2011-06-10

What has always been wrong with historical Jesus scholarship

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by Neil Godfrey

First, the background . . .

Earl Doherty had written:

Titus 1:2-3 — “…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but (now) at the proper time, he has revealed his word [NEB: openly declared himself] through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.”

Step One: God promised eternal life long ages ago (lit., before the beginning of time)…

Step Two: God has now revealed that word and fulfilled his age-old promise, through the gospel being preached by Paul. (The writer represents himself as Paul, reflecting the Pauline tradition, as all of the pseudo-Pauline forgeries do.)

God’s promise…then the revelation of that promise in Paul’s gospel.

Where is Jesus in this pattern, Bernard? Where is Step One and a Half? God’s promise wasn’t fulfilled in Jesus? Jesus himself didn’t preach the fulfillment of God’s promise? The “proper time” is identified with Paul’s time and preaching with not the slightest glance at Jesus himself, his life and preaching? The same void exists in other (genuine) Pauline passages, such as 2 Cor. 3:5-6, 3:7-11 and 5:5, Romans 3:21-25, 1 Cor. 10:11. I’m not twisting these passages to eliminate some obvious HJ. He simply isn’t there, and all your sputtering and forced doctoring of them, especially in ignorance of the original Greek texts, won’t put him there. (Some translations do their best to supplement various Greek passages in order to insert him. The NEB is particularly guilty in that regard.)

Mike Wilson replied:

I’m not sure how you conclude there is “no room here for a human Jesus between God and Paul in the course of salvation history”. We can presume Jesus’ actions are part of the promised hope of eternal life without disrupting the meaning of the sentence. I don’t think this line has been a source of any particular trouble for commentators. It reads perfectly well if one supposes the hope of eternal life was accomplished by some action in time on the part of Jesus. That pseudo-Paul did not specify “the promised fulfilled by God gouging out Jesus’ eyes” or whatever they believed, is outside or knowledge. I’m not sure why he doesn’t explain how rebirth and the holy spirit are being poured out through Jesus, but I have to presume the author has an idea of how. While not mentioning the historical deeds or sayings of Jesus, it is not incompatible with such as you believe and little different in its lack of Historical Jesus material as many works by known Historical Jesus authors.

“All that is wrong with historicist scholarship”

Doherty responds

Mike: “I’m not sure how you conclude there is “no room here for a human Jesus between God and Paul in the course of salvation history”. We can presume Jesus’ actions are part of the promised hope of eternal life without disrupting the meaning of the sentence. I don’t think this line has been a source of any particular trouble for commentators. It reads perfectly well if one supposes the hope of eternal life was accomplished by some action in time on the part of Jesus….”

Beautiful! Thank-you, Mike. You have in one paragraph demonstrated what has always been wrong with historicist scholarship, the colossal fallacy which is continually brought to the study of NT texts, and the utter closed-mindedness of the belief in an historical Jesus.

Three times in your post you based your argument on a word like “presume” and “suppose.” I happened to be reading a novel recently (nothing to do with religion) in which a character made this statement: “You can prove anything if you never have to validate your starting assumptions.”

We could paraphrase that: one can prove anything if one has complete freedom to claim any presumption/supposition which serves to beg the question and insert what the opponent has pointed out is missing or is contradicted. NT scholars have always taken that freedom. You’re in good company, Mike. And the worst part of it is, you haven’t a clue that this is completely fallacious, impermissible, and renders your arguments a joke.

As I said:

Titus 1:2-3 — “…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but (now) at the proper time, he has revealed his word [NEB: openly declared himself] through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.”

God’s promise…then the revelation of that promise in Paul’s gospel.

How can Jesus be inserted between these two elements?

