Category Archives: 1 Thessalonians


2012-03-30

Ehrman suppresses the facts while falsely accusing Doherty: Part 2

by Neil Godfrey

This post continues directly on from Ehrman Hides the Facts About Doherty’s Argument, Part 1. Here I show that Ehrman has suppressed the facts about what his own peers think in order to falsely accuse Doherty of arguing without scholarly merit.

First, the passage in question, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,

15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men,

16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost. [NKJV]

Ehrman’s argument: “simply not true”

I concluded my last post with this paragraph:

But it gets worse. For Ehrman to sustain his accusation that mythicists such as Doherty and Wells are “driven by convenience” and “simply claim” these verses to be un-Pauline, he must hide from his readership what his own scholarly peers do in fact say about the authenticity of these same verses. He will therefore inform the readers only of his own idiosyncratic (I would be surprised if his argument as presented in Did Jesus Exist? has ever passed peer-review) reasons for believing the passages to be authentic.

Ehrman begins his case against interpolation by singling out the last words of verse 16:

It is this last sentence [i.e. “wrath has come upon them to the uttermost”] that has caused interpreters problems. What could Paul mean that the wrath of God has finally come upon the Jews (or Judeans)? That would seem to make sense if Paul were writing in the years after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, that is, after 70 CE. But it seems to make less sense when this letter was actually written, around 49 CE. For that reason a number of scholars have argued that this entire passage has been inserted into 1 Thessalonians and that Paul therefore did not write it. In this view some Christian scribe, copying the letter after the destruction of Jerusalem, added it. (my emphasis)

But Ehrman is sweeping the scholarly discussion under the carpet when he indicates to his readers that it is only “this last sentence” that has “caused interpreters problems”. That is, again to use Ehrman’s own words, “simply not true.” read more »


Ehrman hides the facts about Doherty’s argument: Part 1

by Neil Godfrey

Bart Ehrman accuses Earl Doherty of being “driven by convenience” and “simply claiming” that a Bible verse that contradicts his thesis “was not actually written by [Paul]”.

At the same time Ehrman admits that the particular verse is disputed by many scholars, but then in his ensuing discussion he hides (sic!) from his lay readers the reasons they dispute it.  Ehrman even conveys the false impression that all of the scholarly dispute is merely over a few words tagged on at the end of the verse; but surely knows that this is (to use his own damning words from another context) “simply not true”. I find it impossible to imagine that his simplistic and misleading discussion of this text would ever pass peer review were it submitted to a scholarly journal. No matter. He obviously thinks it is all his lay readers need to know; and that information that is only partial, or that is suppressed entirely, will serve more effectively to undermine Doherty’s credibility.

Ehrman’s accusation

Doherty refuses to allow that 1 Thessalonians — which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus — can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is, he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, textual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.)  (p.  my emphasis)

Notice Ehrman is unambiguously “informing” his readers that it is entirely Doherty’s own self-serving opinion that “refuses” to allow a particular verse to be considered original to Paul. The only reason we are led to believe, and this is on the authority of the highly reputable popular author Bart Ehrman, that Doherty rejects the originality of this verse is “simply” because it “inconveniently” refutes his argument. Doherty “simply claims” a verse is a forgery because, Ehrman assures us, he finds it contradicts his argument.

This is not an isolated accusation. Earlier in his book Ehrman similarly claimed:

One way that some mythicists have gotten around the problem that this, our earliest Christian source, refers to the historical Jesus in several places is by claiming that these references to Jesus were not originally in Paul’s writings but were inserted by later Christian scribes who wanted Paul’s readers to think that he referred to the historical Jesus. This approach to Paul can be thought of as historical reconstruction based on the principle of convenience. If historical evidence proves inconvenient to one’s views, then simply claim that the evidence does not exist, and suddenly you’re right.

This is a mischievous falsehood. Earl Doherty and G. A. Wells are NOT the ones who claim that certain verses are interpolations in order to “get around” contradictory evidence to establish their case. The arguments for the two verses they cite (I don’t know that there are any more than two) being interpolations are long-standing and well established by Ehrman’s own scholarly peers.

First I will quote what Doherty himself says with respect to his reasons for rejecting the authenticity of this verse in 1 Thessalonians.

