Category Archives: New Testament

The First Gospel: History or Apocalyptic Drama?

We know about the demons disturbing the peace in the Gospel of Mark, how they scream out when they see Jesus entering a synagogue or crossing a lake. But what if those fiends are but the tip of the iceberg and that in fact the gospel tells of a conflict between innumerable demonic beings behind the scenes on the one hand and Jesus on earth on the other. Such a possible interpretation of the Gospel of Mark came to me while following footnote byways in my study into Paul’s reference to the “rulers of this age” crucifying the “Lord of Glory” (see box insert at end of this post).

from Apocalipsis cu[m] figuris, Nuremburg: 1498, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
If so, then the Gospel of Mark perhaps deserves to be shelved alongside stories like the Book of Daniel or even the Book of Revelation rather than beside genuine histories as some students of the Bible believe it should be.

Jesus the Conspiracy Theorist

The first swallow to arrive with this news about Mark left me sceptical about the onset of summer. Here is the message it brought:

Mark 10:42

But Jesus calling them, saith to them: You know that they who seem to rule over the Gentiles, lord it over them: and their princes have power over them. (Douay-Rheims)

An equally adequate translation would be, “those who are thought to rule over the nations”. See δοκέω (dokeó) for other uses of the word.

Matthew and Luke did not like the way Mark put it so they changed his wording to “those who rule”. Surely Mark could have said the same if that’s what he meant.

Is there anything else in the Gospel of Mark that might shed light on what Mark (I’ll speak of him as the author of the gospel) was thinking when he wrote that? Here we might pause to recollect that Mark makes considerable use of the Book of Daniel and in that book we read about earthly potentates being somewhat like the shadows following the warring angelic powers in heaven. Daniel 10:20, for instance, explains that the earthly fates of Persia and Greece follow the contest between Gabriel and the angelic powers set over those peoples.

So does Mark 10:42 alert us to a picture of angelic powers above being the real powers over earthly emperors and kings?

Next point.

The Devil You Don’t See

We know that Mark had Jesus speak in parables and that even his entire gospel may have been a parable if we concur with scholars such as Mary Ann Tolbert. In Mark 4 Jesus is found speaking in parables so that only his select few could truly understand what he was saying and to hide his meaning from the outsiders. Given that function of the parables, note the first three parables in the gospel. They are all about Satan and his demons acting upon people on this earth.

In Mark 4:13 Satan is the one who seals the fate of the unbelievers. It is not their own doing.

In Mark 3:27 Jesus teaches through parable that he must first overpower Satan in order to save humans now in his clutches.

And immediately prior to that parable he spoke another one about the ruling kingdom of Satan over this world.

Let’s go back further.

Through the Wormhole

When Jesus emerges from baptism he sees heavens being torn open and he hears a voice coming from there. We are to imagine no one else around him sees or hears any of this. Jesus alone is able to see and hear this “parallel world” right alongside ours. This experience is followed by a spirit “casting him out” into the wilderness. Jesus is not in control but he is being compelled by a spirit to go and face Satan. After he overcomes the temptations there angels come and care for him.

Then the demons in those possessed recognize him and know he has come to torment them and remove them from their power over humanity.

And then we had Jesus for a moment directly communicating with that other world, becoming half earthling and half divinity at the transfiguration. On the mountain top it appears for a moment he was actually both in that world and this one, in a doorway between the two, so to speak.

Jesus was “tested” in the wilderness and he continued to be “tested” throughout his time leading up to the crucifixion. The same word is used for scribes and others, even his followers, testing him with their hopes to trap him or their lack of faith in him. It is how the Greek language Book of Job described what Satan did to Job. By now we know where these tests are ultimately coming from.

Perhaps Mark 10:42 is starting to look more like an allusion to the demonic rulers behind the scenes after all.

But we need to study the climax of the gospel and not just its beginning.

Apocalypse Now

For Mark the crucifixion of Jesus was an apocalpytic event. That means it was a turning point in history. Apocalypticism conveys the idea that here and now only a handful of chosen ones have had the real picture of what’s happening revealed to them. The rest of the world lies in the darkness of ignorance. The elect few are the recipients of divine revelation. That revelation reveals the workings of heavenly powers and their plans for the nations. Recall the Books of Daniel and Revelation where the chosen ones are shown the mysteries of divine and other angelic beings and what they are doing now and what they are about to do that will mean catastrophe for many and salvation for a few.

