - there seems to be something that Iím not quite sure Iím articulating - along the lines of: yes, we can reject confidently the claims that the moon will fall on my house tonight, while we need to be carefully cautious about rejecting the claims of something that has so much more credibility.

Gordy:

I don't think I've been sloppy or hasty - it looks more like you have. You claim your explanations resolve my objections when in fact your objections create as many problems as they solve. You conclude - too hastily - that my judgments have been premature. To mimic your logic, if the Bible is false, it makes sense to reject it.

 

I would help you out if I could, but I don't agree with your logic or your position. Here's as far as I can go: Perhaps a more realistic analogy than the moon falling on your house would help. For example, consider the doomsday Y2K predictions. Writing this before January 1, 2000, I consider the possibility of a worldwide Y2K calamity to be not very likely, but still more likely in my subjective judgment than the factual truth of the stories in the NT. Your view is, I take it, that I need to be carefully cautious about rejecting either the Y2K doomsday predictions or the truth of the NT, because if these are true and I reject them, then I'm in big trouble. But have I bought property in the wilderness of Wisconsin and stocked it with weapons and enough provisions to last 6 months? No. Have I asked Jesus to be my savior? Obviously not. The Y2K doomsday scenario is simply not likely enough for me to take extreme actions to prepare for it, regardless of how calamitous it would be. How terrible it would be does not and should not increase my estimate of its likelihood. The NT stories are simply not plausible enough for me to take extreme actions in preparation for an alleged judgment day. How terrible judgment day would be for a nonbeliever like me does not and should not increase my estimate of how likely it is.

Bob:

Another BTW: McDowell is not the only one who claims that Lukeís reliability as an historian is unquestionable.

Gordy:

Possibly, but if their explanations are no better than McDowell's, then I'll be no more convinced.

1/2/00 Luke's nativity account: Commentaries of Clark and of Archer

Hi Bob,

Here's a response to your 12/28/99 post on Quirinius. As before, all text preceded by "Bob:" is a quote from that message, and all text preceded by "Gordy:" is my current reply. Here is an outline:

A. Clarke's Commentary on Luke

B. Gleason Archer's Commentary

C. Conclusion

D. References

Gordy

 

Bob:

>BOB WROTE 1999.12.21:

>You say "there are more problems, of which McDowell was apparently unaware." One distinct >thought that came to me when I read your remark was, "Perhaps, and there are more resolutions >to these difficulties of which Gordy may not be aware."

So, here are a couple resolutions!

Gordy:

Actually, I was already aware of the resolutions you bring up, since they were mentioned by Wells, and in part mentioned by McDowell. In spite of what I thought was your claim to have Wells in your possession, you seem to read very little of him. Perhaps you borrowed the book and have returned it? If not, I would advise you to follow up on my Wells citations.

Your resolutions, by the way, are not resolutions but only putative resolutions, with associated difficulties of their own, as you can see below.

A. Clarke's Commentary on Luke

Bob:

So Clarkeís commentary on Luke 2:2 begins right here:

Several learned men have produced solutions of this difficulty; and, indeed, there are various ways of solving it, which may be seen at length in Lardner, vol.i p.248-329. One or other of the two following appears to me to be the true meaning of the text.

1. When Augustus published this decree, it is supposed that Quirinius, who was a very active man, and a person in whom the emperor confided, was sent into Syria and Judea with extraordinary powers, to make the census here mentioned; though, at that time, he was not governor of Syria, for Quintilius Varus was then president; and that when he [Bob notes: I think the "he" here must refer to Quirinius] came, ten or twelve years after, into the presidency of Syria, there was another census made, to both of which St. Luke alludes, when he says, "This was the first assessment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria"; for so Dr. Lardner translates the words. The passage, thus translated, does not say that this assessment was made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which would not have been the truth; but that this was the first assessment which Cyrenius, who was (i.e., afterwards) governor of Syria, made; for after he became governor, he made a second. Lardner defends this opinion in a very satisfactory and masterly manner. See vol.i.p.317,&c.

Gordy:

You have to ask what the evidence is. Merely "supposing" that Quirinius "was sent into Syria and Judea with extraordinary powers, to make the census" does not by itself make it true or even likely. Probably the evidence in Lardner is the Antioch inscription McDowell alludes to, which I have previously discussed. Here is what I said in my 6/23/99 message:

Gordy 6/23/99:

McDowell states:

"Secondly, we find evidence that Quirinius was governor of Syria around 7 BC. This assumption is based on an inscription found in Antioch ascribing to Quirinius this post. As a result of this finding, it is now supposed that he was governor twice. Once in 7 BC and the other time in 6 AD (the date ascribed by Josephus)." (p. 73)

He cites Elder. But Elder is considerably less confident of this conclusion. He states that "the exact history of the movements of Quirinius is still uncertain." According to Elder, the Antioch evidence identifies Quirinius as "prefect", and records his election as "magistrate, in recognition of his victory over the Hamonades, and proves that Quirinius was in the area as a commander at this date [10-7 BC]" Elder concludes that "Quirinius was at Antioch early enough to have been governor at the time of a census when Jesus was born." That is the strongest statement Elder can make.

And anyway, as Elder notes, Antioch is in Galatia. Wells (1999, p. 276) cites Feldman (1984, p. 712) to the effect that it has been convincingly shown that Quirinius was governor of Galatia, not Syria, at the time.

... Wells, Yamauchi and Thompson quote apologists who assert that Quirinius was "extraordinary imperial legate" to Syria at that time in connection with his command against the Hamonades, but as I've said, that would have been to Galatia, not Syria.

Gordy:

Schurer (1973) devotes 29 pages to the census of Quirinius. Schurer considers the possibility that the census of AD 6/7 was Quirinius' second to be inconsistent with Josephus' description of that era:

"Josephus knows nothing of a Roman census in Palestine during the reign of Herod; he refers rather to the census of AD 6/7 as something new and unprecedented." (p. 416).

Schurer quotes, in Greek, at least four passages from Josephus to support this assertion. Schurer also says:

"It is almost inconceivable that [Josephus] would have ignored a measure such as a Roman census [in Herod's last years], which would have offended the people to the quick, whilst faithfully describing the census of AD 6/7, which occurred in a period of which he reports very much less" (p. 418)

Wells states:

"Another way out of the problem is to take Luke as saying, not that Quirinius was governor of Syria at the time, but that he was "in charge" or "in office" there, but not as governor, so that the reference could be to some 'office' he held in Herod's time. The Roman Catholic scholar Fr. R.E. Brown regards this as an "unlikely hypothesis", and as "another ingenious attempt to save Lucan accuracy" (1979, p. 395n). Also in the updated 1993 edition of this book, he reviews recent discussion of the proposals that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria and that there were two censuses, and concludes that they are "better given up" (p. 668)" (Wells 1999, p. 277)

Bob continues quoting Clarke:

2. The second way of solving this difficulty is by translating the words thus: "This enrollment was made BEFORE Cyrenius was governor of Syria"; or, "[This enrollment was made] before that of Cyrenius." This sense the word "prwtos" appears to have, John i.30 "oti prwtos mou en" - "for he was BEFORE me" [and in] John xv.18: "The world hated me BEFORE (prwtov) it hated you." See also 2Sam xix.43.

Gordy:

Wells also addresses this point, stating:

"Feldman has commented that these renderings necessitate an unparalleled use of the Greek word 'protos' ('first'), and also that it does not make much sense to say that the census took place earlier than when Quirinius was governing Syria rather than stating who was governor at the time (1984a, p. 712). Robin Lane Fox, who discusses the birth and infancy narratives in some detail, calls these alternative translations "attempts to evade the meaning of the third Gospel's Greek", and declares that nobody has ever entertained them for non-doctrinal reasons (1991, pp. 29-30). 'Protos' can mean 'before' if it governs a following noun or pronoun (in the genitive case); for instance Jn. 1:15, "he was before (protos) me", i.e., 'first of me'. Luke, however, follows 'protos' with a participle phrase grammatically quite independent of the 'protos'. (Wells 1999, p. 277)

Schurer addresses part of Clarke's point as well. He states:

"Why should Luke have made the futile observation that this census took place earlier than when Quirinius was governor of Syria? Why does he not name the governor under whom it did take place? It is said that he distinguishes between the earlier census under Herod, and the later one under Quirinius. But according to this translation, this is precisely what he does not do. He does not say, 'this census took place earlier than that taken under Quirinius' (which would have required something like this: haut8 8 apograph8 prwt8 egeneto t8s Kur8niou Surias 8gemoneuontos genomen8s), but 'this census took place earlier than when Quirinius was governor of Syria'. ... Moreover, it is strange that Luke should express himself so clumsily and misleadingly, when elsewhere he shows such lucidity and polish." (Schurer 1973, pp. 421-422)

Bob:

F. Translation #5: "This was the first assessment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria."

F.1. After reading Clarke, I pulled out my Greek NT to check his references. I was surprised to find that translation #5 ["This was the first assessment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria."] of Lardner seems to fit the Greek construction. If this translation is proper, then the apparent difficulties with the Quirinius dates are resolved, for Luke 2:2 thus would NOT say that the first census was made when Quirinius was governor but that this was the first census which Quirinius made - this Quirinius who later was governor of Syria.

