2011-08-22

McGrath’s defence of his review

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Dr McGrath has [http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/08/17/doherty-chapter-10/#comment-292699358 — link has since moved: Neil Godfrey, 22nd July 2019] responded with the following defence against my criticisms of his review:

 

Neil, Earl says what I quoted him as saying at the start of chapter 10, stating something that he has been saying all along, and still without providing evidence. By the end of the chapter, little has changed. The only “evidence” he offers is a claim that everyone in those days thought in such terms, and so the idea of a purely celestial Jesus ought to be read into the epistles.

I saw on your “response” (which really does nothing to respond to my substantive or methodological criticisms of what Doherty offers) that you took issue with my reference to Doherty’s assertion that Gnosticism pre-dates belief in a historical Jesus. My issues, just to be clear, are twofold. First, Doherty makes the assertion with no citation of evidence or scholarly argumentation nor even a postponement of justification until later chapters. He offers the reader no evidence, and it is simply hypocritical for mythicists to allege that mainstream scholars are depending on the work of others or not dealing with relevant evidence, and then to make unjustified assertions. But second, and perhaps more importantly, Doherty’s claim for a relatively early date for Gnosticism could indeed be argued for – but only if one accepts the legitimacy of using later evidence to deduce beliefs that may have existed in earlier times. It involves, to be frank, the same sort of deductive reasoning from evidence that mainstream scholars use regarding Jesus. And so for Doherty to make bald assertions without evidence or discussion, and to assert as true what might be deduced in a book that rejects major conclusions historians have reached using similar deduction from much clearer evidence, is not only problematic, it is hypocritical, and quite frankly bizarre.

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)



If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!


23 thoughts on “McGrath’s defence of his review”

  1. Dr McGrath has further defended his original review by

    (a) insisting that what he said was “not inaccurate in the slightest”, and

    (b) saying that Doherty “has been making reference to this way of interpreting the Epistles all throughout the book thus far” — which is not at all the same thing as saying that Doherty is summarizing what he has offered thus far in the preceding chapters (and I would be interested to see McGrath try to cite those references to which he is referring anyway so he can defend his position even more), and

    (b) adding to what he originally wrote so that now he says two opposing things — take your pick.

    McGrath originally wrote:

    Doherty summarizes the interpretation of New Testament letters he has offered thus far, writing, “In the epistles, Christ’s act of salvation is not located in the present, or even in the recent past, and certainly not within the historical setting familiar to us from the Gospels. Christ had existed from before time began, and it was in a non-historical time and place, in a supernatural realm, that this Son of God had undergone a redeeming “blood” sacrifice” (p.97).

    McGrath is unambiguous. He is saying that this passage by Doherty is a summary of the interpretation of the NT letters he has offered in the preceding parts of the book.

    But since my criticism of his review he has now changed that to read something else:

    Doherty summarizes the interpretation of New Testament letters he has offered thus far, albeit postponing direct discussion until now, by writing, “In the epistles, Christ’s act of salvation is not located in the present, or even in the recent past, and certainly not within the historical setting familiar to us from the Gospels. Christ had existed from before time began, and it was in a non-historical time and place, in a supernatural realm, that this Son of God had undergone a redeeming “blood” sacrifice” (p.97).

    This change of wording does not change the fact that the summary of Doherty’s interpretation of the NT letters till now is quite different (see my previous post addressing Dr McGrath’s review), and I don’t know if Doherty discusses “blood” sacrifice or its meaning at all in the previous sections of the book. Doherty’s whole focus up till now has been entirely in the areas of the manner of revelation through scriptures, Christ as a heavenly channel, etc. That is the interpretation of the NT letters Doherty has been offering until this chapter. McGrath quoted what Doherty says he is about to discuss in the next section.

    McGrath has clearly attempted to evade this simple fact by re-writing what he originally wrote while at the same time saying that his original wording was “not inaccurate in the slightest”!

    Nor does McGrath’s added wording do justice to the chapter he is attaching it to. Most of the discussion is reserved for the following chapters.