As an apocalyptic event the crucifixion of Jesus wreaked the destruction of the demonic powers — at least the beginnings of that destruction. Their powers would be totally annulled at the coming of Jesus Christ in glory, as per Mark 13. But the process has begun now. The demons are being beaten back by the faithful through the protection of the heavenly Jesus. The coming of Jesus in glory is only a short time away.

Apocalyptic events come with apocalyptic signs. It happens unexpectedly when the faithful have fallen asleep. Sinners flee and hide. The sky turns dark at noon. Each hour is announced as the next event is announced that brings us closer to the climax. There is silence before a great shout. Even the veil hiding the Holy of Holies in the Temple will be torn by angelic powers from top to bottom, signalling that at that moment all who believe have access directly to God the Father. Gentiles see and glorify God.

That is how Mark described the crucifixion of Jesus. He even hinted at it in similar terms in his “little Apocalypse” of Mark 13. The apocalyptic language and imagery of Mark’s crucifixion scene is not full blown with the sky falling in and the moon turning red it is certainly “foot in the door” apocalyptic. One may think the author represents the death of Jesus as but the beginning of the wholesale apocalypse.

Real History with a Few Embellishments or Apocalyptic Drama to the Core?

Mark’s story can surely be read as an apocalyptic drama. The Son of God comes from heaven to take on the world of Satan and his demons and to free humanity from their powers.

One regularly hears how the Gospel of Mark is, unlike the Gospel of John, very “prosaic”, very “history-like” or “biographical” in its presentation of Jesus. We have addressed reasons to dispute this interpretation in the past and we do so again with this present post.

–o0o–


Garrett, Susan R. 1998. Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans.

Marcus, Joel. 1984. “Mark 4:10-12 and Marcan Epistemology.” Journal of Biblical Literature 103 (4): 557–74.

Robinson, James M. 1977. The Problem of History in Mark. London: SCM Press.


Paul’s “Rulers of this Age” — Conclusion (Part ?)

Is this really the concluding post? No doubt I will find more reasons over time to add to the arguments.

Earlier posts in this series:

    1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
    2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
    3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
    4. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”
    5. More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers
    6. Once more on the “Spiritual Rulers” in Paul’s Cosmic Drama

(Addendum: “Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH” – according to ancient sources and modern analysis)

–o0o–

Here we return to the arguments of Robert Ewusie Moses [REM] in favour of the Paul’s “rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of Glory” being spirit powers.

Argument #1: Context

I have had several people try to convince me that “rulers of this age” has to refer to human rulers because in the preceding chapter and more Paul has been talking exclusively about the divide between human and godly wisdom. Yes, he has. But it does not follow that he will not shift into a higher gear in 1 Cor. 2:6.

The first reason REM offers for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being a reference to demon rulers is that the term would be “arbitrary and redundant” if it was speaking about human rulers. Recall that Paul has already (in the preceding “paragraphs” leading up to 1 Cor 2:6) made it very clear that “earthlings” — sages, scribes, philosophers, all the wise of this world — cannot and never could understand the “wisdom of God”. Had Paul said “none of the wisest persons on earth could understand God’s wisdom, and not only those wisest of all, but even our rulers, too!” — no, it would not work. Most subjects are discreet about it but they snickeringly know that their Herods and Pilates and Caiaphases are not really all that bright no matter how powerful they are. Paul has prior to 2:6 made it clear that the lowly believers are privy to a wisdom beyond the very wisest of this world.

What Paul is doing here is furthering the crescendo: not only the wisest of humans but even “the rulers of this age who are even right now in the process of being disemboweled.” Woops, disemboweling cannot apply to demons, surely, but Paul used another word that means being sapped of all power, being rendered inoperative”. The rulers of this age, Paul said, are in the process right now of being conquered. Later, in chapter 15, he will refer to a time in the future when that conquest will be complete (see point #2).

So, the logic of Paul’s argument goes like this:

  1. not only all the wisest men on earth
  2. but even those powers that rule this age and who are in the process of right now being conquered by Christ with God’s angels
  3. are bereft of the wisdom of God.

