Authenticity of Paul’s letters: Holding versus Detering

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by Neil Godfrey

I recently posted reasons to question the Pauline authorship of Galatians, which was a distillation of Detering’s challenges. Since some fundamentalists prefer J. P. Holding’s arguments against these challenges, am posting these little ripostes:

Holding 1:

Detering seems to be under the impression that where Paul offers his credentials (eg, “an apostle”) this somehow could indicate that someone else wrote the letter. He claims (with no documentation, other than quoting a single such greeting from a letter, “Cicero greets Atticus”) that the greetings employed by Greeks and Romans were “very unpretentious.” Not that, again, Detering provides examples, much less examples of letters from a person in authority to a person or persons under them. Oddly enough, we find here no comment from a classical scholar about Paul’s greeting in Philippians being more “pretentious” than that of the one Detering uses as an example. Much less does Detering quote any authority that regards Paul’s openings as unusual; it’s the usual case in higher criticism of inventing a problem out of whole cloth.

Either Holding is simply not familiar with ancient letters or assumes his audience would not be familiar with them or both. Anyone who is familiar with ancient letters knows that the example Detering provides is quite sufficient to jog their memories.

It appears Holding has no interest in checking the evidence for himself, but complains that Detering does not quote an authority to support his claim. No doubt an argument from authority comes easily to one who argues on the authority of God. I don’t know if this could be attributed to laziness or fear of what he might find if he checked all the other letters in a collection of Cicero or Pliny. Or any of the fictional letters that set themselves the task of convincing readers of their plausible authenticity and to this end contained the same unpretentious introductions.

Holding’s hyperlink at “here” points to a classical scholar who does not remark on the unusualness of Paul’s letters. I clicked on that link to be taken to a classicist’s email discussion relating indirectly to the matter. So I googled that classicist’s name and university, found his homepage in one shot, and lo and behold, there in its left hand margin is a nice bright golden crucifix link that takes one to that classicist’s homepage of zillions of bible-study tools. So much for Holding attempting to give the impression he was appealing to “the authority” of an umpire with no conflict of interest.

In fact, Paul’s assertions of his credentials make perfect sense in an honor-based culture, given Paul’s unusual situation as one whose authority was a question mark at times;

Okay, so Paul was the only one who wrote letters from an unusual situation in that culture? Paul’s situation was so unique that he was the only one to use the letter’s introduction to argue a controversial point?

There are other contextual reasons for the length in these cases: matters of identity and honor, and the insertion of Christological material, for example, which would not apply to something like “Cicero greets Atticus

Yes, the honor based culture thing again. Didn’t Paul pass on Christ’s teaching to come out of the world’s ways and follow humility? But of course it is surely obvious that Holding is arguing in a circle here. He is simply repeating the contents of the introductions as if that is sufficient to explain why the introductions contained such material in the first place.

Holding 2:

Detering also makes some rather silly remarks, such as commenting on Gal. 1:1, “to the churches in Galatia,” saying, “The poor letter-carrier!” Yes, I’m quite sure the experience was unbearable, but despite Detering’s ignorant sarcasm, people had ways of getting letters around: For example, you looked around for someone heading out the same way as the letter’s destination, or hired a messenger, or got a slave to carry it. Then again, if Detering thinks one person carrying a letter around Galatia may have been a hardship, I suppose he thinks that no one in antiquity ever got up from their seats. . . .

Holding appears not to have comprehended Detering’s argument. It was all about the vagueness of the addressees. Holding completely ignores this, the only point Detering was discussing.

Holding 3:

But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person) Detering blows his stack over the use of “were,” supposing it means the apostles in question were dead, so this means this was written well past Paul’s time. It’s funny how a forger this clever can miss such an obvious point, but it’s the usual case of overblow we get from the radical criticism school: Contextually, “were” just as well refers to former positions of status within a community (such as, “I used to be the top student under this rabbi”).

Oh dear, Holding must have been writing this late at night. He completely fails to see that he (Holding) is actually arguing that the author of the letter of Galatians believes that Peter, James and John were only apostles by a “former status” within the Jerusalem community. So what had changed by the time the letter was written for the author to say they “were” of this status?

It’s “funny how” Holding, in his own words, so “clever, can miss such an obvious point”.