In my next post I will return to Bart Ehrman’s own attempt to argue for this verse’s genuineness and demonstrate how Ehrman misleads his less well-informed readers about the real reasons many of his own scholarly peers believe the verse was indeed an interpolation. read more »


2010-10-12

What Jesus Christ meant to Paul and the Thessalonians

by Neil Godfrey
Resurrection of Christ

Image via Wikipedia

One might fault my previous post on the grounds that the problem Paul was addressing among the churches of the Galatians did not require him to address anything apart from the simple fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Well, I at least faulted it for that reason.) This post attempts to demonstrate that the identical concept of Jesus as nothing more than a death and resurrection figure is found in 1 Thessalonians. This is generally considered the earliest or one of the earliest surviving letters of Paul.

Sometimes one hears the argument that Paul had no need to repeat details about Jesus’ teachings and life since he would have already established that when he first taught his converts face to face. This argument defies natural intuition and common experience: what has become established common experience or knowledge between parties is regularly drawn upon in later conversations for all sorts of reasons. The argument also runs up against Paul’s own explicit statements in this letter that he is consciously repeating things he taught them face to face — and one of these is that the command to love one another came from a source other than that of Jesus!

[Don’tcha just love this Noël Coypel painting of god completely starkers having to rise through the air in full public view, suspense killing everyone as the draft keeps the cloth strategically located, — though an angel has to be sent down to make sure the women at least keep looking at his eyes just in case!’  Reminds me of a kitsch cabaret show I once went to in Thailand (don’t ask), except for the angel.]

read more »


2010-01-06

Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (4)

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (3) . . . .

Indicting “The Jews” for the murder of the Lord Jesus

Having insisted that 1 Thess 2:13-16 was indeed written by Paul, Eddy and Boyd (The Jesus Legend) must now attempt to argue that the contents of the passage are not antisemitic.

One of the slogans of antisemitism through the ages has been “the Jews killed Christ”. The author of this Thessalonians passage puts the blame for the death of Jesus squarely, solely and unequivocally on the Jews:

For you have suffered the same things from your own country-men, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us . . .

Birger A. Pearson (“1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation” Harvard Theological Review (1971): 85) observes that in all other letters of Paul,

[Paul] never attributes the death of Jesus to the Jews. 1 Corinthians 2:8 is the best example of Paul’s own view: Jesus was brought to his death by the demonic “rulers of this age” who did not know that by doing so they would defeat themselves in the process.

(Pearson remarks in passing that Origen in his commentary on Matthew interprets “the rulers of this age” in this way.)

Eddy and Boyd’s “rebuttal” of the above

Could Paul really have accused the Jews of killing Christ? Why certainly! say E&B, but he didn’t mean to sound like he was blaming “all Jews”, or only the Jews, collectively:

There is simply no reason to suppose that Paul could not have believed that several groups — including some Jews and some secular authorities and/or spiritual powers — were responsible for bringing this event about. (213)

Note how E&B deftly convey the idea that only “some Jews” were indirectly responsible (“bringing this event about”) for the death of Christ. Only “some Jews”? That’s not what is said in 1 Thessalonians 2.

But what is the evidence E&B have that Paul did not write what he supposedly (according to E&B) believed? read more »


2010-01-05

Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (3)

by Neil Godfrey
The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Image via Wikipedia
Continuing from Eddy and Boyd (2) . . . .

The argument that 1 Thess. 2:13-16 is an interpolation generally includes the claim that the passage refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. — some years after Paul’s time. The last line of this section is

. . . . But wrath has come upon them to the uttermost (or ‘at last’) (1 Thess 2:16)

1st E&B argument

Eddy and Boyd, in The Jesus Legend, attempt to argue for the genuineness of the passage by denying this would have originally referred to the destruction of Jerusalem:

There is no reason to assume that the reference to God’s wrath overtaking the Jews refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. . . . It is not even clear that the reference to God’s wrath must be understood as an observable event in history. (p. 213)

E&B appeal to Romans chapters 1 and 9 (and again to a passage in 2 Thessalonians, a letter that is also strongly argued as being a forgery) to suggest that the wrath of God might simply mean that He has abandoned them to ungodly behaviour and delusion.

2nd E&B argument

But if the passage does refer to a specific event, they claim that it could refer to the expulsion of the Jews under Claudius in 49 c.e.