You say: “We can presume Jesus’ actions are part of the promised hope of eternal life without disrupting the meaning of the sentence.” I agree that this is precisely what we should have expected the writer to say, so why doesn’t he say it? Why “presume” it and expect his readers to presume it? In any case, it would be incompatible with how he phrases the rest of his thought. God has now revealed his word through the preaching of Paul. I know it’s taxing, Mike, but can’t you see that if Jesus lived and preached in the intervening past since the time of God’s promise, then the ‘revealing’ of his word and promise would have taken place in Jesus himself and his preaching, not in that of Paul? Can’t you see that if the writer is using a phrase like “at the proper time” and applies it to the time of Paul, this leaves Jesus out in the cold? Who would NOT think of Jesus’ time and life’s work as “the proper time” at which God chose to reveal the fulfillment of his word and promise? You? The rest of traditional NT scholarship? Apparently so.

No, Mike, it does NOT read “perfectly well if one supposes the hope of eternal life was accomplished by some action in time on the part of Jesus.” To paraphrase an analogy in my book: If a writer notes that it had been predicted in the year 1900 that Britain and Germany would one day be at war, and the writer says that this prediction had finally come true in 1939 when Hitler and Churchill led their countries to war, where does that leave the First World War in 1914, which any sane person would regard as the fulfillment of the 1900 prophecy? Does simply inserting it by means of “presumption” render the statement sensible? I’d hate to see you let loose in a logic class, Mike.

By no consideration of common sense or how language is used in the human brain can you legitimately claim that we can blithely insert a human Jesus into the non-existent gap between the two elements of this statement in Titus. But it is a tribute to the ability of the otherwise intelligent human mind to be able to perform and accept this kind of fallacious feat when the demands of preconception and personal needs or religious belief override logic.

You say: “I don’t think this line has been a source of any particular trouble for commentators.” No, I don’t think it has, because they have always been as adept as you are at closing their minds to the clear implications of what a text actually says and doesn’t say, preferring to read the Gospels into the epistles no matter what disruption that involves.

Is this the sort of methodology Jim means when he refers to his much-vaunted “historical criticism/method”? Is the rejection of such fallacious and self-serving methods the sort of thing he means when he calls mythicists charlatans and nut-cases?

Mike Wilson has responded to this, to which Earl Doherty has replied, etc —
but if you value non-fallacious logical reasoning you get the idea.
Even McGrath chimes in, impervious to any reasoning that has gone before.

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26 thoughts on “What has always been wrong with historical Jesus scholarship”

  1. Earl and Neil,

    I have been looking a the Pastorals recently while listening to an NT course by Dale Martin from Yale on Itunes U. Very interesting texts:

    1 Tim 1:3-4 “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.”

    1 Tim 4:7 “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.”

    Why are scholars sure that the gospels are not being referred to here?

    1. In my unscholarly opinion, they do. It’s probably a reference to the multitude of gospels floating around that were seen in subtle opposition to each other (think Marcion; 1 Tim was not in his canon BTW). But at the same time, the author of 1 Timothy (probably like all other Christians around his time period) didn’t see the written gospels as being authoritative.

    2. I think it is rather unlikely that this is a reference to Christian Gospels, even in an early form. “Endless myths and genealogies” sounds like the trappings of gnosticism, with its focus on heavenly emanations and derivation of aeons one from another. So does “they forbid marriage and inculcate abstinence from certain foods” (4:3), while the Gospels have an HJ doing the opposite, something the writer is in favor of.

      If the Pastorals are not much more than a couple of decades into the 2nd century (the usual dating, which I wouldn’t dispute), I don’t see that the Gospels would be that well known so early. Outside of bare bio data in the letters of Ignatius around the same time (even if forgeries in his name) which doesn’t in any case seem to be from someone possessing written Gospels, no one else seems even aware of them.

      1. Justin Martyr was converted early enough to have known of them at that few-decades-in time; while I suppose it is possible that he discovered and accepted them well after his conversion, he doesn’t reference such a progression.