Gordy:

Yes, it does appear to fit what little I can figure of the Greek. According to my Internet source, 'Cyrenius' is in the genitive case, so it could be "assessment of Cyrenius". But in the Greek, 'Cyrenius' is closer in position to the phrase 'governing Syria' ("This enrollment first was governing Syria of Cyrenius"). So isn't it more likely that 'of Cyrenius' attaches to 'governing Syria'? To get Lardner's meaning, wouldn't you need instead something like "This enrollment first was of Cyrenius governing Syria"? This is apparently what Wells thinks when he says "Luke, however, follows 'protos' with a participle phrase grammatically quite independent of the 'protos'."

Of course, this translation is also subject to Schurer's objection that Josephus mentions nothing of any census under Herod.

Bob:

F.2. The word h8gemoneuontos in Greek is a participle, and in Greek participles have some unusual characteristics...

The point here is that the Greek does not necessitate the translation of "h8gemoneuontos" as "when" as in the RSV or KJV.

Gordy:

I'm not sure the distinctions you're making are useful here, or else I don't understand your point. 'h8gemoneuontos' means 'governing', no? If the meaning is "the Syria-governing of Quirinius", then there is nothing wrong with translating it as "when Quirinius was governor of Syria". If the meaning is "the first enrollment of Quirinius, governing Syria", then you could also translate using 'when', as follows: "the first enrollment of Quirinius when he was governor of Syria". It seems to me the key issue is whether 'of Quirinius' attaches to 'enrollment' or to 'governing', not whether 'when' can be used in translating 'h8gemoneuontos'.

Bob:

G. Translation #6: "This enrollment was made before Cyrenius was governor of Syria."

G.1. The Greek prwt8 in Luke 2:2 is the nominative singular feminine, which would match with the nominative singular feminine of "apograph8", so it would seem that prot8 is an adjectival noun describing "apograph8"/enrollment, thus attaching it as an adjective to "enrollment" and seeming to preclude it from being used in the sense of "before."

Gordy:

Well actually if you look at John 15:18 in the Greek, it has "the world ... me first of you hated" ("kosmos ... eme prwton humwn memis8ken"). Here 'me' ('eme') and 'first' ('prwton') are both in the accusative, being direct objects of 'hated' ('memis8ken'), and 'you' ('humwn') is in the genitive. So "first of you" means "before you" here, in spite of the fact that 'first' is in the same accusative case as 'me' and modifies 'me'.

You could argue a similar thing is happening in Luke 2:2, with "enrollment first was ... of Cyrenius" ("apograph8 prwt8 egeneto ... kur8niou"), where 'Cyrenius' ('kur8niou') is also in the genitive. So "first ... of Cyrenius" would mean "before ... Cyrenius" here. The only problem might be that there are intervening words, including 'governing'. Can we reasonably assert that it is "first ... of Cyrenius" rather than "governing ... of Cyrenius"?

Bob:

G.2. Clarke didnít mention this (but he probably should have), that if the term "prwt8" had a single minuscule diacritical mark after the final letter, thus rendering it prwt8`, then the term would be the dative singular feminine and it would not at all be an adjective of enrollment, although it would still be attached to enrollment, which leads to...

Gordy:

I've completely lost you here. Dative would indicate indirect object, meaning something like "to the first"? "to the first enrollment "? How can an adjective be in the dative without its modified noun also being in the dative? Even if both were supposed to be in the dative, what does this resolve?

Bob:

G.3. In either case, the term prote or prote` comes from the Greek prwtos, whose meaning includes the sense of "first" (as in our English prefix proto-) but whose meaning also includes the sense of "formerly" or "before" or "prior", among other shades of meaning. The sense of this term as meaning "before" is supported by Clarkeís references in John 1:30 and John 15:18.

Gordy:

Yes, 'first' when followed by a genitive noun ("first of ...") can mean before.

Bob:

J. A caution or two

J.1. Iím sure youíll think of some cautions in this discussion of Clarkeís. One that strikes me is simply this question: In all that Iíve read over the past 20+ years, why have I never seen or heard of this anywhere else? Have Clarkeís possibilities been discredited? This could be checked out with a NT Greek scholar. Iíve just never come across this in any other commentary - either affirming Clarke or rebutting Clarke.

Gordy:

You really ought to get hold of Schurer (1973). This 1973 volume is an edited and revised edition of Schurer's 1901 volume (Schurer died in 1910). This discussion has been going on for a long time, and you, I, McDowell and Wells are simply rehashing points that have already been made. What Clarke says has been both repeated and rebutted, with what degree of success I'll let you judge.

B. Gleason Archer's Commentary

Bob:

II. From Gleason Archer

Gleason Archer, in "The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties," writes:

... Josephus mentions no census in the reign of Herod the Great (who died in 4 BC) but does mention one taken by "Cyrenius) (Antiquities 17.13.5) soon after Herod Archelaus was deposed in AD 6: "Cyrenius, one that had been consul, was sent by Caesar to take account of peopleís effects in Syria, and to sell the house of Archelaus." ...

By way of solution, let it be noted first of all that Luke says this was a "first" enrollment that took place under Quirinius (haut8 apograph8 prwt8 egeneto). A "first" surely implies a second one sometime later. Luke was therefore well aware of that second census, taken by Quirinius again in AD 7, which Josephus alludes to in the passage cited above. We know this because Luke (who lived much closer to the time than Josephus did) also quotes Gamaliel as alluding to the insurrection of Judas of Galilee "in the days of the census taking" (Acts 5:37).

Gordy:

Certainly a first implies a second later census, but if the proper translation is the RSV "This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria", then Luke was referring to the census in AD 7, which would have been the first Judean census. Subsequent censuses would presumably have occurred at 14-year intervals, so it would be natural for Luke to call the AD 7 census the first. Josephus mentions the insurrection of Judas of Galilee in connection with the AD 7 census. Why does Archer think that Luke's reference to Judas of Galilee "in the days of the census taking" means that Luke thought the AD 7 census was the second? Schurer uses the same reference to make the exactly opposite point (p. 427): "For that Luke had in mind the census of Quirinius, and was aware only of that one, is confirmed by Acts 5:37, where he refers to it simply as 'the census'."

And by the way, Luke did not live "much closer to the time than Josephus did" - Luke and Josephus were contemporaries. Josephus was on the Jewish side in the defense of Jerusalem against the Romans around AD 66-70, and the most common dating of Luke's writing is AD 80-90.

Bob continues quoting Archer:

As for the lack of secular reference to a general census for the entire Roman Empire at this time, this presents no serious difficulty. Kingsley Davis (Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 14th ed., 5:168) states:

"Every five years the Romans enumerated citizens and their property to determine their liabilities. This practice was extended to include the entire Roman Empire in 5 BC."

Gordy:

If this is so, then why does no one seem to know about this? Not McDowell's reference Elder, nor the reference Thompson (1962) which I mentioned in my 6/23/99 post. Both speak of 14-year intervals in Egypt, as does Schurer. The only 5-year period Schurer mentions was nearly 300 years later:

"The fifteen-year indiction cycle, first attested in Egypt in AD 312, conceivably arose from the fourteen-year cycle of the population counts combined with a five-year indiction period first attested in AD 287" (p. 404)

Davis' assertion that the entire Roman Empire was subject to census for the purpose of taxation ("liabilities") also contradicts Schurer, who says:

"Under the Empire, and even in the later years of the Republic, the census of Roman citizens had completely lost its original significance since they (i.e., the whole of Italy and colonies with Ius Italicum) no longer paid direct taxes or were liable to regular and universal conscription. If therefore Augustus, Claudius and Vespasian still took censuses of Roman citizens, it was only for the purpose of statistics or because of the religious ceremonies connected with them, but not for the levying of taxes. The provincial census was fundamentally different, the control of taxation being its main function." (p. 401)

"In consequence, even though it is established that apart from Luke no historical evidence exists of a general imperial census under Augustus, the possibility still remains that Luke alone has preserved a record of it. But this possibility needs to be qualified. There can, above all, be no question of an imperial census but, at the most, only of one involving the provinces, since Italy is to be excluded (cf. pp. 401-2). But even with respect to the provinces, the great difference between them was that some were governed by imperial legati, others by proconsuls. It is not very likely that the cautious Augustus, always careful to respect the rights of the Senate, would have ordered, by means of one and the same edict, a census for his provinces and for those of the Senate. In addition, it is definitely known that during the reign of Augustus no Roman census had yet been organized in certain provinces. All that can be conceded therefore is that in the time of Augustus censuses were taken in many provinces." (p. 410)

C. Conclusion

Every one of your "resolutions" has problems. To summarize:

1. Perhaps Quirinius was sent into Syria and Judea with extraordinary powers, to conduct a census under Herod?

The only supporting evidence is that Quirinius is known to have been in the area at the time, subduing the Hamonades. Beyond that, this is pure speculation. Besides, according to Wells it has been convincingly shown that Quirinius was governor of Galatia, not Syria, at the time.

