The Acts Seminar Report (Acts and Christian Beginnings) maintains that, contrary to the view that has long been widely held among biblical scholars, the author of Acts (with the routine caveats we call him Luke) did know and use the letters of Paul.
I begin with some comments by one of the Acts Seminar Fellows, Richard Pervo, in his 2006 work, Dating Acts, because thy sum up some of the apparent reasons scholars have traditionally rejected the idea that Luke knew (or used) the letters of Paul.
[Morton S.] Enslin states that rejection of Paul’s letters as a source for Acts was a result of the reaction against the Tübingen school and claims that this reaction became like its polar opposite, “une sort de these qui n’a pas besoin de demonstration,” [=”A type of thesis that requires no proof”] the “assured result of higher criticism.” (p. 54)
Scholars who have considered Luke to be primarily an historian have argued that he could not have known of the letters
because they would have clarify some issues and correct some errors. (p. 137)
Those who have seen him as a theologian have been able to argue that Luke’s Paul was so different from the Paul of the letters that Luke must have chosen not to use the letters
because they presented a different theology. (p. 137)
Pervo, however, was able to note that a growing appreciation of Luke as an author allows us to acknowledge that as a creative writer Luke was free to use or not use sources as he willed. Scholars have also come to increasingly accept that even as an ancient historian his purposes differed from those of modern historians.
I love Pervo’s conclusion, and I am sure Thomas Brodie (whose latest publication I have been blogging about) would, too:
That is to say that the question can no longer be dismissed by resorting to the shoulds and woulds that posit what Luke would have done and how he should have used Paul. Statements of this nature reveal what their proponents would do, but shed no light upon ancient practices in general or upon Lucan practice in particular. They are egocentric and anachronistic.
Especially painful for some has been the inevitable conclusion that, if Luke knew Pauline letters, he ignored them at some points and contradicted them at others. Why this experience should be more painful than it is with regard to the Gospel of Mark — which Luke also ignored at some points and contradicted more than once — is not perfectly clear, but there can be no doubt it has been a burden.
As Enslin says, “The common denial . . . that Luke knew or used the Pauline letters needs fresh consideration instead of automatic repetition.” As the followers of the Artemis of Ephesus allegedly learned (Acts 19:21-40), constant reiteration of a claim does not make it valid or effective. (pp. 54-55, my formatting and bolding, italics original)
So why would Luke have created such a different Paul from the one found in the letters? And why would he have used the letters to create that different Paul? I’ll return to that question at the end of this post.
It’s time to look at what the Acts Seminar says about the evidence. (It’s brief. I could not hope to cover Richard Pervo’s 100 pages of packed argument and illustrative tables here. I have posted a few detailed arguments, however, coincidentally by another who was a Seminar Fellow, Joseph B. Tyson: How Acts Subverts Galatians; Dating the Book of Acts, 6, late date reconsidered (Paul’s letters).)
Words Taken Out of Paul’s Mouth
Perry Kea introduces the position of the Acts Seminar: since the Seminar concludes that Acts was written in the early second century, the likelihood that Luke used Paul’s letters is increased, as some scholars such as William O. Walker have argued. (p. 11)
Kea points to Acts 15, the account of the Jerusalem Council, as an example of how Luke made use of the letters:
Paul describes this meeting from his point of view in Galatians 2:1-10. We read of the evident tensions between the different groups there.
Luke, however, masks over those differences. He begins by taking the essence of Paul’s defence of the Gentile mission and putting that message into the mouth of Peter. So in Acts 15 it is not Paul who makes the speech but Peter. Yet Peter’s words in Acts 15 are based on the ideas and key terms we read in Galatians 2.