        1. Actually, if you read Dialogue with Trypho up to chapter 8, in which Justin describes his conversion experience (possibly dated in the 130s), you will find that he says nothing about any Gospel account, or even about any historical Jesus. He speaks of the Christ in the same terms as those other apologists (like Athenagoras and Theophilus) who say nothing about an HJ and treat their faith in the nature of a Logos religion, with the “Son” an entirely spiritual, and non-sacrificial, figure. Now, I realize that this was probably written in the 150s at the same time as he wrote the rest of Trypho and the Apology, in which he does refer to an HJ (though it’s perhaps possible that he incorporated some earlier-written account from a lost document), but there is no denying the stark difference in the presentation of his faith between this first portion of Trypho and the rest of the later writings. As I say in JNGNM, p.491 (compare The Jesus Puzzle, p.285):

          “For whatever reason, consciously or not, Justin has preserved the actual state of affairs at the time of his conversion and has not contaminated it with later developments in his thinking through encountering the Gospels. In those opening chapters of the Dialogue with Trypho we can see that all the apologists came to the same Christian faith: a Platonic religious philosophy grounded in Hellenistic Judaism which failed to include any historical Jesus.”

          1. Justin declares that he was converted by listening to somebody telling him about the amazing prophets and they way that they had made known Christ.

            ‘They also are worthy of belief because of the miracles which they performed, for they exalted God, the Father and Creator of all things, and made known Christ, His Son, who was sent by Him.’

            And when scolded by somebody who claimed that the Messiah had not been born, Justin retorts ‘”My friend,” I replied, “I pardon you, and may the Lord forgive you, for you don’t know what you say; you have been instructed by teachers who are ignorant of the meaning of the Scriptures, and, like a fortune-teller, you blurt out whatever comes into your mind. If you will consent to hear our account of Him, how we have not been deceived by false teachings, and how we will not cease to profess our faith in Him ‘

            So where was the historical Jesus? Christians were converted by listening to accounts of miracle-working prophets who made Christ known, and defended their belief by claiming Jesus was in the Scriptures.

      2. Earl, when reading JNGNM I got the impression you held pretty closely to the accepted dates of composition, and that you understood Mark to have been composed shortly after 70 CE. On that assumption, it seems that the document crashed like a lead balloon, if Justin and the Pastorals haven’t heard of it for 50 years or so.

      3. “‘Endless myths and genealogies’ sounds like the trappings of gnosticism”

        Only if you take “endless” to mean endless as in long, lone genealogies of aeons. If, however, it means “pointless,” it can equally apply to the mythology and genealogies of the gospels, which are as pointless in the end as Gnosticism. Making various Old Testament prophecies out to be about Jesus when they are not and devising pointless genealogies tracing his lineage to David through his **adopted** father, is not only “endless” but also counterproductive, because it ruins whatever credibility he might have had if you had not invented such pointless myths and genealogies.

    3. I agree with Earl on this, that is the common thought is. If you read some of the Gnostic Gospels you will see what I think Titus is talking about, generally, we can’t know what specific book he had in mind. Conceivably he has a “orthadox” gospel in mind, but it fits better with a gnostic one, based on what we know.

  2. I imagine that if Jesus did exist, then whatever ideas, beliefs or teachings he had would have resembled those found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. I wouldn’t expect to find much (or any) biographical information about him in Pauline literature, considering that Paul was an outsider of the Jesus movement, who says that he did not receive his gospel from anyone else in any event. He says his information about Jesus came from revelations and interpretations of the OT (Gal. 1:12, 3:1). His big concern is with the crucifixion, whether he thinks it happened in a sub-lunar realm or on earth. But it is clear from Paul’s letters that whatever James’ group thought about Jesus, whether he was a myth or a real person, was different from Paul’s ideas.

    The pastoral epistles appear to be by one or more authors with similar concerns (anti-gnosticism, church order) who were inspired by Paul and his method of interpretation of the OT. If this is the case, whatever we might make of what these letters say elsewhere, it is certain from 1 Timothy 6:13 that at least this author believed that Jesus was a real person who gave some sort of testimony before Pontius Pilate.