2. Did Quirinius conducted two censuses in Judea, one under Herod and one in AD 6/7 ? ("This was the first assessment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria.")

But according to Schurer, "Josephus knows nothing of a Roman census in Palestine during the reign of Herod; he refers rather to the census of AD 6/7 as something new and unprecedented." (p. 416).

3. Might the translation be "This enrollment was made BEFORE Cyrenius was governor of Syria"; or, "This enrollment was made before that of Cyrenius"?

Schurer disputes the second translation. The first translation may work, but it seems forced to me to interpret "first ... of Cyrenius" to mean "before Cyrenius" when the "..." includes a entire participle phrase. Besides, as Schurer points out, why should Luke have made the futile observation that this census took place earlier than when Quirinius was governor of Syria, instead of telling us who the governor actually was?

4. All these attempted resolutions are subject to the difficulty both Wells and Schurer mention, that Judea was not a Roman province under Herod and would not have been subject to Roman census.

To conclude: Every proposed resolution you mention leads to more difficulties. The one resolution which leads to no difficulties at all is that Luke simply made a mistake - as Wells says, Luke "had this census of AD 6 in mind, but antedated it and supposed it to have occurred in Herod's lifetime."

As Schurer notes, it is not so surprising that Luke could have been wrong: "Moreover, this would not be the only historical error in Luke. For Theudas, who in the speech of Gamaliel is placed chronologically before Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:36ff.) must, in fact, be the Theudas known to have lived about forty years later." (p. 427)

If all explanations but one raise further difficulties, doesn't it seem reasonable to conclude that the one explanation which raises no difficulties at all is probably the right one? That is, doesn't it seem reasonable that Luke probably made a mistake? I'm not saying we know for sure that Luke was incorrect, or that further evidence might not change this conclusion. All I'm saying is that this seems the most probable explanation at this time.

Stepping back to what started us down this road, certainly both of us can agree that there are questions about Luke's reliability, are there not? Questions which may eventually have answers, but do not now under the information we have, and may never have. If there are such questions about Luke's reliability, can't we therefore definitely say that McDowell exaggerated in claiming (p. 72) that "Luke's reliability as an historian is unquestionable"? I don't see how you can escape this conclusion.

D. References

E. Schurer (1973) The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. New English version revised and edited by G. Vermes et al., Volume 1. Edinburgh: Clark.

G.A. Wells (1999), The Jesus Myth. Chicago: Open Court.

 

1/4/00 Atonement in Luke

Bob,

Here is a response to your long 12/26/99 message on atonement in Luke. Some of what you say is interesting, but I disagree with virtually everything you write. Here is an outline:

A. Luke 22:18-20 and the Nazirite Vow

B. Atonement in the Gospel of Luke

C. What Does "Widely Regarded" Mean?

D. Verses Otherwise Foreign to Luke

E. Jesus' Death as a Reversed Miscarriage of Justice

F. Luke's Omission of Mark 10:45

G. Endings of Mark

H. References

Gordy

A. Luke 22:18-20 and the Nazirite Vow

Bob:

Gordy, you wrote,

>If 19b-20 are not added verses, then it is harder to explain the awkwardness of Luke's writing of >the cup, which is mentioned as being taken first before the bread (verse 17) and then taken yet >again after the bread (verse 20).

>That Luke does not include the doctrine of atonement in his scriptures is evidence that it may not >have been an original teaching of Jesus, and instead may have been introduced by Paul.

D.1.a. First of all, note the use of "may" - "MAY NOT have been an original teaching of Jesus" and "MAY have been introduced by Paul." The use of "may" here leaves open the opposite possibility - that atonement MAY indeed have been an original teaching of Jesus and MAY NOT have been introduced by Paul. The tentativeness here allows that a case can be made in the direction opposite of Wells.

Gordy:

We both know what "may" means - of course it leaves open the possibility of an opposing case. But you have to actually make that case, not just mention its hypothetical existence.

Bob:

D.1.b. Lukeís writing is awkward only if one is not knowledgeable about the both OT and especially the OT notion of atonement. When Jesus says in Luke 22:18 above, "...for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes", he is making reference to the book of Numbers, chapter 6, which explains the vow of the Nazirite. ...

So when Wells writes, "[This material] is widely regarded as added by a later hand...", perhaps Wells is not aware of the Nazirite reference of Luke 22:18. It is also possible that "a later hand" of some copyist monk of the late 1st or early 2nd century also did not recognize that Luke 22:18 referenced the Nazirite passage and removed it or forgot to include it. So itís possible that what some call the "extra material" of 22:19b-20 is not at all extra but original.

Gordy:

Yes, your hypothesis about the Nazirite vow explains the awkwardness of the repetition of the cup. I don't necessarily go along with that hypothesis, but I'm not going to take the time to dispute it now, because it has very little impact otherwise on the claims I made about Luke.

You're confused about verse 18 - it was neither removed nor added. It's in Codex Bezae as well as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. No one forgot to copy it. The omitted or added material is verse 19b and 20, namely: "...(19b) that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. (20) And the cup likewise after supper, saying This cup is the new covenant in my blood, that is shed for you."

So even if verse 18 is a reference to the Nazirite vow, you still have to explain why 19b-20 are absent in Codex Bezae. Verse 18 is not absent and it appears that whether it refers to the Nazirite vow is irrelevant to the absence of 19b-20.

Let me quote from Ehrman (1993) to bring home to you the difficult questions you have to answer to defend the hypothesis that 19b-20 were dropped from the original Luke. Note that Ehrman mentions something close to your hypothesis that an ignorant copyist monk removed one of the references to the cup:

Ehrman:

In point of fact, no one has been able to provide a convincing explanation for how the shorter text came into existence if the longer text is original. One of the standard explanations is that a scribe who either could not understand or did not appreciate the appearance of two cups in Luke's narrative eliminated one of them to make the account coincide better with all the others. The explanation has proved popular because it has all the appearance of plausibility. But it is only an appearance; over a century ago Hort showed why the theory does not work and no one has been able to refute his argument. If a scribe was concerned with harmonizing the account to its parallels, why did he eliminate the second cup instead of the first? It is the first that is problematic, because it is distributed before the giving of the bread; and it is the second that is familiar, because the words of institution parallel so closely those of Paul in 1 Corinthians. Still more damaging, this explanation cannot at all account for the omission of verse 19b, where the cup is not yet mentioned. Why did the alleged scribe, concerned to eliminate the second cup, take away with it the words of institution over the bread? Did he just happen to excise the words and theology that otherwise appear intrusive in Luke's Gospel but reflect the words of institution known from Paul? Whatever the motivation for the change, it was not simply to eliminate the mention of a second cup or to harmonize the account with the others. (Ehrman 1993, p. 207)

...Virtually the only explanation ... is that verses 19b-20 dropped out by accident. Unfortunately, this proves to be as problematic as the theory that the text was cut on purpose. For it would be remarkable indeed for thirty-two words to drop out of a text for no apparent reason (such as homeoeteleuton). Is it an accident that these thirty-two words just happen to supply precisely what is missing otherwise in the account, a notion that Jesus' body and blood would be given on behalf of his disciples? Is it an accident that this theological construal, found in this passage only in the disputed thirty-two words, is otherwise alien to Luke's entire two-volume work? Is it an accident that these words, and only these words, parallel the words found in 1 Corinthians? An intriguing accident indeed! (Ehrman 1993, p. 208)

Ehrman points out that in contrast, it is easy to explain how the longer text might have arisen if the shorter text were original:

Ehrman:

But [the shorter text] was not at all useful when [orthodox Christians] wanted to stress, in direct opposition to certain groups of docetic opponents, that Christ experienced a real passion in which his body was broken and his blood was shed for the sins of the world.