So E&B fail to argue a case themselves. They merely point to a couple of contradictory views and in effect say,

Take your pick. Pick any weakly supported solution we can think of so long as it denies the passage is a post-Pauline interpolation. And oh, by the way, we are not going to even repeat for you the arguments of those who insist it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. Why bother if we can think up anything that says the passage is genuine? We don’t want to confuse you with the details.

One wonders if E&B have any idea (or if they even want to know) what it means. If the reader doesn’t like one explanation, then give them a choice so they can take one they are comfortable with. They outline no real argument for or against either conclusion. This is hardly making a “case for the historical reliability” of Jesus or the purity (no interpolations) of our Pauline letters.

3rd E&B argument

They also assert that the phrase “at last” or “to the uttermost” literally means “to (or until) the end”, and one can think of this meaning paralleling Jesus’ prophecy of future judgment at the end of the age. That is, E&B inform readers that the passage may simply mean that God’s judgment is on the Jews until the coming of Christ.

What Eddy and Boyd don’t tell their readers read more »


2010-01-04

Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (2)

by Neil Godfrey

Eddy and Boyd are often touted as having written some sort of authoritative rebuttal of arguments sceptical of “the historical reliability of the Synoptic Jesus tradition”, but as I began to show in my earlier part 1 post, and will continue here, their work

  •  misrepresents specific arguments they claim to refute;
  •  demonstrates a shoddiness, sometimes bordering on intellectual dishonesty.

Uncharitable post?

One commenter said I lack a sense of charity or humanity when I speak harshly against certain authors. I sometimes think he might have a point, and I reconsider. But other times I confess I have little patience with public intellectuals who are looked to as authorities yet whose work demonstrates a lack of respect for the integrity of their public audiences and/or the logical norms of wider scholarly discourse, and who substitute these for popular or partisan assertions and obfuscations.

“The Case for the Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16” (Part 2)

Continuing from my Part 1 post, here is the passage under discussion: read more »


2009-12-23

Taking Eddy and Boyd seriously (1)

by Neil Godfrey

A popular book cited by lay readers and scholars alike as presenting “a case for the historical reliability of the synoptic Jesus tradition” is The Jesus Legend by Eddy and Boyd. Richard Bauckham calls it “one of the most important books on methodological issues in the study of Jesus and the Gospels to have appeared for a long time.” Craig A. Evans says it “is the best book in its class. Eddy and Boyd demonstrate mastery of the disciplines essential for critical assessment of the Gospels and competent investigation of the historical Jesus.” Paul Eddy is cited as a professor of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University and Gregory Boyd, PhD, is a senior pastor.

These praises of this book are, simply, staggering to someone who has actually taken the time to read it with a view to better understanding the conservative or establishment side of the discussions about the historicity of Jesus. The book is, in fact, a hodge podge of misrepresentations, obfuscation of contrary arguments, dishonest footnoting, misleading assertions, . . . Well. Let’s take just two pages that I was consulting recently to dig into the arguments surrounding a passage in Thessalonians. . . .

Take their discussion The Case for 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 as a Later Interpolation (pp.211-214).

I only read as far as the second page (212) and found:

  • one instance of plagiarism
  • a footnote reference turning out to be supporting a view inconsistent, even opposite, what E&B used it for
  • oversimplifications and misrepresentation of opposing arguments
  • a failure to even mention let alone address published arguments contradicting their assertions — even though they cited the relevant authors and works for other reasons
  • a tendency to simply cite other authors as having the arguments readers need without actually explaining to readers a summary of what those arguments are

Eddy and Boyd’s methodology

Before discussing these, one introductory note is appropriate. E&B are open about their methodological approach to their arguments. They argue that it is quite legitimate to accept a “low probability” (“super-natural”) argument in instances where “an event . . . defies plausible naturalistic explanation.” (p.90)  That conjunction of “plausible” and “naturalistic” is interesting. One surely must wonder what ‘naturalistic’ explanation could possibly be ‘implausible’ compared with resorting to what is by definition the least probable of all explanations, a miracle. This assumption that miracles should be accepted as explanations for the claims of the New Testament literature has its impact throughout the remainder of their book. E&B explain:

This open approach to critical historiography will form a part of the methodological backdrop for the remainder of this book.