In this way, Luke makes it appear that Paul’s views were shared by Peter (and the rest of the Jerusalem leadership). Walker’s study demonstrates that Luke does not follow Paul’s account slavishly, but rewrites it to serve his own literary and theological purposes. (p. 11)
In a later essay in the book, William Walker Jr adds his thoughts on this same point. He lists the following details of Paul’s words in Galatians that have been reassigned to Peter in Acts:
Like Paul, Peter (pages 116-17)
- claims his appointment as missionary to the Gentiles was by divine authority (Acts 15:7 and Gal 2:7-8)
- claims the bestowal of the Holy Spirit is validation of his ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 15:8 and Gal 3:2-5)
- proclaims salvation comes through faith (Acts 15:9 and Gal 2:16)
- attributes salvation to grace (Acts 15:11 and Gal 1:6, 15; 2:9)
- refers to the law as a yoke (Acts 15:10 and Gal 5:1)
- stresses divine impartiality (Acts 15:9 and Gal 2:6)
In this way, Walker explains, Luke manages
to “Paulinize” Peter — that is, to portray him as in essential agreement with Paul’s understanding of the gospel. (p. 117)
This appears to have been part of Luke’s effort to “rehabilitate” Paul who had a reputation (in the eyes of many Christians) of being an apostle for the heretics.
A Basket Case
(That header is taken from Richard Pervo’s discussion of the same passages in Dating Acts)
William O. Walker in the opening of his “cameo essay” writes that a growing number of scholars are now coming to accept that Luke knew at least some of Paul’s letters. The primary evidence buttressing this change of view
consists of numerous rather striking verbal parallels between specific passages in Acts and specific passages in the letters and, to a lesser extent, some significant substantive and ideational parallels. (p. 116)
(Parallels!? Anyone who dismisses Thomas Brodie’s or Dennis MacDonald’s works on parallels between New Testament writings and Old Testament or even Classical texts with the dismissive (and erroneous) label “parallelomania” must also dismiss all the arguments for the dependence of Acts upon the letters of Paul. Or maybe arguments for intertextuality are less threatening in the case of Acts and Paul.)
One noteworthy example: Acts 9:23-25 and 2 Corinthians 11:32-33
Let’s set them out here for easy reference.
23 And when many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel together to kill him:
24 but their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates also day and night that they might kill him:
25 but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket.
and 2 Corinthians 11:32-33
32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to take me:
33 and through a window was I let down in a basket by the wall, and escaped his hands.
Walker points out that the primary difference between the two accounts is the identity of Paul’s opponent. Was it the Jews or was it the governor?
Since Acts has a tendency to blame the Jews for all of Paul’s difficulties and to exonerate the civil authorities, Acts appears clearly to be secondary. Therefore Paul’s report in 2 Corinthians likely served as the source for Luke’s account of the same incident in Acts. (p. 116)
What, When and Why?
Walker also refers to Richard Pervo’s work, Dating Acts (referenced above), and points out that the evidence suggests that Luke knew not just one or two letters but an array of them that included the post-Pauline Colossians and Ephesians.
This suggests that Luke was familiar with a collection of letters. Such a collection most likely would not have existed until near the end of the first century or early second century . . . (p. 117)
The reason, Walker (and others) offer to explain why Luke would have used Paul’s letters in this way, is that apparently Luke wished to downplay any differences between Paul and Peter and the Jerusalem apostles generally. He apparently sought to claim Paul for an emerging “orthodoxy” and saw Paul’s letters as controversial and stumbling blocks to that goal.
Pervo concurs. He writes that Paul’s letters were well known and controversial. He even presents an analogy from American history. In order to unite the nation through the period 1900 to 1950 it was important that the virtues of Lee be highlighted and his flaws airbrushed away; and conversely for the generals of the victors, Grant and Sherman, to be painted as “dreadful villains”.
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24 thoughts on “Paul’s Letters As Sources for Acts (Acts Seminar Report)”
‘Scholars who have considered Luke to be primarily an historian have argued that he could not have known of the letters…’
Huh? Surely as an historian, Luke would have known of these letters. Unless he is one of these Biblical scholars who do history without any sources….
How come other Christians could read them and yet ‘scholars’ think the author of Luke/Acts was kept so much out of the loop that he never read these letters?
It’s related to scholars’ need to have Luke as a traveling companion to Paul, and therefore an “eyewitness” to the events he writes about. By imagining Luke this way, they authenticate Paul, Paul’s letters, Luke, and the early dates and authenticity of Luke-Acts. These strategies developed as apologetic reactions to the blasphemous Dutch Radicals.