It is no accident that Tertullian refers to Christ's consecration of the wine as his blood to disparage Marcion's view that he was merely a phantom (Treatise on the Soul, 17) .... Somewhat earlier Irenaeus too had refuted Marcion by asking how his docetic Christology could be reconciled with Jesus' insistence that the bread represented his body and the cup his blood (Adv. Haer. IV, 33, 2). Yet more significantly, Irenaeus attacked other unnamed docetists for refusing to see that Christ's shed blood alone is what brings human redemption, and that for this blood to be efficacious it had to be real: real blood shed to bring real salvation, Christ's real flesh given to redeem our human flesh (Adv. Haer. V, 2, 2).

It is precisely the emphasis on Jesus' giving of his own flesh and blood for the salvation of believers, as represented in the physical elements of the bread broken "for you" and the cup given "for you," that made the longer text of Luke 22:19-20 so attractive to the proto-orthodox heresiologists of the second century. And it is the same theological concern that can account for the genesis of the corruption in the first place. Whereas Luke's [shorter] account served well to portray his own understanding of Jesus' last meal and death, it did not prove as serviceable for later Christians who wanted to emphasize the atoning merits of that death, a death that involved the real shedding of real blood for the sins of the world. And so the text was modified by means of a partial assimilation to the familiar institution narrative reflected in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. In changing the text in this way, these scribes were part of a much larger phenomenon that has left its abiding mark throughout the manuscript record of the New Testament. (Ehrman 1993, p. 209)

B. Atonement in the Gospel of Luke

Bob:

E. Atonement in the Gospel of Luke

You wrote, "Without this material [of Luke 22:19b-20], there is no doctrine of atonement in Luke."

E.1. Luke 22:37: an implicit atonement reference

My RSV of this verse reads:

For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, "And he was reckoned with the transgressors"; for what is written about me has its fulfillment.

This verse of Luke 22:37 is independent of whether 22:19-20 is original with Luke or not. The passage Jesus is quoting is from Isaiah 53, the well known "suffering servant" passage written about 700 years earlier. It is hard to find anywhere in the Bible - including the NT - a passage more brimming with the notion of atonement than Isaiah 53. By my quick count, there are some 5-10 references within Isaiah 53 to the notion of atonement. In appealing to this verse of Isaiah, Jesus is making a claim about the atoning nature of his life - not anywhere near as explicit a claim TO OUR EARS about the atoning nature of his life as he does in Mark 10:45 "For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" - but it is distinctly possible that to THEIR EARS (the ears of the apostles), this implicit claim was one that was even stronger than the explicit claim of Mark 10:45. In any event, whether Jesusí claims are expressed or implied, Luke 22:37 is another verse in the Gospel that teaches atonement. This verse alone contradicts the claim that without the material of Luke 22:19b-20 there is no doctrine of atonement in Luke.

Gordy:

Bob, I disagree completely. First, the passage "And he was reckoned with the transgressors" quoted in Luke 22:37 itself says nothing at all about atonement, although I agree that Isaiah 53:12 from which it is taken does refer to atonement, both before and after this passage. How are we to tell what Luke's intentions are here? By looking at the context, which you have completely omitted. Here is Luke 22:35-38 (NIV), in which Jesus is speaking to the disciples:

(35) Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?

"Nothing," they answered.

(36) He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. (37) It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."

(38) The disciples said, "see, Lord, here are two swords."

"That is enough," he replied.

What I read here is that Jesus is telling his disciples they had better take a change of clothes and arm themselves because difficult times are coming. Why? Because Jesus and by implication his disciples will be regarded as lawbreakers. I see here no intention to refer to atonement, and atonement is not even relevant to what Jesus is saying. Did Luke really want Jesus to utter the nonsequitor "Arm yourselves - the authorities will be after you because my blood is shed for many!" That warning just doesn't make sense. Do the disciples react at all to what you allege is a statement of atonement? Do they say "Oh no, why must your blood be shed?" ? Not at all - it wasn't apparent TO THEIR EARS either. They say "see, Lord, here are two swords", clearly reacting to the plain meaning of the passage, not to any other passages in Isaiah 53.

I don't care that "And he was numbered with the transgressors" is surrounded on both sides in Isaiah 53:12 with references to atonement. If Luke wanted to refer to atonement, he had an ample number of verses in Isaiah 53 to pick from. Why then did he pluck out a phrase completely absent of any mention of atonement and place it into a context for which atonement is irrelevant?

This is not the only place in which Luke seems careful to avoid using verses from Isaiah 53 which mention atonement. As Ehrman points out, in Acts 8:32-33 we find Philip encouraged by the spirit to approach a eunuch who is reading from Isaiah 53. Here is Acts 8:32-35 (NIV):

(32) The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

(33) In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."

(34) Then the eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" (35) Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

The quoted passage is from Isaiah 53:7-8. Here is Isaiah 53:8 (NIV):

(8) By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

Look at what Luke has done: He has stopped his quotation of Isaiah in mid-sentence just before "for the transgression of my people he was stricken", that is, just before a reference to atonement! What an opportunity Luke has passed up! By continuing a half sentence more in Isaiah, he could have had Philip telling the eunuch that Jesus had died for his sins! But he did not do so. Don't you find this suspicious if Luke actually subscribed to the notion that Jesus' death atoned for our sins?

Bob:

E.2. Another implicit atonement in Luke

Okay, letís not overlook the obvious. Exodus 12:5 describes the substitutionary sacrificial lamb which established the very first passover in Egypt. The entire notion of Passover was at its heart an idea of atonement. The substitutionary sacrifice acceptable to God was described as having to be a male lamb without blemish, in the prime of its life.

Here in Luke 23, the author describes the death of Jesus, at the time of Passover - Jesus the sinless male without blemish in the prime of his life. This is atonement, writ large across the canvas of Lukeís Gospel. This is atonement in Luke, whether Luke 22:19b-20 is included or not.

Gordy:

Probably the tradition that Jesus was crucified at Passover had developed so far that Luke could hardly have altered it. It is not original with Luke, who just passed it on. But did Luke or anyone in the Jewish community even regard the sacrifice of the passover lamb to be an act of atonement? I don't think you can defend this. Exodus makes no mention of atonement for sin in connection with the passover lamb. In fact, in Exodus 12:26-27 (NIV) we find Moses speaking to the elders of Israel:

(26) "And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' (27) then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.' " Then the people bowed down and worshiped.

No mention of sin or atonement here at all. So yes, the passover lamb was sacrificed to protect the Israelites just as Christians allege Jesus was sacrificed to protect us. But for the sacrifice of Jesus the protection is from punishment for our sins, so there the notion of atonement for sin is present. For the passover lamb, no notion of Israelite sin is involved, hence no notion of atonement for sin. The distinction is one Luke could easily have made. Based on this, it seems unlikely that Luke would have agreed with your claim that atonement is "writ large across the canvas" of his Gospel.

 

Bob:

E.3. A puzzlement

I donít understand why anyone can claim that without Luke 22:19b-20,there is no other doctrine of atonement in Luke. Luke 22:37 above shows this is not true, and there are at least 6 other passages in a quick read of Luke that relate, suggest, refer to, or assume atonement.

Gordy:

If those 6 others are no better than what is presumably your best example, Luke 22:37, then I don't think you have much of a case.

Bob:

Iím not sure if Iím missing a specialized meaning for atonement here, or something else, but atonement simply means, as EBD states, "the quality of being at one with." So, Iím puzzled - perhaps you mean one of the following:

E.3.a. vicarious atonement? (atonement through another, as opposed to self-atonement): yet this too is predicted and mentioned in Isaiah 53, to which Jesus makes reference immediately after the Last Supper, as discussed in the section above.

E.3.b. bodily sacrifice?: but this too is also mentioned, in two ways:

E.3.b.1). in Jesusí appeal to the passage of Isaiah 53, which in 53:5 and 53:10 talks about the bodily suffering of the suffering servant being the atonement of us all;

E.3.b.2). in Jesusí instituting the rituals of the bread and the cup as a symbolic sacrifice directly related to the passover meal; Jesus is equating his coming death with the sacrifice of a passover lamb - this is his bodily sacrifice for atonement.

Gordy:

Ehrman quotes Irenaeus: "By his own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, 'In whom we have redemption, through his blood, even the remission of sins'." Blood shed for our sins; body broken for our sins: I think that is what Ehrman and Wells mean by the doctrine of atonement.

As I have mentioned above, Luke goes out of his way to avoid the atonement passages in Isaiah 53. And there is no component of atonement in the sacrifice of the passover lamb. What puzzles me is how much extraneous meaning you put into Luke, Exodus and Genesis (recalling our earlier discussion about original sin). I think you are wrong to believe that meaning is really there. But I'm more concerned that you are so completely blind to alternate interpretations. Can't you read these passages with a neutral eye? You seem completely baffled that I might not find your meanings self-evident. Apparently you are so steeped in Christian assumptions that you are incapable of anticipating that a non-Christian reader like me would see anything other than the "plain meanings" of these passages - plain meanings that are not even there, not just in my opinion, but in the opinion of the Jewish community as well.