In stating this from the outset, E&B explain why they have been so inconsistent and less than fully intellectually honest in their arguments. They have made up their minds that the narratives of the Gospels and Acts, and the self-witness of the New Testament letters, are all basically “true”. One wonders then why they would really bother with gathering, therefore, “scholarly naturalistic” arguments to support their case. This must surely wear down their patience. From the outset they reject enlightenment methodologies of naturalistic reasoning and scientific approaches. So the rest becomes merely a matter of gathering any “naturalistic-reasoned” argument from any source, and even arguments that simply look good enough from a distance, and sticking them together in a book to appear to be a reasoned rebuttal of arguments against the historicity of Jesus. The alternative explanation for this shoddy and misleading book is less flattering.

Plagiarism

On page 212 E&B write:

However, as I. Broer has effectively argued, the evidence from early Christian writings (e.g. 1 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp) suggests that the relatively widespread knowledge of the Pauline letters would naturally have served to hamper the easy acceptance and/or creation of interpolations.29

The even footnote this passage to:

29. I. Broer, “Der ganze Zorn ist schon über sie gekommen’: Bemerkungen zur Interpolationshypothese und zur Interpretation von I Thess. 2. 14-16,” in The Thessalonian Correspondence, ed. R. F. Collins (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990), 142-45.

A reader would naturally think E&B here are pointing to I. Broer’s argument as something they have themselves read and with which they agree. They are clearly conveying the impression that they know Broer’s argument well enough to be able to describe and reference it in this way.

But their pants drop to their ankles when one happens to read an article by Jon A. Weatherly, The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence, in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 42 (1991) 79-98. There, on page 79, one reads:

I. Broer has argued persuasively that the evidence from 1 Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp indicates that knowledge of the Pauline Epistles in the post-apostolic church was sufficient to rule out the acceptance of large numbers of interpolations (‘ “Der ganze Zorn ist schon über sie gekommen’: Bemerkungen zur Interpolationshypothese und zur Interpretation von I Thess. 2. 14-16,” in R. F. Collins (ed.), The Thessalonian Correspondence, [BETL, 87; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990], pp. 142-45.

What’s the bet E&B have never read I. Broer at all and that all they know of Broer is Weatherly’s 1991 claim?

I wouldn’t really care if so many people weren’t relying on E&B as some sort of authority, but they clearly are.

False footnote

It seems that E&B realize that lots of footnotes make a book look impressively well researched and authoritative. It also seems that they expect few readers to actually bother to check those footnotes to see that they are indeed really doing the job claimed for them. Again on page 212 E&B write:

. . . these verses seem stylistically uncharacteristic of Paul, but it is not clear that they are so to an extent that would warrant the conclusion that they are not Paul’s own words.30

Then the supporting footnote:

30. Schmidt’s linguistic arguments have been convincingly answered by J. Weatherly, “The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence”, JSNT, 42 (1991): 79-98; and J. W. Simpson, “The Problems Posed by 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and a Solution.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12 (1990): 52-54.

Now I read E&B here as affirming that the linguistic arguments for 1 Thess. 2:13-16 being an interpolation are not strong, and that all one has to do to confirm this is to turn to the cited articles by Weatherly and Simpson. So that’s what I did. I read Weatherly’s article first, and then Simpson’s. It turns out that while both authors do attempt to find reasons to think that the passage is not an interpolation, the two scholars directly contradict each other.

Simpson even summarizes many of arguments also advanced by Weatherly and shows them, often on linguistic grounds, to be either false or without substance. Specifically, Simpson trounces the following arguments found in Weatherly:

  • the linguistic arguments that the passage is not necessarily expressing hostility against the Jews;
  • that the passage can be reconciled conceptually with Romans 11;
  • that the words in the passage do not really say judgment has come with finality upon the Jews;
  • that the Greek does not really say that the Jews have completed all the sins required for an inevitable final judgment;
  • that the lack of textual witness for an interpolation carries much weight.

Yet somehow E&B have managed to claim that BOTH scholars have refuted the linguistic arguments!

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx

This reminds me of Groucho Marx: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

As for E&B’s claim that these two authors have “convincingly answered” the stylistic argument, here is what Simpson himself writes (p.43) in his article:

An argument against interpolation must meet the arguments for interpolation head-on; we cannot begin an argument against interpolation simply by noting lack of textual evidence,nor can we make the common assumption that the burden of proof faces the argument for interpolation. The virtue of the interpolation view, as it has been developed by Pearson and Schmidt, is, as we shall see, that it seeks to solve the broadest range of problems, that is, that it draws out in a valuable way the evidence which any view of 1 Thess 2:15f. must take into account.