    Dr McGrath would not have found himself in this embarrassing position had he actually addressed the arguments of Doherty to begin with and thus have on file an easy reference to all that Doherty has in fact argued till now.

  2. McGrath claims that mythicism is useful in keeping scholars like him ‘honest’

    So just imagine what he would be like if Doherty did not exist!

    MCGRATH
    Like intelligent design in relation to biology, mythicism also helps remind us why the scholarly procedures we’ve developed in academia are so important.

    CARR
    Irony, thy name is New Testament scholarship. The author of a self-published book chastises people for not following ‘scholarly procedures’.

  3. http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2011/02/nick-norelli-ultimate-mythicist.html#

    ‘almost all mythicists are happy to criticize mainstream scholarship from the sidelines, rather than really engaging mainstream scholarship on it’s own terms and in the appropriate arenas.’

    ‘Not merely giving Paul priority but not allowing any other text to shed light on what he wrote, as though Paul were not connected with the wider phenomenon of early Christianity.’

    CARR
    There you are. Doherty does not allow ‘any other text to shed light on what Paul wrote’

    Good job McGrath has people to keep him honest, or else he might conceivably stray into dishonesty.

    And that would never do. McGrath would be horrified at accidentally misrepresenting what mythicists say. Happily, he is kept to the honest path….

    1. Not merely giving Paul priority but not allowing any other text to shed light on what he wrote, as though Paul were not connected with the wider phenomenon of early Christianity.

      I have a very difficult time figuring out what Dr. McGrath means by his use of the word “allow” here. It seems to me that we must first allow Paul to speak for himself. As Paul is our earliest source, we should begin by trying to understand what he has to tell us about Christianity’s origins. Once we have done that, we can try to determine which other texts do or do not shed light on what Paul wrote, however, it should be a matter of demonstrating that they do rather than allowing them to do so.

  4. Interestingly the “keeping them honest” remark is said to be from Mark Goodacre. (I still have to catch up with / locate his podcast(s?) on mythicism/Wells.) And Mark is said to say something McGrath seems unable to accept himself:

    Mark Goodacre did that very thing recently in a podcast, emphasizing how mythicism is useful in keeping historical Jesus scholars honest, preventing us from treating a matter like Jesus’ existence as “settled” and then simply taking it for granted without ever returning to it.

    Does McGrath honestly accept that Jesus’ existence is not “settled” and that it cannot be taken for granted and that there is a case for regularly returning to the question? Or am I misreading what was said? Where is the original?

  5. CARR:
    There you are. Doherty does not allow ‘any other text to shed light on what Paul wrote’

    Of course, what McGrath means is that I will not allow scholars like him to read the Gospels into the epistles. During my brief foray into RationalSkepticism last year, Tim O’Neill (whom I would never grace with the label of “scholar”) famously pointed to the Gospels as ‘evidence’ that certain things were present in the epistles, or at least in the intentions of those who wrote them.

    Earl Doherty

    1. Earl,

      You use other texts to shed light on what Paul wrote, like Ephesians, Colossians, and the Ascension of Isaiah. I don’t know to what extent they are evidence of things present in Paul’s letters or his intentions, but don’t you use them as indications of such?

      Btw, I’m presently looking over your argument concerning “the rulers of this age” again, and I’m enjoying the thoughts you provoke.

    2. DOHERTY
      Of course, what McGrath means is that I will not allow scholars like him to read the Gospels into the epistles.

      CARR
      Gosh, aren’t people allowed to harmonise things anymore? Soon you’ll be saying the Gospels and the Epistles were written by different people who had different viewpoints.

      If Paul uses ‘paradidomi’ everywhere to mean ‘;handed over’ (usually by God) and the Gospels use ‘paradidomi’ to mean ‘betrayed’ (by a human), then we must allow the usage in the Gospels to shed light on what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, rather than allowing Romans 8 to shed light on what Paul meant by ‘paradidomi’.