C. What Does "Widely Regarded" Mean?

Bob:

F.1. "widely regarded"

Gordy, Iím genuinely a bit flummoxed here. You seem to base firm conclusions upon statements such as this, that contain tentative wording such as "widely regarded." ...

Second, Iím not sure what the criterion is that Wells uses for saying "widely regarded" in the first place. To some extent, I am familiar with - and am okay with - the use of such a phrase to essentially mean "I am not the only one saying this." So if thatís what it is, Iím okay with it in that sense.

Third, I think we need to be careful in the use of such phrases, and especially careful in drawing conclusions upon things that are "widely regarded." ...

Gordy:

I don't think it means anything more than "I am not the only one saying this." And I assumed as you did that the community in which the claim was "widely regarded" excluded the conservative apologists who would no doubt disagree. I am not basing firm conclusions on this statement only, but rather the entire array of evidence of which this is only a part. Is your point of view that unless a piece of evidence leads to an unequivocal conclusion, then it should be disregarded completely? I don't think this is a tenable position.

Your criticism of Wells' use of "widely regarded" seems a little disingenuous in light of how you concluded one of your recent messages:

McDowell is not the only one who claims that Lukeís reliability as an historian is unquestionable. Iím sure you might come across others in your research who make the same claim (Ramsay comes to mind). (Bob 12/21/99)

Aren't you here claiming that the unquestionable reliability of Luke is something like "widely regarded"? Aren't you hoping I'll be influenced by this assertion? Yet you object when Wells uses a similar statement to try to influence you.

Bob:

Fourth, my last sentence above leads to another point which may be worth discussing separately. How do you - or I - or we - sort out the authorities who all have the initials behind their names, who all have published, who all know the Greek and Hebrew and the history?

Gordy:

We look at what they say. We see whether it makes sense and whether some of them refute what others claim. We look for claims on which there is consensus, or failing that, for claims for which there are no convincing refutations. This could be a lot of work, but I don't see any viable substitute.

D. Verses Otherwise Foreign to Luke

Bob:

F.2. "The key elements of the vocabulary of these verses are otherwise foreign to Luke..."

I looked up the Greek for the entire passage of Luke 22:19b-20 and could only find two key words that are or might be "otherwise foreign to Luke." The words Wells apparently is referring to are only two words: "anamnesin" which means "memorial" or "remembrance"; and "ekchunnomenon" which means "being shed."

Gordy:

Perhaps this is my fault for not including in my quote of Wells his reference to Ehrman (1993). But if you do have Wells (1999) as you claim, then you should be looking up what I quote (I referenced p. 255 in Wells).

Ehrman is quite specific about the words he thinks are "otherwise foreign to Luke". You got one of them right, but there are four words/phrases, not one or two:

Ehrman:

What is even more striking is that precisely the non-Lukan features of the longer text comprise its key elements: the phrase uper umwn ("for you") occurs twice in this passage, but nowhere else in all of Luke-Acts, the word for "remembrance," anamn8sin, occurs only here in Luke-Acts, and never elsewhere does Luke speak of the "new covenant," let alone the new covenant "in my blood." Were the Gospel of Luke our only base of comparison for this distinctive vocabulary, the evidence might not be so telling; but given the ample opportunity afforded the author to refer back to the momentous event of the Last Supper in his second volume, the absence of any subsequent allusions to these significant words and phrases must be seen as more than a little discomforting for proponents of the [originality of the] longer text. (Ehrman 1993, p. 199)

Gordy:

And you've missed out completely on the more important part:

Ehrman:

Even more important than the mere absence of this vocabulary from the rest of Luke-Acts is the matter of its ideational content. It is surely significant that the understanding of Jesus' death expressed by these words and phrases is otherwise absent from Luke's two-volume work. When Jesus says in Luke 22:19b-20 that his body is given "for you" (uper umwn) and that his blood is shed "for you" (uper umwn), he is stating what Luke says nowhere else in his long narrative. Neither in his Gospel nor in Acts does he portray Jesus' death as an atonement for sins. (Ehrman 1993, p. 199)

Bob:

F.3. Getting from the statement "these two words are otherwise foreign to Luke" (or perhaps "this single word is otherwise foreign to Luke") to the conclusion "Luke didnít write them in the original" is a questionable connection. Some questions come to mind:

 

a. There are no other words in Lukeís Gospel that appear only once?

b. A word appearing only once means something is fishy?

c. An author is not permitted to use a new word he hasnít used before to describe a unique situation he hasnít described before or hasnít referred to in quite that way before?

d. An author cannot draw deep from the linguistic well of vocabulary to select a term that has the...nuance of meaning that will communicate more effectively than any other words he may have used before?

F.4. In the final sentence of section F.3.d above, I used a word I donít believe I have ever used in our exchanges here - the word "nuance."

... "The key element of the vocabulary of this sentence is otherwise foreign to Bob" - so it must have been a later addition??? I am paraphrasing Wellsí comment in order to apply his argument to a known situation in order to compare it for its sensibility. When I make the comparable parallel, it doesnít make sense. So I am puzzled by the mileage Wells seems to get out of it.

Gordy:

Of course the mere fact that a word or words are "otherwise foreign" to your writing is not strong evidence that you did not compose the passage in which they appear. But you are ignoring the rest of Wells'/Ehrman's evidence. Suppose in addition that we have two versions of your writings, one containing a passage X and the other not. Only one can be original with you. Which is genuine? If we now find that words in passage X are "otherwise foreign" to your writing, does this not suggest you may not have written passage X? The comparable parallel does indeed make sense. The problem not Wells' argument but yours: The parallel you have constructed is not a comparable one.

Bob:

I am equally puzzled by how Wells can presume anything 2,000 years later about the extent or usage of Lukeís vocabulary? How can Wells conclude anything from merely two (or perhaps only one) words that Luke had not used before in this particular treatise?

 

Gordy:

As is noted above, it is four words/phrases, and it is not only that, but also ideational content which is otherwise absent from Luke. And it is not that Luke did not use these before in Luke, but that he did not use them afterwards in Acts, when he had ample opportunity to do so. Whether it is 2000 years ago or yesterday makes no difference - we have copies of Luke's writing.

E. Jesus' Death as a Reversed Miscarriage of Justice

Bob:

F.5. Wells is quoted that Luke "... elsewhere consistently portrays the death of Jesus not as an atoning sacrifice, but as a miscarriage of justice" Where else does Luke consistently portray the death of Jesus not as an atoning sacrifice but as a miscarriage of justice?

Gordy:

The quote from Wells is: "... elsewhere consistently portrays the death of Jesus not as an atoning sacrifice, but as a miscarriage of justice that God reversed by vindicating him at the resurrection." You have left of the last part of what Wells said - the miscarriage of justice is reversed by the resurrection.

Anyway, it is again Ehrman who the source of these assertions. He says:

The data are by now familiar and here I will simply mention those that are particularly germane to the textual problem [of Luke 22: 19b-20]. Never in his two volumes does Luke say that Jesus died "for your sins" or "for you". Significantly, when he summarizes the significant features of the "Christ event" in the speeches of Acts, he portrays the death of Jesus with remarkable consistency not as an atoning sacrifice, but as a miscarriage of justice that God reversed by vindicating Jesus at the resurrection (Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-16; 4:8-12; 7:51-56; 13:26-41). (Ehrman 1993, pp. 199-200)

So Ehrman cites five passages in Acts, all of which are speeches to audiences by Paul or other disciples about the "Christ event", in which Jesus' crucifixion is portrayed as a miscarriage of justice reversed by the resurrection. For comparison, in a quick scan, I count in addition only seven other like speeches in Acts (10:34-43; 17:2-3; 17:22-31; 22:1-21; 24:10-21; 26:2-23; 28:23-28). None of these seven or Ehrman's five, by the way, mention Jesus' death as an atonement for sin.

F. Luke's Omission of Mark 10:45

Bob:

F.7. "...he omits Mk. 10:45 (Ďthe Son of man came ... to give his life a ransom for manyí) and so presumably did not find its theology acceptable."

F.7.a. Luke "omits Mark 10:45" - perhaps, if Mark is the source that Luke draws upon. EBD notes that the view of Mark as a source for Matthew and Luke "contrasts with a long-held [centuries ago, Bob adds] view that Mark was essentially a later abbreviation of Matthew...the priority of Mark is not without challenge" (EBD, p.691). I mention this only to be clear that the view of many opponents and proponents of Christianity that Mark was the source for Mt and Lk is not the only theory about the development of the Gospels. So Wells has to be careful that the structure of the edifice of his criticism does not have a hollow beam somewhere.