Again Simpson writes (p.50):

Many form-critical solutions are plausible, both with and without 2:13-16, and all are to some degree problematic.

Simpson concludes (p. 62):

This is not to say that any of these arguments do not point to real problems in regard to 1 Thess 2:13-16, only that the interpolation view is not their best solution.

Simpson fully acknowledges the strength of many of the arguments for interpolation. He does not claim to have nailed the coffin on them. He does attempt to argue, against Pearson, for a plausible explanation for Paul expressing, over time, sharply contradictory words about Jews and their ultimate fate. His arguments against Schmidt are often technical and subtle. They are hardly mark a finality to the discussion as E&B suggest, and as unwary readers would too easily assume from E&B’s statements.

Ditto for Weatherly. Weatherly concluded his article (p.98) thus:

1 Thess. 2.13-16 remains a difficult passage for interpreters of Paul. That the apostle who wrote with such compassion and hope of his Jewish compatriots in Romans 9-11 could write so bitterly of some of them in 1 Thessalonians 2 is problematic, though hardly unprecedented. But another look at the data shows that the evidence for its inauthenticity is, at best, equivocal.

So these authors contradict each other in some key linguistic arguments. Each admits that any explanation, even their own, is not without difficulties. Yet E&B cite them both as having “convincingly answered” — as if they have put to rest — the linguistic arguments against inauthenticity of the Thessalonians passage.

Suppressing the contrary arguments

I opened in my “Plagiarism” section with E&B discussing the significance of a lack of textual evidence for an interpolation. E&B clearly consider the lack of manuscript evidence a major argument. They begin their argument with:

It is no minor problem for a textual theory when there is no textual evidence to support it. Yet this is the case here. Every ancient copy of 1 Thessalonians we have contains verses 13-16. The claim that this passage is an interpolation often rides on the coattails of a wider claim regarding a variety of Pauline interpolations, again generally without manuscript evidence. 28

Again one looks down to check the footnote:

28. See, e.g., Walker, Interpolations . . .

It happens that I have seen Walker, Interpolations, and some time ago wrote a summary of Walker’s discussion of a Literary Culture of Interpolations in which he shows why the lack of manuscript evidence is a virtual non-starter. Walker lists many classical and Christian texts that scholars can see, without any need for manuscript evidence, do contain interpolations.

I summarize here the evidence for the “culture of interpolations” that Walker argues must surely outweigh the paucity of manuscript evidence. They are more fully set out in post linked above.

  1. Homer’s Iliad
  2. Homer’s Odyssey
  3. Orpheus
  4. Musaeus
  5. Hippocrates
  6. Aristophanes
  7. Euripides
  8. Thucydides.
  9. Letters of Plato
  10. Letters of Aristotle
  11. Letters of Epicurus
  12. Letters of Seneca
  13. The Testimonium Flavianum or at least part thereof;
  14. The Sibylline Oracles,
  15. The Synagogal Prayers and such literature
  16. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,
  17. The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
  18. 4 Ezra.
  19. The LXX
  20. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, claimed “heretics” had both added to and deleted from his letters.
  21. Irenaeus feared his writings would be interpolated.
  22. “Many Greek patristic writings” according to Rufinius
  23. Letters of Paul and gospel of Luke according to Marcion
  24. Pentateuch and gospels were likely built up layer by layer
  25. Epistles of Ignatius
  26. The adulterous woman episode in gospel of John
  27. The longer ending of Mark
  28. Perhaps final chapter of John
  29. The Western text of the Gospels and Acts
  30. And even the Western “non-interpolations”

E&B cite Walker as a support for their own claim that there is indeed a lack of manuscript evidence, but their integrity is open to question when they fail to address the fact that Walker himself argues that the manuscript evidence is clearly often not critical at all!

It is also slightly amusing to see E&B failing to address this argument over manuscript evidence and interpolations when one of their cited authors even argues against them:

An argument against interpolation must meet the arguments for interpolation head-on; we cannot begin an argument against interpolation simply by noting lack of textual evidence, . . .  (Simpson p.43)

— which is exactly how E&B do begin their argument against interpolations!

To continue in a future post. . . .