It is remarkable to realize, once you step back and examine the big picture, that, just as Acts was written to counteract dissenters in the second century, so too has much 19th and 20th century scholarly effort been expended to counteract views that stray too far (and therefore threaten) orthodox views. I’m often reminded that nothing has changed in Christianity in 2,000 years. Once an imagined consensus establishes an orthodoxy, power must be maintained by intimidation and dismissal of dissenting views.
“Parallels!? Anyone who dismisses Thomas Brodie’s or Dennis MacDonald’s works on parallels between New Testament writings and Old Testament or even Classical texts with the dismissive (and erroneous) label “parallelomania” must also dismiss all the arguments for the dependence of Acts upon the letters of Paul. Or maybe arguments for intertextuality are less threatening in the case of Acts and Paul.”
It’s the good old Bible scholar two-step.
Parallels between books in the New Testament are all mutually-affirming evidence. They are “multiple attestations” of events, thus affirming their essential historicity. I lost count of the times Reza Aslan says “it appears in all four gospels” as some kind of definitive proof of an event in “Zealot.”
Parallels between books in the New Testament and non-Christian literature are irrelevant, because Biblical writers would never do anything like copy other writers when they have the Holy Spirit guiding them.
In response to Blood and Steven above, I could have included the telling remark by Richard Pervo in Dating Acts, p. 57:
-Has it?! I have long thought it obvious that Luke used Paul’s letters. I have never heard of the view that Luke did not use Paul’s letters. Perhaps I have not read enough on this matter to encounter this view.
It certainly has been widely held among the guild of critical scholarship. It is only in recent years that this view is being eroded. Richard Pervo can speak on page 52 of “Dating Acts” (2006) of “the established consensus that Luke did not use Paul’s letters” and devote eight pages to examining the history and reasons for this consensus and the anticipated objections to his contrary thesis.
“Pervo concurs. He writes that Paul’s letters were well known and controversial.”
But if Paul’s letters were so well known, then the audience of the author of Acts would also know about them and compare them with Acts, more so on the telling of common “events” (such as Paul’s first revelation, the “basket case”, Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion and the council of Jerusalem).
For the first visit event, Paul said he did not meet the apostles, except Peter and James; but Acts has Paul meeting and mingling with all of them. For the council, Paul said him and Barnabas dealt with only a few pillars, but in Acts, elders, apostles and believers (from the church of Jerusalem) participate in the council.
Furthermore, Paul mentioned his initial revelation about the Son came from God but in Acts, it is from Jesus, in three different versions.
How could “Luke” get away with that and risk Acts to be trashed because of the drastic huge embellishments and the clear-cut contradictions with the Pauline epistles, more so Galatians?
Sure, “Luke” took many liberties with the Markan material, but Mark’s gospel was not “signed” by its author, and with many “problems” (which caused “Luke” and others to write their own gospel). However doing the same on Paul and his epistles is hard to understand. It’s like saying: Paul was wrong and lying, because, when in Jerusalem, he met with all the apostles (first visit) and elders, apostles and believers of the Church here (at the council).
Furthermore, I find very strange Acts ignores Titus. Certainly that would fit Luke’s agenda to copy from Galatians that Titus, an uncircumcised Christian convert, would go to Jerusalem with Paul and not be requested circumcision. That would be a tacit approval by the church of Jerusalem that Gentile males do not have to be circumcised in order to be “in Christ”. But “Luke” missed on that!
I have not read Walker’s arguments but I have read Pervo’s (these are in greater depth than we find in Acts and Christian Beginnings) and I can assure you that your objections have been raised and addressed. Indeed, the argument for Luke’s use of Paul’s letters explained in part on the basis that the letters were well known to potential readers/hearers of Acts. But few believe the landscape was a simple black and white view of Paul’s letters. Other views and interpretations of Paul were being propagated, including through other letters claiming to be from him. The first time we hear of a collection of Paul’s letters we simultaneously hear that they are the subject of controversy and accusations of interpolations. They were subject to a variety of interpretations — and manuscript readings.
No doubt not everyone agreed with Acts when it first appeared anymore than everyone agreed that all letters claiming to be by Paul really were genuine. Believers today can find enough in Acts to reconcile with what they read in Paul so we need not be surprised if it was the same in the second century.