    Whoever wrote this may have known the gospel of Luke and/or Acts, as those are the only books in the NT that refer to Pilate as “Pontius” (Lk. 3:1, Acts 4:27), and 1 Tim. 5:18 also appears to cite Lk. 10:7 (as “scripture”); if this is so, it is arguable that the author(s) of 2 Timothy and Titus, who some argue were the same person, also knew Luke and/or Acts and believed in a Jesus who lived and died on earth.

    I would speculate that the reason Titus 1:2-3 says what it says is because it is referring to eternal life, which is something that Paul preached was available to those who believed that Jesus had been crucified and resurrected (whether on earth or not),
    “according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). “[F]ar be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). It may be possible, but his crucifixion doesn’t strike me as something that Jesus, if he did exist, would have preached about himself, and whatever James’ group believed about him was “a different gospel” in any event (2 Cor. 11:4).

      1. It is certain that the author believed this, if it’s not an interpolation. I can’t say for sure that it is not an interpolation, but I suspect that it’s not, if for no other reason than because the author appears to cite Luke 10:7 in 5:18, and it is strange that 6:13 refers to Pilate as “Pontius,” as only Luke and Acts also do this (in the NT). But I haven’t given this matter much thought. Why do you think it might be an interpolation (if you do)?

        1. John, don’t you find it a bit odd that the author of 1 Tim would refer to Luke approvingly as scripture at the same time that he was cautioning against books that contained genealogies without making some sort of carve-out?

          I think that 5:18 could just as easily be quoting the Didache 13:2, which we assume predated the pastorals. In no case would we assume that the pastorals were describing any NT canonical scripture unless they could be dated past the date of the Muratorian canon’s formation, which I believe included them.

          1. It doesn’t seem odd that 1 Timothy would cite Luke and still be against “myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations” (1:4), any more than it is odd that the epistle of Titus opposes “Jewish myths” (1:14) and alludes to the OT (1:2, 2:14).

            With their concern for church structure, the pastorals seem like products of the early second century. This was a time when gnosticism was flourishing and had not just genealogies, but “myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations,” as 1 Timothy puts it. Perhaps Luke attempted to create a more “realistic” one.

            I don’t know what the Didache says in Greek, but the translations I see on earlychristianwritings.com say:

            “So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support.” Roberts-Donaldson

            “In like manner a true teacher (is) also (worthy), like (the workman, of his food.)” Lightfoot

            “[L]ikewise a true teacher is himself worthy of his meat, even as is a labourer.” Hoole

            “Likewise a true teacher is himself worthy, like the workman, of his food.” Lake

            Compare these with 1 Timothy 5:18, “The laborer deserves his wages,” and Luke 10:7, “[T]he laborer deserves his wages,” which are also almost word for word the same in Greek:

            http://www.searchgodsword.org/isb/bible.cgi?query=1ti+5:18&translation=nas&ot=bhs&nt=na&sr=1&l=en 1 Tim 5:18 (Greek)

            http://www.searchgodsword.org/isb/bible.cgi?query=lu+10:7&translation=nas&ot=bhs&nt=na&sr=1&l=en Lk. 10:7 (Greek)

            This similarity, and the epistle’s use of “Pontius” Pilate, which only Luke and Acts also use (in the NT), indicate to me that this author knew Luke.

  3. Dear frauds, fools, and fanatics, I’m always happy to be the focus of a posting here, and in return for the favor I’ll explain what is wrong with Earl’s thinking here. I had not thought it worth my while because no intelligent person would conclude that Earl is making sense, but I love flattery, and being confused with Jesus scholarship is high praise. Some of you may have already noted this but won’t admit it because, “s#@t, that doesn’t work to wipe Christianity from history”, but if you’re not paying attention to details in your rabid quest to find justification for your faith, I’ll point it out.