Gordy:

There is literally nothing we can take for certain in these discussions, is there? But that Mark was a source for Matthew and Luke is "widely believed" today even by conservative Christian apologists. For example, Blomberg (1987) states "It seems safest to retain Markan priority as the most convincing solution to the Synoptic problem ..." (p. 15) and "A sizeable majority of scholars still accepts this solution to the Synoptic problem..." (p.13).

Bob:

F.7.b. "...and so presumably did not find its theology acceptable." Well, actually the "ransom" theology of Mark 10:45 is completely acceptable and consistent with the "ransom" passage of Isaiah 53 to which Luke records Jesus appealing a bit later in the same chapter (22:37) [see my discussion of this in section E above]. Isaiah 53 - especially 53:10-12 - describes "ransom" in almost every way except using the actual word "ransom."

Gordy:

But as I've said, Luke goes out of his way to avoid quoting the atonement passages of Isaiah 53, and Luke 22:37 itself does not mention atonement, or occur in a context in which mentioning atonement even makes sense.

Bob:

The truth of the matter is that none of us know why the Gospel of Luke does not have a passage closely parallel and similar to Mark 10:45. For Wells to presume that the reason for the "omission" is because Luke "did not find its theology acceptable" does not seem to be a very firm ground for a confident conclusion. Any detailed exposition by Wells of why he alleges what Luke finds acceptable and unacceptable is more than just speculative. Itís an unwarranted extrapolation from a very finite base of Lukeís vocabulary.

Gordy:

Bob, this is not a problem of vocabulary. In Mark we find, in order, (1) Jesus again predicts his death (10:32-34), (2) the request of James and John (10: 35-45), and (3) blind Bartimaeus receives his sight (10: 46-52). In Luke we find (1) Jesus again predicts his death (18:31-34), (2) nothing about the request of James and John, and (3) a blind beggar receives his sight (18:35-43). So Luke apparently read the stories (1),(2) and (3) and chose to leave out (2), the last verse of which mentions Jesus giving his life "as a ransom for many".

It seems clear there must have been something Luke didn't like in (2). Whether it was the atonement phrase is unclear, but in light of the complete omission of atonement ideas from the rest of Luke/Acts, and Luke's avoidance of atonement passages from Isaiah 53, it is certainly not an unwarranted extrapolation to guess that Luke may not have liked the atonement phrase. [See below as well.]

Bob:

Wellsí explanation about Luke finding Mark 10:45 theologically unacceptable stands in contrast with Lukeís endorsement of atonement/ransom theology later in the same chapter.

Gordy:

Which isn't even there, as I've mentioned above.

Bob:

Wellsí explanation also stands in contrast with Lukeís detailed account of an act of atonement during the Jewsí most public season of atonement - the crucifixion of Jesus at the time of Passover.

Gordy:

Which Luke never characterizes as atonement in spite of ample opportunity to do so. And Passover is not a season of atonement for Jews, much less the most public season. Yom Kippur is the "Day of Atonement", not Passover - Dont' you know this?

G. Endings of Mark

Bob:

G. Wrap up and note on Mark 16

... I do want to include one quote about Mark 16 that I think youíll find beneficial. EBC says about Mark 16:9-20:

These last 12 verses, relegated to the margin in RSV, present one of the major textual problems of the NT. ...

END OF QUOTE

I wanted you to see this for a couple reasons:

1. Bible-believing scholars acknowledge difficulties.

2. While there are explanations for some difficulties that allege or assume impure motives and virtually accuse the NT author or subsequent scribes as dishonest and manipulative, there are also explanations that acknowledge legitimate historical occurrences - such as the death of the author and the mutilation of a final portion of an original document. In fact, some of my recent readings on Lukeís Gospel and Acts suggested that these two books may well have been part of what was planned to be a three-part treatise by Luke, which was never finished, perhaps due also to the rising persecution of Christians in Rome. This would also fit well with the apparent abrupt ending of Acts in chapter 28.

Gordy:

But I think you've forgotten the point I was originally trying to make when I mentioned the alternate endings in Mark 16. Recall that I wrote:

The second point made by the authors McDowell quotes is that no major article of faith is put into doubt due to disputed passages in the New Testament. ... I think this claim is simply false, and I can give two examples from Parker (1997) which illustrate why. (Gordy 7/30/99)

From the passage you quote, I gather that you or Eerdman admit that the original ending of Mark has either been lost or never existed. I wrote in my 7/30/99 message that "I can think of no other likely alternative than that Mark did not know of the resurrection appearances when he wrote his Gospel." To your credit, you have suggested other possibilities. But the point - which you and Eerdman admit - that Mark provides no substantiation for the resurrection appearances still defeats McDowell's claim that "no major article of faith is put into doubt due to disputed passages in the New Testament." I take it then that you agree that McDowell is in error?

H. References

Bart D. Ehrman (1993), The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Test of the New testament. New York: Oxford University Press.

G.A. Wells (1999), The Jesus Myth. Chicago: Open Court.


1/5/00 Correction on Luke's omission of Mark 10:45

Bob,

Here is a correction of what I said in our interchange about the omission of Mark 10:45 by Luke. Let me supply the context:

From my 1/4/00 message:

Bob:

The truth of the matter is that none of us know why the Gospel of Luke does not have a passage closely parallel and similar to Mark 10:45. For Wells to presume that the reason for the "omission" is because Luke "did not find its theology acceptable" does not seem to be a very firm ground for a confident conclusion. Any detailed exposition by Wells of why he alleges what Luke finds acceptable and unacceptable is more than just speculative. Itís an unwarranted extrapolation from a very finite base of Lukeís vocabulary.

Gordy:

Bob, this is not a problem of vocabulary. In Mark we find, in order, (1) Jesus again predicts his death (10:32-34), (2) the request of James and John (10: 35-45), and (3) blind Bartimaeus receives his sight (10: 46-52). In Luke we find (1) Jesus again predicts his death (18:31-34), (2) nothing about the request of James and John, and (3) a blind beggar receives his sight (18:35-43). So Luke apparently read the stories (1),(2) and (3) and chose to leave out (2), the last verse of which mentions Jesus giving his life "as a ransom for many".

End quote of 1/4/00 message.

Actually I was wrong about Luke omitting the entire pericope (2). In fact Luke puts it into the very chapter 22 we have been discussing, right under my nose so to speak. I just happened to stumble across it, and double-checked my RSV to find it cross-referenced there. Here is a comparison of Mark 10:41-45 with Luke 22:24-27 from the NIV.

Mark 10:

(41) When the ten heard about this [James' and John's request to be allowed to sit at the right and the left of Jesus in his glory], they became indignant with James and John. (42) Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (43) Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, (44) and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (45) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Luke 22:

(24) Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest. (25) Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. (26) But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (27) For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

So it is not that Luke omitted the entire pericope (2). He included his own version of it, but without the atonement phrase "to give his life as a ransom for many". The natural explanation is that Luke did not feel the phrase should be included, and it is hard to think of any reason for this except that he did not subscribe to what it said. Your characterization of this as "speculative" and "an unwarranted extrapolation" seems to me an over-reluctance to make the obvious inference.

Other reasons that occur to me for Luke omitting the phrase are that (a) he didn't notice it in Mark; (b) he noticed it but didn't think it was important; (c) he noticed it but forgot to include it - perhaps he didn't have Mark in front of him at the time and was recalling the story from memory. All these lead back to the same conclusion that Luke at the very least did not attach much importance to the notion of Jesus' atonement for sin, and perhaps did not subscribe to it at all. I don't see any other very different possibilities, as long as you allow that Luke had access to Mark and that "to give his life as a ransom for many" was in the copy of Mark that Luke was reading. If you argue that Luke did not have access to Mark, then you have to explain why "a sizeable majority of scholars", both liberal and conservative, is in error in disagreeing with you. If you argue that "to give his life as a ransom for many" wasn't in the copy of Mark that Luke read, then we have the problem that someone was adding atonement phrases to Mark too!

If you think that the conclusion that Luke did not subscribe to the atonement message is "speculative" and "an unwarranted extrapolation", then you should be able to suggest at least one plausible alternate scenario in which Luke, believing in atonement, would nevertheless have neglected to include the atonement phrase. Yet you seem to be able to suggest nothing other than an hypothesis which a sizeable majority of scholars discount.

Gordy

1/20/00 Luke's nativity account: Joseph Free's discussion

A. McDowell and Free

A.0. Something new in Free

A.1. Was there as census in Judea during Herod's reign?

A.2. Was Quirinius governor of Syria in 7 BC?