Whether you or anyone else agrees with those interpretations, or what Paul himself originally meant, is beside the point. We can all argue points where there are contradictions between Acts and Paul’s letters, but that does not change the fact that many have always found ways to reconcile their belief that both are “true”.
There are also scholarly arguments surrounding the omission of Titus — or his replacement by a Timothy character in Acts. Timothy was presented as a half-Jew who did not have to be circumcised but freely chose to be in order not to cause offence to other weaker brethren who were not as spiritually minded. Again, the question is not what Paul’s practice really was or what he really said, but what some people did (and even have ever since) reconciled him to be saying or doing.
Acts has been a powerful filter through which many have ever since read and interpreted the letters of Paul to mean something quite different from what we believe they truly say.
“The first time we hear of a collection of Paul’s letters we simultaneously hear that they are the subject of controversy and accusations of interpolations.”
When would that be and by whom?
“They were subject to a variety of interpretations — and manuscript readings.”
Wouldn’t that be only on theological and christological items?
OK, so if the Pauline corpus was then controversial, thought to be interpolated and with some letters (if not all) to be forgery, that would allow “Luke” to use these epistles as just material to be mined in order to create stories about Paul which would satisfy the author’s agenda; and open the way to any enhancements, embellishments, “corrections” and fiction in Acts on common elements with the Paulines about Paul’s story. That what I understood from you. Furthermore, that would explain why Acts never stated Paul wrote anything.
The fact that in the first part of the second century (and even after) writers were still making effort in order to produce pseudo-Pauline (as for the Pastorals) tells me that Paul’s name, and any letters allegedly by him, were valued in some communities. And because “Luke” was “high” on Paul, his letters would be well accepted among Luke’s community. And therefore too risky to contradict & differ on any items, such as christology, theology and how many apostles Paul met in Jerusalem.
That tells me, I dare to say it, “Luke” did not know about Paul’s epistles, nor his/her community.
Furthermore, at around that time, the prevailing idea had become: after the alleged resurrection/ascension the disciples of Jesus went immediately all over the known world in order to make converts (ref: extrapolated ending of gMark, Aristides, Justin Martyr, and (habit dies hard!) Irenaeus and Origen). Acts goes against that in a big & obvious way.
Again, the easy solution would be for Acts to be written earlier, and then, because of its flaws, comparison with Paul’s epistles and having non-disciples introducing Christianity all over, become quickly dormant (even if gJohn, Barnabas’ epistle and Papias, with latter the epistola apostolorum, gave indications they knew about it).
That would also explain: along the following centuries, Paul’s epistles (even the forged ones), with their interpolations, won and Acts was relegated to a minor role in obscurity:
John Chrysostom in his ‘Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles’, Homily I:
“To many persons this Book [‘Acts’] is so little known, both it and its author, that they are not even aware that there is such a book in existence.”
We first hear of the Pauline letter collection of in the context of the Marcionite controversy and dispute with the “proto-orthodox”. Second century.
Different views of Paul extended beyond even doctrinal questions. The Deutero-Paulines, The Acts of Paul, the Pastoral epistles, and Acts — each posits even different careers or life experiences of Paul.
Luke was creating a narrative to co-opt Paul for “orthodoxy”. He was re-writing Paul to gloss over his divisive reality and to show him as one who could rather be a figure of reconciliation — if only understood correctly. It was a “catholicizing” agenda. The letters were too controversial to be mentioned in this effort. Imagine him introducing Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the middle of his narrative: some readers would immediately stop following the plot and argue just like Bernard Muller that everything they are reading is wrong. So he writes about the Galatians events in a way that subverts the way many had long read the letter.
Acts was to provide a new framework for understanding Paul and through which his letters could be (re)interpreted. No-one is saying that everyone went along with Luke’s story. I am sure the “gnostic-leaning” Paul devotees rejected Acts outright. But many others clearly did accept Acts and have ever since, and they have indeed interpreted Paul’s letters through Acts. Luke’s success is still with us today in the church. Of course not everyone agrees but enough do.