    Earl argues the passage precludes a human Jesus, not that it doesn’t mention one. He seems to construe my argument as simply that we can tack in the human acts of Jesus, and it comports to the HJ position, his old standby that scholars simply assume that the author has a HJ in mind. But that is not my argument at all. My argument is that the sentence does not preclude there being an action between, Step One: God promised eternal life long ages ago (lit., before the beginning of time)… and Step Two: God has now revealed that word and fulfilled his age-old promise, through the gospel being preached by Paul. (The writer represents himself as Paul, reflecting the Pauline tradition, as all of the pseudo-Pauline forgeries do.) Earl assumes, without justification, that the hope of eternal life that is being discussed here is an event that took place in the timeless world of heaven, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by demons and came into human possession though the scriptures (but hidden), but only now has been revealed by Paul and friends. But that is not the only possible scenario that could be supported by this sentence. For instance, if Jesus were crucified in time by demons in the firmament, it would also work, because it would only be revealed by Paul’s teaching, otherwise who would be aware of it? And if Paul’s preaching revealed that eternal life came by the death of Jesus by Pilate and his subsequent resurrection; that also works. It also works if Paul thinks the hope of eternal life came by the means of Cookie Monster eating Grover at the feet of Nero Caesar as prophesied in Leviticus (it in there). That is why nobody ever stopped and said, “Man, I need to explain how this doesn’t invalidate the gospels or my theology”. I might think differently if you could create an analogy that actually represented the situation and not your artificial conception of it.
    Earl presents my argument as this,
    ” You say: “We can presume Jesus’ actions are part of the promised hope of eternal life without disrupting the meaning of the sentence.” I agree that this is precisely what we should have expected the writer to say, so why doesn’t he say it? Why “presume” it and expect his readers to presume it?”,
    because that is the only argument he can win, his lie, (and Neil’s) that everyone is simply presuming a historical Jesus without critical thought. Why doesn’t Pseudo Paul just say what you (Earl) believe this passage to speak of and not just expect his reader to presume it? Earl does this while at the same time castigating me for presuming that the author has an explanation in mind for “how rebirth and the holy spirit are being poured out though Jesus” as though his speculative theory ask for no assumptions at all to be made of the text, while he tries to explain what the text are talking about

    1. Mike, your reading comprehension disability is once again on public display. (So are some other “qualities” of yours.**)

      I recently complimented your ability to support your assertions about what McGrath and you yourself said by actually quoting McGrath and yourself. But recall that I also suggested you still had a little way to go because you failed to offer siimilar support for your assertions about Doherty’s statements. Well, you have not made any progress since then.

      You say: “Earl assumes, without justification, that the hope of eternal life that is being discussed here is an event that took place in the timeless world of heaven, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by demons and came into human possession though the scriptures (but hidden), but only now has been revealed by Paul and friends. But that is not the only possible scenario that could be supported by this sentence.”

      That is false. That is wrong. You have read that into Doherty’s words. It is not there. That is not what Doherty is talking about. You cannot quote anything in Doherty’s discussion to support your false assertion.

      Yes, Doherty does argue for the scenario you describe, but that is not the key point of the discussion of this passage in Titus.

      What the passage says is that it is the revelation to Paul and others and the preaching of that revelation that is the hope of eternal life.

      Try that again, it is the revelation of the word — we are not told how that revelation came, here, whether it was by an auditory experience, a vision or inspired reading or some other means (Doherty believes it came by inspired reading of the Scriptures) — but it is a “revelation from God” that is being preached. The promise of God was made long ago. He has now revealed what that promised hope is. God has given a revelation. And Paul and others are preaching that revelation.

      So the flow is this:

      Revelation from God — To Paul and others — Preached to the world

      It is the same flow as we read in the prophets. Isaiah or Jeremiah are hanging around doing their own thing or preparing for a vision or whatever, when God comes to them and reveals something to them. They then go out and preach those revealed words. Daniel was contemplating his Bible study when he was visited from heaven and given a revelation to understand what he was reading. He then wrote down his understanding of the word according to the revelation.