      That is ‘ True Scholarship’,and nothing at all like crude harmonising of the accounts of Peter denying Jesus :-);

      1. This is what I’m noticing about the “rulers of this age” question. If Paul uses “rulers” to mean human rulers elsewhere (Rom. 13:3, 6), why use the deutero-Pauline Ephesians and Colossians (or the Ascension of Isaiah) to shed light on 1 Cor. 2:8?

        As for the question of Paul’s meaning of “this age,” why not look to 1 Cor. 1:20, where the wise man, scribe and “debater of this age” are types of people that exist in this world, or 1 Cor. 3:18, where he offers advice to “anyone among you [who] thinks that he is wise in this age,” instead of other literature.

        1. John I’m pretty sure that the noun in Rom 13 is not archons but some other term, whereas 1 Cor 2:8 uses the term archons. The important point here is that like words such as pleroma and gnosis, this word is laden with gnostic implications and is used to describe the heavenly entities that rule the earth in gnostic theory. Pagels speaks about this issue in her work on The Gnostic Paul thusly:

          Basilides explains Paul’s statement that “none of the archons of this age knew this” (2:8a) by saying that when the Great Archon (the Demiurge) heard the mystery of the divine Mother Sophia, who had brought forth and sustained his power while he ignorantly believed he was the sole “god of the universe,” he was “filled with terror and was silent.” Had the archons known this mystery, “they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (2:8b) for that crucifixion revealed symbolically the fall and restoration of Sophia.

          It is certainly possible that Paul used a term laden with gnostic symbolism to signify the rulers of the air, the prince of devils and the rulers of this age to mean some human being, but it is more likely that he used it in the way that other early Christians (the Gnostic Christians) used it.

            1. Ah, OK. Thanks for the correction, Tim. I’m not that great at reading Greek. Still, it seems well within the context of 1 Cor 2:8 to be referring to the gnostic idea even if Rom 13 is using the same word in another way, especially if we have ancient exegetes who agree with that reading..

              1. Another way that early Christians understood the concept behind 1 Cor. 2:8 (using the same word as Paul) was in an earthly sense:

                “I know that you acted in ignorance [when you killed Jesus], as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17).

                “[T]hose who live in Jerusalem and their rulers … did not recognize him, nor understand the utterances of the prophets … yet they asked Pilate to have him killed” (Acts 13:27-28).

                One could add to this the NT gospels. Even if they made everything
                up (to be a symbol or not), they present Jesus as being crucified on earth, by earthly rulers. I don’t know if they really believed this or not (or expected anyone else to), but this is what they say.

              2. Doherty’s book contains an approx 2,500 word discussion of the term covering wider NT (including Pauline and gospel) contextual considerations, wider cultural — Hellenistic and Jewish — understandings, what we learn of early Christian interpretations of Paul’s phrase through Ignatius, Tertullian/Marcion, Origen and other early Christian literature,

              3. Not trying to get into a ‘who had more words than who’ slugging match here, but my treatment on Paul, which includes a substantial discussion of the use of αρχον (especially since it isn’t a crucial part of my thesis in the contribution), is over 15,000 words and its about to be published academically. There is no doubt that Earl has useful things to say; it is unfortunate that he has not sent sections of his book, cut down into specific theses, to peer reviewed publishers.

  6. That’s very strange. I first got to McGrath’s ‘review of ch.10’ page by using the link near the beginning of Neil’s post about it, and then bookmarked it when I reached it. Now using the same link in Neil’s post, I get a “not found” notice, same as when I use my bookmark. All the rest of the pages on his site that I have previously visited and bookmarked I can reach OK.

  7. JOHN: This is what I’m noticing about the “rulers of this age” question. If Paul uses “rulers” to mean human rulers elsewhere (Rom. 13:3, 6), why use the deutero-Pauline Ephesians and Colossians (or the Ascension of Isaiah) to shed light on 1 Cor. 2:8?