Holding 4:

Gal. 6:11: See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Detering goes gaga over this, wondering why Paul wants to guard against falsification of letters in his own lifetime. As before, Detering seems to be the only person who thinks this would not happen; as if indeed forgers only worked with dead people, which is obviously true today. That said, more informed scholars like Witherington (Galatians commentary, 442) have an obvious reason for this authentication: Given the sensitive nature of the letter, Paul wishes to affirm that though (as was normal for the period) a scribe penned the bulk of it, he stands fully behind it; no one can say that someone else is trying to cover for Paul or speak on his behalf, which would be a sensitive issue of honor under the circumstances.

Curiously, Holding fails to provide “an authority” that ancient forgeries had different targets from those today. But I would rather he pointed to other ancient examples of letters forged in the names of contemporaries. Even more interesting had he explained how they got away with establishing such forgeries as the generally accepted authentic writings while the contemporaries were alive to expose them.

As for the specifics of the argument cited as Witherington’s (the obligatory authority), I agree that it would make perfect sense for Paul to write a bit of it with his own hand. No doubt all the churches in Galatia had access to a file which contained a copy of Paul’s handwriting, kept in secure vaults and verified by Justices of the Peace or local magistrates, and also to professional handwriting experts, to establish to the readers that the parchment or whatever really was from “the Paul”.

Of course, no scribe could ever make a second copy of the letter. Or if he did, he would have to omit those last words or at best add a gloss to them. (Why has such a gloss not come down to us in any manuscripts?) Let’s leave behind this “hermeneutic of suspicion” a moment and suggest that the letter was finally faithfully copied without qualms after the original readers had died out or the issue addressed was long since dead. (In which case what would have been the purpose of copying this very tattered parchment or papyrus at all . . . — and if according to Justin Martyr the issue was still alive in the mid second . . . . ??)

If my point is still unclear, this claim for evidence of authenticity can only “work” in a late forgery. An original author making such a claim would, if he had half his wits about him, have realized the vacuousness of such a claim. Or perhaps Holding can cite an authority that this was the most obvious and normal practice authors used to authenticate their letters.

Holding 5:

Detering cannot understand why Paul would go into Arabia and not Jerusalem. It’s not too hard to figure: Paul is perhaps following the path of the Exodus, and perhaps even visiting Mt. Sinai, as Wright has suggested. However, it is just as well to suppose that he chose this as a nearby mission field after Damascus; and has every reason to NOT return to Jerusalem to face his Pharisee superiors who are naturally not going to be pleased that he botched on his job of arresting Christians by becoming one.

It’s quite exciting fun to make up imaginary itineraries to explain away the implausible, as Holding and Wright do here. Besides, can’t you just imagine the Paul whose every breath was in opposition to the Mosaic law making a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai in preference to the empty tomb in Jerusalem! This the man who counted all his past life in the law as dead from the moment Christ revealed himself in him. Holding also likes to pretend Paul might have set up a missionary station in Arabia, despite the passage in Galatians clearly conveying the idea that Paul went hermit, like Jesus into the wilderness, rather than make contact with “flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:15-17). But I like the last ‘let’s pretend’ best: Paul being too timid to face his superiors after being so profoundly converted that he was quite prepared to take on the leading apostles who knew Jesus personally, the high priest, the king, stonings, shipwrecks, scourgings, Caesar himself. This the man who could strike blind any who mocked his message (Acts 13:11). Too fearful even to enter Jerusalem secretly, if only to pay quiet apologetic respects at the tomb of Stephen.

Holding disputes Detering’s argument of psychological implausibility by fantasizing even bigger psychological implausibilities.

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Neil Godfrey

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20 thoughts on “Authenticity of Paul’s letters: Holding versus Detering”

  1. Charming manner, you have, J.P. I did have a look but see that you do not allow uncensored public comment on your blog, not that I’d waste time replying. None of your responses addresses my points. Each one either changes the terms of the original argument, simply ignores my points and / or resorts to sarcasm and/or non sequiturs, and in some cases blatant mischievous falsehoods. But I am impressed that you have actually cited on your site a link to an article you are ridiculing. That’s not always your style, so I consider that a welcome plus.

  2. What a maroon! 😀 I don’t HAVE a blog — that’s TheologyWeb, a public forum, and it isn’t mine! And we DO allow public comment without censorhip, save of things like profanity. What’s wrong? You need freedom to do that to make your arguments?

    The fact is that I blew each of your alleged arguments to pieces, you know it, and you are too cowardly to defend yourself — which is why you resort to irrelevant, non-specific blathering.

    I’ll be sure and note your cowardice on the thread!