How do you mean to convey your expression “Good theory?” You sign off “cordially” but I wonder if you are being sarcastic. If you want to be sarcastic then say so and don’t waste my time. If you really want to understand another point of view, something new, then demonstrate it, before you disagree with or scoff at it.
Your “too risky” argument is invalid. It’s just a lot of what what you think Luke “would” or “should” have done. As Pervo says, such an argument is “egocentric and anachronistic”. You’re very busy raising invalid objections before you even know the arguments. Besides, what’s this “Pauline community”. There is no evidence for any such singular thing.
As for your “prevailing idea” and what “would have happened”, you are missing the point. Of course there were different ideas floating around about all sorts of things. That’s the whole point of writing something new that tries to co-opt, correct, etc. If you are going to another “Luke would/should have” or “Luke would not have done this” etc. . . . see above.
Your “Luke would/would not have done X” etc is only repeating the fallacy addressed in the original post. Sure such reasoning “tells you what Luke would have done” — which means, really, what YOU would have done if you were Luke.
You are satisfied with your explanation and I’m happy to leave you with that. So let’s agree to disagree.
Or if you wish to try to understand reasons why others argue as they do BEFORE mounting your objections and arguing your own view, I’d enjoy the exchange much more.
Neil, the Rev. Robert Taylor, in his “Diegesis” from a coupla hundred years ago, suggests that “Luke”, the “doctor”, was actually a member of the Therapeut community of Alexandria (Egypt), that Luke’s identification as a doctor was synonymous with that group, enough to identify him as one of them. Do you have any opinion or perspective on that scenario?
Also, since I don’t know a better place to bring this up, the right Rev. Taylor mentions Melito of Sardis, a 3rd Century CE Christian bishop, who clarified that not only had Christians not been persecuted by Rome, but that what was being referred to as Christianity originated in the barbarian nations, perhaps to the East but definitely not in Judaea as the Christian mythology claims, and predated the supposed Jesus by more than a decade at the very least. The relevant passage is below:
“(T)he good bishop (Melito of Sardis) claims the patronage of the emperor for the Christian religion, which he calls our philosophy, “on account of its high antiquity, as having been imported from countries lying beyond the limits of the Roman empire, in the reign of his ancestor Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE), who had found its importation ominous of good fortune to his government.” An absolute demonstration this, that Christianity did not originate in Judea, which was a Roman province, but really was an exotic oriental fable, imported about that time from the barbarians, and mixed up with the infinitely mongrel modifications of Roman piety, till it outgrew the vigour of the stock on which it had been engrafted, and so came to give its own character entirely to the whole system.”
I’m sure you’ve addressed this somewhere on this site – would you be so kind as to direct me? Thanks!
I do not know of any reason since the publication of Henry Cadbury’s “The Style and Literary Method of Luke” (1920) to associate Luke with the medical profession. His conclusion seemed conclusive: the medical expressions found in Luke’s works are no more distinctive than the same types of terms found in any other writer.
Nor do I know if we can be absolutely sure that there ever was a Therapeutae community in Alexandria or if they are nothing more than the product of Philo’s idealistic imagination. (Compare Plato who justified the philosophical lie to teach virtues.)
So any suggestion that Luke belonged to the group I consider to be speculation upon speculation. Possible but we simply don’t know and can’t say. Besides I am of the view that the Gospel of Luke and Acts as we know them today were the products of a mid-second century author whom questionable tradition has named “Luke” — the name possibly being selected because of its function in one of the Pastoral epistles.
As for Rev. Taylor’s claims about the sayings of Melito of Sardis, I have learned to make it a rule to always consult sources (both secondary and primary) for myself and never rely upon the say-so of even the most venerable of theologians or biblical scholars. The words of Melito of Sardis (2nd century) are translated as:
I don’t know how to interpret that off-hand. I would need to check the meaning and usage of the word “barbarians”. Does it refer to any non-Greek? Are there other translations to compare the wording of this one — in other words what does the original text as we have it say? (I have taken the above text from http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/melito.html )
In other words, I would do all I can to test its meaning against the tradition as we know it before concluding that it means something akin to Taylor’s interpretation. It may be there is something “suspicious” in the fragment we have that does contradict the received tradition. But I can’t be sure till I do the sort of homework on it that I suggest here.