      But most readers do not accept that “plain straightforward reading” of Titus because it does not conform to their preconceptions of how Christianity started. They begin with the assumption of a historical Jesus (as more insightful prominent scholars have admitted) and the story of the Gospels and assume all that is somehow grounded in history and the start of it all. So they read all of that INTO a passage like the one in Titus under discussion.

      Preconceptions have blinded them to the plain, direct meaning of the words. That, as I understand it, is Doherty’s argument in relation to the passage in Titus.

      Sometimes preconceptions are so embedded people cannot even comprehend plain statements.

      .

      ** — It is your fool’s vanity that leads you to think you are being confused with “Jesus scholarship”. Your words are highlighted because they serve as an all-too-easy foil to allow Doherty to make a more general point.

      1. Neil, there’s a great quote from Lublinski in Drews’ Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus:

        ” … in the early centuries the blood of Christian martyrs was chiefly shed because the unyielding and angry primitive Christians regarded the cult of the emperors as the horror of horrors, since it meant adoring a man. They, however, worshipped their Christ and died for him because they considered him, not a man, but a god-man. Who is nearer to the tradition? The one who makes an earthly man of Jesus, or the one who is content to say that he was from the start a mythical being, a symbol, in a word, the God-man?”

        Yet the arguments given above suggest that someone would be a fool or a fanatic to do so. One imagines that someone of that persuasion would have to assume the same of the early Christians.

        1. One might draw from this a simple truism, one that Carrier touched on recently, and that I picked up:

          “An example within the Christian tradition is the astonishing stupidity of the Disciples, especially in the earliest Gospel of Mark. Their depiction is in fact so unrealistic it isn’t credible (real people don’t act like that), which means Mark (or his sources) invented that detail despite its potential embarrassment. Hence the flaw in the criterion of embarrassment is in assuming that historical truth is the only factor that can overcome the potential embarrassment of some reported detail, when in fact moral or doctrinal or symbolic truth can also override such concerns.”

          This particular illustration tells me the debate is not between two sides with an equal interest in the facts. I’m reminded the first day I read a breaking news story claiming that a boatload of refugees had threatened to throw their children overboard unless they were allowed entry into Australia. My immediate response was that the story was bollocks, since I know parents do not behave like that. But there was enough prejudice nation-wide for the story to take hold — trusted political leaders and news sources repeated it as if it were a fact — and it eventually took a government inquiry to put the story to rest.

          It’s all about the sorts of things people naturally do and don’t do, stupid! One might be tempted to conclude that historical Jesus theorists have a remarkable capacity for confusing fantasy with reality.

  4. There should be nothing controversial about Doherty’s identifying the scholarly assumption of the existence of a historical Jesus at all.

    The Messiah Myth (2005) by Thomas L. Thompson, p. 7

    Twentieth-century scholarship, with its faith in history, assumed a historical Jesus as its starting point. It shared Schweitzer’s personal dilemma: a choice between a Jesus who fits modern visions of Christianity and Mark’s failed prophet. But they always assumed there was a historical Jesus to describe.

    Schweitzer, Quest, p.402

    [A]ll the reports about [Jesus] go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability.

  5. Mike Wilson makes another attempt to be clear and rational about how one can reject Titus 1:2-3 as excluding an historical Jesus between the two steps in salvation history which the author presents: God’s promises in the age-old past, as contained in scripture, and the revelation and fulfillment of those promises in the preaching of Paul. Let’s see if he is any more successful.

    Mike: “My argument is that the sentence does not preclude there being an action between, Step One: God promised eternal life long ages ago (lit., before the beginning of time)… and Step Two: God has now revealed that word and fulfilled his age-old promise, through the gospel being preached by Paul….

    Earl assumes, without justification, that the hope of eternal life that is being discussed here is an event that took place in the timeless world of heaven, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by demons and came into human possession though the scriptures (but hidden), but only now has been revealed by Paul and friends….”