A.3. Was everyone required to return to their ancestral home?

A.4. Conclusion

B. Did Luke Quote Gamaliel?

APPENDIX 1: Joseph Free's section on Luke and the birth of Christ

APPENDIX 2: John Elder's section on Luke and the birth of Christ

 

A. McDowell and Free

As I'm sure you recall, in response to your 12/21/99 message, I promised to look for the Joseph Free reference that McDowell cites in his discussion of Luke. You wrote:

6. Re your conclusion that "McDowell is definitely exaggerating the available evidence when he claims unequivocally that there was a census in 9-8 BC": I realize you are critiquing McDowell here, but you didn't mention anything about Free, and there may be more material in there that is more definitive [knowing you, you will probably go out and find Freeís book and see what it says - let me know - your thoroughness is commendable]. But your conclusion at this point that McDowell is exaggerating, based only on the parts of McDowell that you've critiqued, seems premature. (Bob 12/21/99)

I've found the Free reference, and for your convenience I include Free's entire section on Luke 2:1-3 in Appendix 1 to this message. I've also taken another look at the Elder reference that McDowell cites, and include that in its entirety in Appendix 2.

A.0. Something new in Free

As you can see, Free's remarks are actually considerably less detailed that Elder's, and only slightly more expansive than McDowell himself. There is only one piece of evidence that Free mentions but Elder does not, and that is the inscription "found in Rome in 1828 indicating that Cyrenius had been governor twice." This is an old claim to which several authors have replied. Wells has responded, citing Schurer and Feldman:

Attempts by Christian apologists to make Quirinius governor of Syria in Herod's lifetime include adducing an inscription from Tivoli [a suburb of Rome], which does not state any name, but records the career of "a legate" with the words" "[legatus pro praetori] divi Augusti iterum Syriam et Ph[oenicem optinuit]." This does not mean that the unnamed man was twice legate of Syria, but that his second legateship was that of Syria (Schurer, 1973, p. 258). Feldman quotes scholars who think the man was Lucius Calpurnius Piso, who was governor of Asia and later of Syria (1984a, p. 713). (Wells 1999, p. 276)

But at any rate, to return to the topic of McDowell's trustworthiness, let's review his claims in light of both of the references he cites.

 

A.1. Was there a census in Judea during Herod's reign?

Free states only that "papyrus documents relating to census taking shows that a census was made every fourteen years, and these documents point back to a census taken 9-6 BC", without ever explaining what the phrase "point back to" means. He somehow feels that this is enough to resolve in the affirmative the question of a Judean census in 9-6 BC.

Elder does state that "archeological discoveries prove beyond doubt that regular enrollment of taxpayers was a feature of Roman rule and have shown that a census was taken every fourteen years." Elder then mentions that "Augustus records that he set about early in his reign to organize the empire," and from that makes the shaky inference that the first census "may have been either in 23-22 BC or in 9-8 BC". How Elder concludes from this that "the first objection to Luke's account is no longer valid" is, however, a mystery, since he has cited no firm evidence of a census in Herod's reign.

So in summary we have:

(a) Regular enrollment of taxpayers: "proved beyond doubt" (Elder)

(b) A census was taken every 14 years: "shown" (Free and Elder)

(c) A Judean census in Herod's reign: "pointed to" (Free); "may have been" (Elder)

Now McDowell states:

"First of all, archaeological discoveries prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Romans had a regular enrollment of taxpayers and also held censuses every 14 years. This procedure was indeed begun under Augustus and the first took place in either 23-22 BC or in 9-8 BC. The latter would be the one to which Luke refers." (McDowell 1977, p. 73)

So for McDowell, we have:

(a) Regular enrollment of taxpayers: "proved beyond a shadow of a doubt"

(b) A census was taken every 14 years: "proved beyond a shadow of a doubt"

(c) A Judean census in Herod's reign: "took place"

So "proved beyond a shadow of a doubt" replaces "proved beyond doubt" in (a); replaces "shown" in (b); and to the casual reader, the phrase appears to apply as well to the claim (c) of a Judean census in Herod's reign. Moreover, in (c), "pointed to" / "may have been" turns into "took place".

So clearly there is some exaggeration here. Free and Elder are convinced, erroneously, that their evidence resolves the question of Lukan accuracy regarding the census. McDowell sees not their errors but only their conviction, translating it into a known fact that the Judean census "took place" under Herod. McDowell is not applying any kind of critical reasoning to the evidence before his eyes. His claim only three pages later that he had been "trying to shatter the historicity and validity of the Scripture" (p. 76) can hardly be believed.

What then has happened here? This is the legend-forming process in action, I believe. The apologist's goal is not proof but providing a basis for faith, as McDowell himself says. It is the persuasive packaging of evidence that McDowell is good at, because that can help provide a basis for faith. A critical attitude towards favorable supporting arguments will not lead him where he wants to go. Instead, in McDowell's hands plausible-sounding conjectures become facts, critical responses go unmentioned, and legendary accretions develop.

In this vein, let me note that McDowell is unaware of or chooses not to bring up weighty opposing opinions on this topic. I've previously quoted Schurer (in my 1/2/00 message), who wrote around the turn of the 20th century. Let me augment and repeat some of that:

"The year AD 6/7 in which the census was undertaken in Judea ... coincides approximately with the fourteen-year population-count cycle in Egypt. If this cycle dates back to the time of Augustus, Egypt must also have had a population count in the same year. If it is traced back one more unit, and if one assumes that the cycle applied to Syria also, there would also have been a population count in that territory towards the end of Herod's reign in 9/8 BC. ... [However,] even if all these combinations were correct, the objections to the Lucan narrative would still remain in full force, for a population count in the Roman province of Syria would not prove that a similar count took place in King Herod's territory, and in any case a population count in the year 9/8 BC would in no circumstances have occurred in the time of Quirinius, but in that of Sentius Saturninus. Moreover, these combinations are extremely questionable. It is difficult to accept that the fourteen-year Egyptian cycle applied also to Syria, since the census of Quirinius was not based on a fixed cycle, but was a special mission, as Josephus's statements clearly show. This mission to Judea in AD 6/7 was brought about directly by the deposition of Archelaus, the temporal coincidence with the Egyptian cycle being quite fortuitous. Besides, the direct evidence available for the Egyptian cycle does not begin until AD 33/4." (Schurer 1973, pp. 405-406)

"Josephus knows nothing of a Roman census in Palestine during the reign of Herod; he refers rather to the census of AD 6/7 as something new and unprecedented." (p. 416).

"It is almost inconceivable that [Josephus] would have ignored a measure such as a Roman census [in Herod's last years], which would have offended the people to the quick, whilst faithfully describing the census of AD 6/7, which occurred in a period of which he reports very much less" (p. 418)

"It was quite in order for Quirinius to organize a Judean census in AD 6/7, for by that time the territory had become a province. Luke, on the other hand, suggests that a Roman census took place in Palestine during the reign of Herod the Great, when the country was still an independent kingdom though under the ultimate suzerainty of Rome. From everything known of the position of the reges socii in relation to the Romans, and particularly of Herod's position, this seems impossible. Pompey admittedly imposed a tribute on Jewish territory and Caesar reorganized the system of taxation by means of a series of edicts. Also, Antonius imposed a tribute on Herod when he appointed him king. But even granting that Herod continued to pay this tribute under Augustus, it is still unthinkable that a Roman census should have been organized within the bounds of his kingdom. Augustus might have ordered such an internal administrative measure after Palestine had become a province, but not while it was the territory of a rex socius."(pp. 413-414)

A.2. Was Quirinius governor of Syria in 7 BC?

Elder mentions an "inscription uncovered in 1912" in Antioch which records Quirinius' "election to the post of honorary duumvir, or magistrate, in recognition of his victory over the Hamonades, and proves that Quirinius was in the Area as a commander at this date." Elder remarks that "[h]e may, of course, have been twice in the district; or perhaps Josephus was in error in placing the arrival at AD 6." He concludes that "Quirinius was at Antioch early enough to have been governor at the time of a census when Jesus was born." (Hey, it could be!)

Free mentions the inscription "found in Rome in 1828 indicating that Cyrenius had been governor twice" which I discussed above. He also claims that "Ramsay found a monument in Asia Minor likewise implying two governorships for Cyrenius", which I take to be the Antioch inscription Elder discusses. In Free's hands, the unnamed governor of the inscription in Rome has become Cyrenius, and Cyrenius' presence as commander in Antioch has become the governorship of Syria. This time it is Free the apologist at work, forming legends.