As for the question of persecution, yes, definitely. I have read enough to know that Melito is stating something much closer to the facts than most Christians would like to believe. Systematic persecutions against Christians were very infrequent and generally of brief duration. It’s another of those topics I would like to blog about one day. So many topics to cover . . . . .
So many still present “Luke” as a “doctor.” I think it’s to give an authoritative veneer to those texts, frankly, because being a “doctor” is even today strongly associated with being both educated and respected within society. How could someone like that NOT tell the absolute truth? Who could be so vile as to disbelieve the accounts of such an esteemed person?
Are there really no other sources on the Therapeuts than Philo? I was surprised to find that a short blurb in Josephus was our only early source for John the Baptist – Josephus is not the most reliable of sources, either. It’s almost enough to prompt one to throw up one’s hands in despair.
As per Melito of Sardis, I agree – I always check for myself as well. However, the extract I provided was consistent in its facts with the one from earlychristianwritings (though I prefer the wording of earlychristianwritings, truth be told).
My feeling is that what became Christianity came from the Ptolemies of Egypt, who were using the “chi-rho”, said to be Constantine’s standard based on his whatever-the-heck-it-was “Christian vision” on the battlefield, since, what, the 200s or 300s BCE? Back then, the people’s religion was based on the ruler’s religion. We see that as far back as the Edicts of Ashoka and Cyrus of Persia – the ruler set the tone for the entire populace. So if you could persuade the ruler to convert to something, you had the whole ball of wax. So, naturally, the goal was to convert Constantine, and to some degree, this was effective – Constantine yanked all state support from all the other religions, giving state money only to the Christians (which assuredly put the other religions out of business, which I think people don’t appreciate enough – it’s a huge effect). When Augustine supposedly went over to Kent to convert beautiful blond boys for the newly Poped Gregory the Great (he of the creepy “They’re not Angles – they’re ANGELS!” observation) a coupla hundred years later, he went straight to King Æthelbert of Kent – no wasting time or effort on the useless and uninfluential hoi polloi! So religions propagated from ruler to ruler – top down, not bottom up (as we are more accustomed to, living in a democracy). The monarchies found Christianity entirely useful, providing justification as it did for kings to rule as they saw fit, unquestioned and unquestioningly obeyed by all the people, a concept repeated throughout the Christian scriptures. Good reason to make sure all the people were Christians, what?
In 5th Century presbyter Salvianus of Marseilles’ scathing comments about Christians, he describes wealthy debauchers who were cross-pollinating with native pagan religion (Coelestis worship), as we would expect if the ruling class was the actual Christian community (playing follow-the-leader per Constantine’s lead) instead of the poor and powerless believing wholeheartedly and devoutly (and subversively) as Christian mythology would have us believe.
“For I question the conscience of all Christian men. Of the crimes and offences which we have here enumerated, how many men are there of whom it can be said that he is not guilty of one of them, or perhaps of all? You will more readily find a man who offends in all than one who offends in none.