    This is a garbling of my position on what Titus is saying. I am not equating the word “hope” with an event; Paul’s hope was based on an event he believed was revealed by God in scripture (see 1 Cor. 15:15 which we’ve discussed before), but the “hope” itself was just that: hope for life eternal, something which at the turn of the era was a fixation of the Hellenistic world, in other words, for “salvation.” Different sects, Jewish and pagan would have seen it as founded in their own soteriological theories and beliefs. The early Christ cult saw it as founded in a sacrificial death by the Son at the hands of the demons.

    For Paul and his contemporaries and successors before an HJ entered the picture, the promise of eternal life was revealed in scripture, but it was a promise which they envisioned God making even before scripture was written, indeed “at the beginning of time.” God had his intentions even before creation. He then recorded his word, his promise, in scripture when the prophets came along. And that promise of eternal life, by the way, was a recent interpretation, for no Jews contemporary with the prophets or for centuries afterward understood that God had promised eternal life, since this was not a belief that is found in Jewish culture until almost the intertestamental period. So the “promise of eternal life” was a reading of scripture only later.

    Titus 1:3 then goes on to say: “…and at his proper time, (God) manifested/revealed his word [i.e., the promise he was perceived to have recorded in scripture] in a proclamation [kerygma/’gospel’] which was entrusted to me [i.e., the writer pretending to be Paul] at the command of God our Savior.”

    So there is still no room to insert an historical Jesus here. The promise, God’s word, was perceived as recorded in scripture. That interpretation justified humanity’s hope for eternal life, since part of that interpretation was the ‘revelation’ that the means by which God could grant eternal life was the redeeming death and rising of his Son. But this cannot be inserted as taking place in history between God’s promise and Paul’s preaching, because then the acts of Jesus would become the first action on that promise, the first manifesting of his ancient word (NIV: he brought his word to light). The preaching of Paul’s gospel could never be styled the first manifestation by God, the first fulfillment of his promise, if Jesus had lived and performed his redeeming acts prior to that. No writer would express himself that way and ignore Jesus’ life and acts in the middle.

    If Mike cannot or refuses to see that, it’s not my fault. It’s a tribute to his ability to close his mind and abdicate his powers of understanding simple language in deference to his preconceived beliefs, whatever the reasons he may have for adamantly clinging to them no matter what the texts say.

    So no, Mike, this does NOT work:

    Mike: “For instance, if Jesus were crucified in time by demons in the firmament, it would also work, because it would only be revealed by Paul’s teaching, otherwise who would be aware of it? And if Paul’s preaching revealed that eternal life came by the death of Jesus by Pilate and his subsequent resurrection; that also works.”

    I’ve pointed out that yes, crucifixion by demons in the heavenly world is part of the early Christ cult’s perceived revelation (this may not be entirely Paul’s own invention, we don’t know precisely how the pre-Pauline cult viewed things). But this element (the acts of Jesus, the means by which salvation is made possible) was not in itself a “manifestation” of God’s promise, because it was not manifested except as part of Paul’s gospel. It’s part of Step Two, not some independent step of its own. But even if it were so regarded, it would work only because it was a heavenly event, only in the context of the mythicist case (which of course Mike rejects). It would cease to work if the event was earthly and historical, because then it would itself, as I’ve said, have constituted the first manifestation of God’s promise, not the later preaching of Paul’s gospel.

    And then when Mike quotes me quoting him as saying that “we can presume that Jesus’ act was part of the hope of eternal life” (by which he may have meant—lucidity is not his strong point—that Jesus’ act generated hope for eternal life in those who witnessed it: which does not get around the contradiction in Titus saying God’s first revelation of his word was in Paul’s kerygma), he now garbles this into some kind of accusation by me that everyone here is presuming an HJ without critical thought and calls it a “lie,” an utter non-sequitur. What can you do with someone whose arguments and presentation make so little sense, riddled with head-scratching illogicalities? But I do my best.

    1. “I’ve pointed out that yes, crucifixion by demons in the heavenly world is part of the early Christ cult’s perceived revelation (this may not be entirely Paul’s own invention, we don’t know precisely how the pre-Pauline cult viewed things).”