  3. I assume J. P. Holding has been bored lately and a tantrum is called for since I have no interest in playing his game. Besides, my mother taught me I would not be wise to spend time with friends of such an uncivil and bullying disposition.

  4. Or perhaps you could just admit that you don’t even know what was in the link he posted, seeing as though a) you thought it was a blog, and b) you seemed to think you would be “censored” there.

  5. Well you don’t have to log in to post here as I would have to there, and I did see what seemed to be “all of one mind” posts there — but the main reason I did not spend a lot of time there was the uncivil and insolent manner of likes of J.P. et al. Did Jesus condemn courtesy and good will in debate and discussion of differences? Or did the Sermon on the Mount command that anyone who misunderstands a blog’s provenance shall be called a “maroon”. It is abundantly clear that there is no interest in honest debate and discussion, but only in sarcastic and crude put-downs. If my argument in the original post here was without merit then anyone is free to give the reasons here. They are also free, to an extent, to come in with insulting abuse and direct readers elsewhere for their “answers”.

    But as Holding said in his initial comment, I’m a bit funny. I think it must be because for some odd reason I respond better to civility than insults. I can understand the likes of you and him finding that to be a “funny” trait to bring to a discussion about your religion.

  6. Well well well, how unsurprisingly familiar this all is. Yet one more Christian apologist is caught out again playing with words to mislead in order to somehow satisfy himself he is thereby scoring a point in a debate or discussion.

    In an earlier comment I spoke of J.P.Holding’s “blog” that I visited. Yup, true, it wasn’t a blog but a discussion board, and it does not openly show J P Holding as its owner or in some sense its mainstay. JPH took this aspect of my comment to call me a “maroon” and make the firm declaration that he does not even have a blog etc etc etc, and that the discussion board to which I was referring was a public site as if it bore no relation to him. That was the clear impression his words conveyed.

    Well in doing some other net surfing I did come across JPH’s webpage, Tekton Apologetic Ministries.

    The contact email address for this website is JPH.

    The metadata title (the one used by webcrawlers for search and retrieval) for this page is:
    Tekton Apologetics Ministries. James Patrick Holding. Tektonitron apologetics Encyclopedia. answering Bible difficulties and Bible contradictions

    So it is fair to say that this is presented as a webpage of JPH.

    And on that page is a set of boxes laid out in a grid, each box clearly identified as part of this JPH website. One of them has the header and link:

    Theology Web
    Our exclusive place for debate!

    Which of course is a link to the said discussion board. It is clearly introduced from JPH’s website as in some sense his discussion board.

    (One might wonder if the “our” in the header indicates something other than a close association with JPH, but alas, the “our” and “we” are used throughout the same page to clearly indicate a “royal we” reference to JPH himself. Obviously it sounds more impressive if one can present one’s webpage as belonging to a plurality rather than a single bozo.)

    I pointed out in my original post one example of JPH’s dishonest presentation of a classicist as supposedly offering an unbiased umpire’s decision on a (nonclassical) biblical point, and here again as part of JPH’s abusive response to my critique he seems unable to help himself from word games and attempting to convey another deceitful impression.

  7. Honest, that previous post is genuine. It really is not part of some devilish plot to give Christian apologists a bad name or look childish, ignorant, arrogant and so vain as to think anyone else cares a hoot about what their real name is.

  8. Or maybe you’re just stupid for calling him by a name that isn’t his.


  9. Wonder why these characters keep coming back here to deliver their infantile “come over to my side of the fence” bullyboy taunts. They really do seem to think their dicks and heads are quite distinct members deserving of serious attention.

  10. I have just learned (via my blog referral stats) that James Patrick Holding has taken the time and trouble to copy and paste my comments above and to respond point by point to them, but for some reason has opted not to do so on this site where they were initially made, nor to inform me that he had indeed done so at all. — Anyone interested can read his responses here.

  11. I use carm a lot. neilgodrey, good job. JP Holding knows not what he is talking about. On tektonics, he criticizes Freke and Gandy for translating the greek work “pneumatic” in “Pneumatic”. He calls it a tortured translation. I think this is the tektonics that you are talking about above. Clearly, these guys are dishonest. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe they know what they are talking about. I’ve read a lot Detering’s stuff, but I’d like to read more (I don’t read German well!). To me, the verdict on the fabricated Paul is still out, but he sure makes some good arguments. I’ve been studying this argument for a while. The apologetic critique is pure nonsense.

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