McDowell states:

"Secondly, we find evidence that Quirinius was governor of Syria around 7 BC. This assumption is based on an inscription found in Antioch ascribing to Quirinius this post. As a result of this finding, it is now supposed that he was governor twice. Once in 7 BC an the other time in 6 AD (the date ascribed by Josephus). 70/160" (p. 73)

McDowell refers directly only to Elder. Elder's "early enough to have been governor" becomes in McDowell's hands evidence ascribing to Quirinius the post of governorship. Elder's "[h]e may, of course, have been twice in the district" becomes (perhaps with Free's help) "it is now supposed he was governor twice". (The phrase "it is now supposed" is reminiscent of Wells' "widely believed" phrase you find so objectionable. [see above]) Once again, the apologist providing a basis for faith, and the legend-forming process in action.

A.3. Was everyone required to return to their ancestral home?

There is nothing new to say concerning this. Both Free and Elder cite the Egyptian papyrus. McDowell quotes the papyrus and lets the reader make what seem the obvious inferences, but are not, I think, quite so obvious.

A.4. Conclusion

So do I still think "McDowell is definitely exaggerating the available evidence"? Well, yes, but perhaps not intentionally - he may have been taken in (all too willingly) by his sources, especially Elder, who does indeed exaggerate what can be concluded from the evidence he presents. But I will repeat what I originally claimed, namely, McDowell is uninformed, omits sources inconvenient to his claims, stretches the information he has to try to make the case for historical accuracy, and then seeks to bolster his credibility by claiming he had been "trying to shatter the historicity and validity of the Scripture." I think these items illustrate how the apologist's goal of "providing a basis for faith" can contribute to the legend forming process, and not to the truth.

B. Did Luke Quote Gamaliel?

I'm sure you recall our interchange regarding whether Luke quoted Gamaliel in Acts 5:37 or merely put words into his mouth. You wrote:

"...put by Luke into the mouth..." - Gordy, this is not a neutral remark here. It wasn't put into Gamalielís mouth if in fact it came out of Gamalielís mouth in the first place. Your remark seems to come from a position of assuming beforehand that Lukeís account should be considered suspect and questionable. That is, it seems like youíre citing a conclusion about Luke, as opposed to what I thought you said you were trying to do: find the truth ... (Bob 12/21/99)

I replied:

I am not assuming beforehand that Lukeís entire account should be considered suspect and questionable. However, were the exact words of Gamaliel passed down to Luke as well? In particular, was it also passed down to Luke that Gamaliel made his point in part by mentioning the revolt of Judas the Galilean in the days of the census? Are we really to believe Luke or his sources can recall a thirty-year-or-more-old quote in this detail? Is it not more likely that Luke merely knows reports about Judas the Galilean in the days of the census and is reconstructing what he thinks it is likely Gamaliel may have said? (Gordy 12/28/99)

I've recently discovered some evidence to support my position here. We find the following text in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War:

With reference to the speeches in this history, some were delivered before the war began, others while it was going on; some I heard myself, others I got from various quarters; it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in one's memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions, of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said. (Thucydides History I.22.1)

Of course this is relevant not only to Luke's ability to quote Gamaliel at an interval of 30 or more years, but also to the ability of Matthew, Mark, Luke of John to quote anyone, including Jesus, after such an interval of time based only on oral tradition. Why should we suppose they were any better at this than Thucydides?

APPENDIX 1: Joseph Free's section on Luke and the birth of Christ

The following is taken from Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History, revised and expanded by Howard F. Vos, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1992.

pp. 242-3:

[Section Title] Archaeological Confirmation of the Validity of Luke's Reference to the Census at the Time of the Birth of Christ (Luke 2:1-3)

Luke tells us that at the time of the birth of Christ, Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that "a census should be taken of the entire Roman world." Luke also indicates that this was done when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, and that everyone had to go to his "own town" for the enrollment (Luke 2:1-3).

Earlier it was believed that Luke had made almost as many mistakes as could possibly be made in these few lines, for it was thought that he was in error with regard to (1) the existence of such an imperial census, (2) Cyrenius's being governor at the time (Luke 2:2), and (3) everyone's having to go to his ancestral home. Archaeological discoveries remarkably confirmed and illuminated all these statements of Luke, attesting his reliability in the very items noted above: (1) the discovery of the number of papyrus documents relating to census taking shows that a census was made every fourteen years, and these documents point back to a census taken 9-6 BC (footnote 3); (2) though earlier references seemed to show that Cyrenius was governor of Syria in AD 6, which would be too late for the time of Christ's birth, an inscription was found in Rome in 1828 indicating that Cyrenius had been governor twice; and shortly before World War I, Ramsay found a monument in Asia Minor likewise implying two governorships for Cyrenius. Thus he could have been governor at the time of Christ's birth, as well as at a later period, in AD 6 (CNAD, 528); and (3) an edict made in AD 104 by the governor of Egypt (which was under Roman rule, just as Palestine was) showed that at the time of the census people were to return to their ancestral homes (footnote 4). In summary, it is evident that archaeological discoveries testify to the validity of Luke's statements.

[End of section]

[Footnote 3]: Camden M Cobern, New Archaeological Discoveries, 9th ed. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1929) 46-47 (CNAD); FLAP, 260.

[Footnote 4]: Adolf Deissmann, Light From the Ancient Past (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1922) 271 (DLAE).

The four-capital-letter abbreviations in parentheses are references. In an appendix, Free lists CNAD as the Cobern reference of Footnote 3 above; FLAP refers to:

Finegan, Jack, Light From the Ancient Past, 2nd Ed., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.

DLAE is not listed in Free's appendix, although by analogy with the (CNAD) reference in footnote 3, it clearly refers to Deissmann in footnote 4.

APPENDIX 2: John Elder's section on Luke and the birth of Christ

From pp. 159-160 in John Elder, Prophets, Idols and Diggers: Scientific Proof of Bible History, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianaopolis, 1960.

[Section Title] Questions Regarding Luke 2:1-3

It comes as a surprise to the reader to learn that each of the statements in the first three verses of Luke, Chapter 2, has been the center of considerable controversy among scholars. Long declared to be untrue was the statement in the first verse that Caesar Augustus ordered all the Roman world to be taxed; there was no written record of such enrollment in spite of the fact that the time of Caesar Augustus is dealt with in detail by several contemporary historians. The statement in the second verse, that Quirinius was then governor of Syria, was thought to have been disproved by a reference in the chronicles of Josephus which indicated that Quirinius had received the appointment about AD 6. The statement in the third verse, that each man was to return to his home city or village for taxation, was challenged as being incredible. It was argued that each man would have been enrolled where he was and not expected to travel many leagues to present himself at the proper poll. One writer went so far as to state that Luke put the whole world in commotion "in order to get Jesus born in Bethlehem." Archaeology does much to settle the several questions of this controversy.

First of all archeological discoveries prove beyond doubt that regular enrollment of taxpayers was a feature of Roman rule and have shown that a census was taken every fourteen years. A large Egyptian papyrus, telling of an enrollment AD 174-175, refers to two previous enrollments, one in 160-161 and another in 146-147, at intervals of 14 years. A much earlier papyrus, dated in the reign of Tiberius, reports a man's wife and dependents for enrollment and apparently has reference to a tax roll compiled AD 20-21. Another shows an enrollment under Nero AD 62-63; another lists those exempt from the poll tax in the forty-first year of Augustus, who began his reign in 27 BC. Since Augustus records that he set about early in his reign to organize the empire, the first census may have been either in 23-22 BC or in 9-8 BC; the latter would be the census to which the Gospel of Luke refers. Obviously the first objection to Luke's account is no longer valid; there undoubtedly were regular enrollments when the Holy Land was a part of the Roman empire.

The exact history of the movements of Quirinius is still uncertain. At the city of Antioch in southern Galatia an inscription uncovered in 1912 was found to bear a number of names by which its date can be fixed as somewhere between 10 and 7 BC. It bears the name of Quirinius, identifies him as prefect and records his election to the post of honorary duumvir, or magistrate, in recognition of his victory over the Hamonades, and proves that Quirinius was in the Area as a commander at this date. He may, of course, have been twice in the district; or perhaps Josephus was in error in placing the arrival at AD 6. Whatever the case, Quirinius was at Antioch early enough to have been governor at the time of a census when Jesus was born. The Gospel of Luke in calling this the first census, implies at least a second census at a later time.

A papyrus found in Egypt giving directions for the conduct of a census affords an adequate reply to the question of whether a man had to return to his native town to be counted. It reads: "Because of the approaching census it is necessary that all those residing for any cause away from their homes should at once prepare to return to their own governments in order that they may complete the family registration of the enrollment and that tilled lands may retain those belonging to them." Thus there is convincing evidence that the Gospel of Luke is correct in this regard. For each one of the objections historians have made, archeology has provided a reasonable reply.

[End of section]