    This is not the way to look at it. “Rulers” (archontes) is used in both senses in the general literature of Jews and pagans, including in the Pauline corpus. (E.g., Romans 13:3 for ‘earthly authorities’ and Ephesians 3:10 (the related archais) for ‘heavenly authorities’. The question then becomes, in those cases in which the particular meaning is not unmistakeable, how do we determine the meaning? One can’t say, just use the more common one, or the one the same writer usually uses. That would hardly be conclusive.

    For example, that Romans 13:3 usage praises the “rulers” for being God’s agents in the doing of good for the citizens; the innocent should have no fear of them. 1 Cor. 2:8 declares that Christ was crucified by the “rulers.” In light of that apparent contradiction, it would be unwise just to import the meaning of 13:3 into 2:8.

    And no problem is presented by 1 Cor. 1:20 or 3:18. You can hardly arbitrarily decide that here “aion” means “world,” so therefore it means “world” in 2:8. If Paul meant “of this world” why didn’t he say that, rather than “of this age”? “Age” is a time reference, “world” is a location. In using “aion” Paul seems to be referring to the present “age” of history, with all its evils and foolish wisdom, something which he regards as about to pass away; the language and context fits the idea of “age” just fine.

    I use the Ascension of Isaiah to shed light on Paul because of a commonality of ideas. There is actually more in common in regard to the crucifixion between Asc. Isa. and Paul than between the Gospels and Paul. My objection is that if the epistles lack virtually every Gospel feature, and even contradict what Paul says (or vice-versa), one cannot simply read Gospel elements into the epistles and interpret the latter in light of the former, overriding that void and those contradictions. That is what McGrath and O’Neill have declared permissible.

    By the way, is this breaking news, but I can’t raise McGrath’s latest review instalment. I just get the Matrix heading but a ‘not found’ notice! Can McGrath feel shame after all?

    1. I noted in another comment that “rulers” is used both ways in the NT, but more often to describe earthly rulers. Mark, for example, uses it in the demonic sense (3:22) and the earthly sense (10:42), but whether it is made up or not, or intended symbolically or not, he (and the other NT gospels) presents Jesus as being crucified on earth by humans.

      Ephesians 3:10 uses the word rulers in the cosmic sense, and implies that they had been ignorant of God’s wisdom, but it doesn’t say that they had anything to do with killing Jesus, so I don’t see the relevance to 1 Cor. 2:8. On the other hand, Acts 3:17 and 13:27-28 use it when referring to Jesus’ death and mention that they were ignorant, like 1 Cor. 2:8.

      Doherty: “… Romans 13:3 usage praises the “rulers” for being God’s agents in the doing of good for the citizens; the innocent should have no fear of them. 1 Cor. 2:8 declares that Christ was crucified by the “rulers.” In light of that apparent contradiction, it would be unwise just to import the meaning of 13:3 into 2:8.”

      I don’t see a contradiction. 1 Cor 2:8 says that “none of the rulers of this age understood” what Paul’s Jesus meant, “for if they had, they would not have crucified” him.

      Josephus says that John the Baptist was a “good man,” but he killed because it was feared that his words would inspire a revolt. This shows that, whatever Paul believed, one could be “good” and a threat to the authorities.

      Doherty: “And no problem is presented by 1 Cor. 1:20 or 3:18. You can hardly arbitrarily decide that here “aion” means “world,” so therefore it means “world” in 2:8. If Paul meant “of this world” why didn’t he say that, rather than “of this age”?”

      I said “of this age” for all three verses. Then I said that the wise man, the scribe and the debater of this age in 1 Cor. 1:20 “are types of people that exist in this world,” and that 3:18 addresses
      “anyone among you [who] thinks that he is wise in this age,” to suggest that perhaps “the rulers of this age” also existed in this world.

      But I grant that there is more than one way of understanding 1 Cor. 2:8, and one may be in ch.9 of the Ascension of Isaiah and another in Acts 3:17 and 13:27-28. I suppose it’s a question of dating them.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.