      This is the question I am most interested in, how did James’ group view things? As you point out, it’s hard to answer this with much certainty, since the only contemporary witnesses we have of them are Paul, who was hostile towards them, and possibly Josephus, whose references to early figures of “Christianity” are not accepted by everyone, and other sources are of an uncertain or late date, like the epistles of James and Jude (which were written to outsiders), the Gospel of the Hebrews, Hegesippus, other less sympathetic church fathers, the Clementine literature, and (according to Shlomo Pines) the possible Ebionite source in the writings of the Muslim al-Jabbar. Some see a first century “Jewish Christian” influence in the Book of Revelation and the hypothetical “Q” source. I happen to be convinced that some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are first century writings of James’ group, but I won’t argue for this now.

      I think all these sources can give us at least some idea of how James’ group viewed things.

      As far as Paul goes, he seems to be concerned with his followers “turning to a different gospel -not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ … If anyone is preaching to you a different gospel, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9). “For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough” (2 Cor. 11:4).

      In both these cases Paul then appears to mention James’ group:

      “I think that I am not in the least inferior to these superlative apostles … For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness … Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one” (2 Cor. 11:5-23).

      “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it,” and after his conversion he did not “go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me … Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas … But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:13-19).

      Like in 2 Corinthians above, his opinion of the Jerusalem group is also not very favorable in Galatians:

      “But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage -to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) -those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me … But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their insincerity” (2:4-13).

      This echoes the problem Paul is having in 2 Corinthians, that his follwers there were also “submit[ting] readily enough” to “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (11:4).

      Another Jesus. A different gospel.

      What was Paul’s gospel? “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). “Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” (Gal. 3:1).

      Perhaps Paul did believe in a Jesus who was crucified and resurrected in a sub-lunar realm. But according to Paul, James’ group preached another Jesus and a different gospel.

      As uncertain or as late as Ebionite sources or their critics are, they do give us a picture of a group at odds with Paul, that believed that Jesus was a normal human being, with relatives who lived to the time of Trajan. And perhaps they are interpolations, but this is consistent with Josephus’s statement that James was “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ” and Paul’s statement that James was “the Lord’s brother,” something that gnostics and orthodox church fathers attempt to explain away (but not the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Jewish Christian Hegesippus or the Clementine literature). We may never know with certainty what Jesus meant to James’ followers, or what the “different gospel” was that they preached, but it does appear that they believed he was a real person.

  6. http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/new-phd-projects-in-edinburgh/ is an interesting article showing that New Testament students are doing nothing other than the sort of thing that scholars do when they analyse Shakespeare and analyse the language used and track the manuscripts and folios of his plays.

    James McGrath claims that NT scholars use only methods honed by historians in other fields (although he also claims NT scholars are ‘pioneers’)

    But a simple glance at the research being done by NT scholars reveals a world far more akin to Shakespeare analysis than to history.

    1. Interesting. This helps me understand my atrraction for biblical studies. I love the study of both literature and history, and I am very conscious of both the differences between the two, and the complex relationships between the two. It’s hard to understand why biblical scholars do not seem to grasp any of this, but it is hard not to censure them as outright liars when they present themselves as “historians” though they have not the least awareness of the fundamentals of nonbiblical historiography. It’s about time I made the effort to address the ignorance still being peddled by the likes of McG and O’N once again for the benefit of anyone not familiar with the historians and sources they have used lately to convey the impression they know what they are talking about.

  7. “An example within the Christian tradition is the astonishing stupidity of the Disciples, especially in the earliest Gospel of Mark. Their depiction is in fact so unrealistic it isn’t credible (real people don’t act like that)…”

    Not to mention the astonishing perfidy of the Pharisees, whose sole concern throughout the gospels and Acts is to (a) kill Jesus, and (b) kill his apostles. And yet they, too, are assumed to be accurate portrayals delineated by a dispassionate, objective observer, or, barring that, “tradition.”

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