For who among slaves has troops of concubines, who is polluted by the stain of many wives, and after the manner of dogs or swine holds so many to be his wives as he has been able to subject to his lust?” – Salvian(us) of Marseilles
I think the first to raise the possibility that the Therapeutai are a philosophical fiction (at least in modern scholarship) was Troels Engberg-Pedersen in 1999 (“PHILO’S DE VITA CONTEMPLATIVA AS A PHILOSOPHER’S DREAM” in Journal for the Study of Judaism: In the Persian Hellenistic & Roman Period. Feb99, Vol. 30 Issue 1). He concludes:
Interesting. How widely has his Therapeuts-as-philosophical-fiction hypothesis been accepted? Taylor, writing 200 years ago, posits that the Therapeuts were the first Christians, if memory serves! I’ll re-read his thoughts and update later. Something I have noticed in reading Diegesis is that Taylor appears to have far more sources – classical, medieval, and just old – at his fingertips than seem to be readily available today. The Church put out the light in the Dark Ages by destroying texts (a favorite Christian approach to knowledge since the very beginning – see Acts 19:19), and I believe that this approach has never really gone out of style. We see Christian attempts to stifle inquiry and rational examination and any challenge to Christian racism/bigotry/narrow-mindedness/closed-mindedness all the time, whether it’s threatening to boycott a company that uses a known/openly gay person as a model or spokesperson, or threatening to boycott movies, or attempting to get books banned from schools and libraries, or simply mounting a calumny campaign that seeks to so destroy a person’s reputation that no one will pay any attention to that person’s perspective (the Christians hope). It’s insidious and bullying, frankly. If someone with a high enough profile (case in point: Richard Dawkins) makes statements Christians don’t like the sound of, they set about trying to ruin his reputation, and no rules of fairness or polite behavior apply. They even attack their own, as when megachurch pastor Rob Bell published his book “Love Wins”, basically saying that “hell” doesn’t exist. Blasphemy!! The fact that nonbelievers are now the only minority that it is considered politically acceptable to discriminate against, and that atheists are the most hated of all minorities in the US, shows the dangerous levels of bigotry that Christians condone and even promote. I have found the older sources, both Christian and non, eye-opening, in that what they recount is virtually unknown to me, even though I’ve read widely about Christian history. It’s like they’ve virtually disappeared. For example, why do Christians and churches not promote learning about the early church fathers Justin Martyr and Theophilus of Antioch? Oh, wait – I know – it’s because they say things that make Christians extremely uncomfortable! All the more reason to brush them under the rug (and then jump up and down on the lumps until they collapse into greasy puddles of goo). End of rant >:(
I don’t know that it’s universally accepted as a definite fact. But I certainly believe it is very likely on the strength of Troels E-P’s arguments.
I’m not in the U.S. as you probably know so I can’t really relate to the U.S. scene re atheists and Christians there. In Australia there’s nothing odd or wrong with being an atheist. Religion and churches don’t have the same clout here. (Several of our Prime Ministers in my time have been atheists and no one except a few fundamentalists really cares. I am sure most of us would be pretty alarmed if a Prime Minister ever started publicly talking about God and prayer the way U.S. Presidents seem to do.)
I used to be in some sort of fighting mode against churches and Christianity but it didn’t last very long. Maybe it’s much easier to ignore them here. But more than that, I tend to have empathy for believers given that I myself was one of them for so long. When people are ready they’ll rethink their positions and learn new things and move on.
Hello, Bernard, if you’re still lurking about. With regard to the Pauline letters, I read in David Trobisch’s “Paul’s Letter Collection” that there are about 800 early copies still extant. This is an enormous number of copies, you’ll agree – a wealth of information. And every one is different from every other, sometimes significantly, and the differences can’t be explained by the simple fact that they were copied by hand (and mistakes will be made during that process – “scribal blunders”). In fact, Trobisch goes so far as to state that “there probably is not a single verse of the letters of Paul that has the same wording in all surviving manuscripts”. So how are we to tell which is closest to the original, and which are “enhancements, embellishments, ‘corrections’ and fiction” as you stated? We can’t even determine what the original text contained, so how should we go about determining which accounts, as they are presented today, have any resemblance to original texts, to say nothing of original events and accounts?
I’ll restate the obvious – no originals exist. None at all. Therefore, we have no originals to compare the copies to in order to determine what the original wording was. We have to guess – that’s as reliable as the existing process is. Don’t let anybody snow you with claims of great insight or even divine revelation! What we’ve got is a bunch of people agreeing with each other and slapping each other on the back because they like their translation/explanation. So what?
We must also regard this information in view of the fact that the languages they were written in are even more “dead” to us than Chaucer’s English. Try to read “Canterbury Tales” without notes some time – good luck! And that’s less than 700 years old! Remember – we’re talking about texts that are at least TWICE that old. Or, better yet, look up old recipes, such as from medieval times (you can read some of these on godecookery.com). Here is an example:
“Tart de brymlent. Take fyges & raysouns, & waisshe hem in wyne, and grinde hem smale with apples & peres clene ypiked. Take hem vp and cast hem in a pot wiþ wyne and sugur. Take calwer samoun ysode, oþer codlyng oþer haddok, & bray hem smal, & do þerto white powdours & hoole spices & salt, & seeþ it. And whanne it is sode ynowgh, take it vp and do it in a vessel, and lat it kele. Make a ciffyn an ynche depe & do þe fars þerin. Plaunt it above with prunes damysyns: take þe stones out; and wiþ dates quartered and piked clene. And couere the coffyn, and bake it wel, and serue it forth.”
THAT is from the 14th century. Here is one from the 13th Century:
“Poume d’oranges. Ceo est une viaunde ke est apelé pomme de oranges. Pernez char de porc, ne mye trop gras ne trop megre, e festes couper creu, e festes braer en un morter, e metez dedenz le moel de l’oef cru; e pernez le bro, si festes boiller; e puys pernez le blaunc de l’oef e oyngnez vos meinz; e puys pernez hors la char e festes roundes soelez cume oingnun, taunt come vos volez, e festes boiller en cel bro; e puys pernez les hors e metez chescun parmy une broche ke nul ne tuche autre; e puys metez au feu pur rostir; e pernez deus esqueles, e metez le blaunc en une esquele e le moel, e festes oyndre les poumes kaunt it sunt charnis parmy; e pernez sucre e jetez desus kaunt il sunt tret hors de la broche; e puys dressez.”
What a difference a hundred years, give or take, makes. Those are BOTH recipes from England, in case you were confused. (Some 85% of our English words come from French, which is badly pronounced Latin – thank the Norman conquest.) One of the problems in translating these is that some of the ingredients are a mystery – we no longer understand what the words used referred to, so the translators must guess. Do we even have these herbs and seasonings any more, or have the plants they were derived from gone extinct? Who knows? It’s the same with the biblical texts and their contemporaries – there are even terms, such as “hapax legomenon”, for a word that occurs only one time in the entire Bible. (An example is the kind of wood that was used by the supposed Noah to build his supposed ark – no one has any idea what kind of wood Noah was supposed to use.) Without enough examples of it in use, there is no real way of determining what, precisely, it meant, and translators must make their best guesses. (How close is a modern person’s guess going to be, given the modern worldview, in communicating the thoughts and ideas of such primitive people?) There are also “dis legomena”, “tris legomena”, and “tetrakis legomena”, words that only occur twice, thrice, or four times in the entire Bible, respectively. Also, even when there are words used more frequently, we can’t know if they were used in the context we understand them today. Would we recognize a 2nd or 3rd Century cliché or play on words whose meaning and usage have been lost? There are already plenty of apparent puns scattered throughout the Gospels – we have no idea how much we’re missing since no one speaks those languages.
Even Hebrew was a dead language from around 200 CE until the 19th Century, at which time it was revived, using the Bible as the basis for the lexicon, with all the problems I described in the paragraph above. Orphan words and phrases? Definitions and translations were assigned, somebody or other’s best guess. Is it accurate? Who knows?? All we know is that the results serve the needs of those who use them. And that in itself should give us reason to look quite carefully at claims of authoritativeness, accuracy, and the “real meaning”. There is none, not any more.
I might draw your attention to Pervo’s point about the thrust of your objections:
There was a long and relatively well informed angst free logical and evidence based discussion on whether Lucy had or had not read Paul on either FRDB or its parent IIDB way back then.
The major proponent of the yes case was a prominent poster of the time, but I forget who exactly, maybe Layman.
It was a good thread and should be there in the archives but unfortunately they are I believe unavailable.
Just got the book yesterday, and I’m already devouring it. Very well written.
I hope you can help me, though. A lot of the papers are published in a journal by the name of Forum, and that, frankly, is the least useful name ever. I haven’t been able to find that journal anywhere. Can you give me a link or ISSN?
(Cute new captcha, by the way.)
Sure. See http://www.westarinstitute.org/resources/forum/
Thanks. Now I feel stupid. But no surprise my uni didn’t have access to it.
Nah. I had trouble myself at first trying to locate it. As you said, “Forum” is the most useless title for a journal. And even once it eventually occurred to me to check the Westar site itself — the bib details in the book give no indication that that’s where one should look — it still took some digging to locate it and further email correspondence to locate the particular article I was looking for. (I finally came to suspect that the Westar site and their set up are a small outfit run by part-timers.)