The implication here is that these rulers of this age

  • would be expected to have superior knowledge but they don’t
  • would be expected to have superior power but they are in the process right now of losing that power
  • would be expected to be immortal — though if so, the status of that immortality is now in doubt

It is no coincidence, suggests REM, that “superior knowledge”, “superior power” and “immortality” are the three attributes that define “gods” in the Greco-Roman world.

Argument #2: Rulers are now being disempowered

Let’s look again at that detail about the rulers of this age currently losing their power and becoming inoperative. The verb Paul uses is καταργέω (katargeo). He uses the same verb again in 15:24 but this time to describe a past action, something has been completed.

then the end, when He shall hand over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He shall have annulled all dominion, and all authority and power.

When we read that chapter it is evident that Paul is talking about all powers in both earth and heaven. In 1 Cor 2:6 Paul uses the present passive participle of the verb καταργέω to depict an event currently underway. REM returns to the insight of Dibelius who pointed out that Paul cannot be saying that “the High Priest, Herod, and Pilate” are in the process of losing their power. Paul’s words only make sense of the battle between spirit powers that will culminate in total victory for Christ at the end.

Believers are already the bearers of a revelation that the cross was the site of the powers’ demise; but the powers are still at work in the world, though believers know that their days are numbered, for they are being rendered inoperative.

(REM, p. 134)

Argument #3: Apocalyptic passing of ages

Note, further, that the wisdom that the rulers of this age are ignorant of has been hidden in a mystery since even before “this age” began. And the reason it was hidden till now? Answer: For the unique glory of the believers.

As noted by Clifton Black, these are apocalyptic terminologies that portray the death of Jesus as an apocalyptic event, the turning point of the ages. For Paul, then, the advent of Christ is the decisive moment in history which ushers in a new age and, in turn, sets in motion the gradual fading out of the old cosmos (1 Cor 7:33).

(REM, p. 134)

Up till 1 Cor 2:6 Paul is clearly addressing human wisdom. He speaks of human reversal so that the low-class people become exalted in God’s eyes above the powerful “in the flesh”. read more »

Once more on the “Spiritual Rulers” in Paul’s Cosmic Drama

Posts in this series:

  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
  3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
  4. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”
  5. More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers

–o0o–

Paul foresees the crushing of every spiritual ruler who has been against God in 1 Corinthians 15:24-26

24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed every ruler (ἀρχὴν), every authority (ἐξουσίαν) and power (δύναμιν). 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is Death.

But where did he get that idea? Matthew Black has proposed that there was an early Christian “meme” (as we might say today) — more correctly a “pesher” or “interpretation” — that combined Psalm 110:1 with Daniel 7:13ff.

Psalm 110:1

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

Daniel 7:13-14, 27

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. . . .  27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

Compare Mark 14:62 where these two passages are again intertwined:

62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Who are these rulers in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians? If we interpret Paul’s words in the context of related documents in that general time period we are likely to conclude they are angelic rulers. Notice:

Ephesians 1:20-21

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet. . .

Those powers over whom Christ rules appear to be in the heavenly places.

1 Peter 3:22

Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

That surely seals it. Yes, the angels and authorities and powers in those heavens are all subject to him.

Guy Williams in his published thesis comments

So, then, this forms an early Christian (perhaps, ‘mythical’) narrative. Certain angelic powers are assumed somehow to have become estranged from and hostile towards God, thus making their eventual defeat a part of the new Christian message. (p. 134)

So we come to the last name listed by Robert Ewusie Moses to represent the “immense” “scholarly literature” favouring the position that the rulers of this age in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 are in fact spiritual, not human, powers.

Guy Williams, 2009

Williams, Guy. 2009. The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostle: A Critical Examination of the Role of Spiritual Beings in the Authentic Pauline Epistles. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Guy Williams

We are moving well beyond the “what they used to say” era but I include Williams’ viewpoint here because it is the last cited by Robert Ewusie Moses of the “immense” “scholarly literature” favouring the position that the rulers of this age are spiritual powers.

Williams summarizes five reasons for viewing the rulers of this age as “angelic and spiritual rulers”, not human powers, “although the influence of human powers is not unrelated to this idea.” (p. 136)

(a) it is the earliest known interpretation of these verses, [Ignatius (Eph 18-19); Marcion (Tertullian, Marc 5.6.5) and Ascension of Isaiah (11:24)]

(b) the verb used here (καταργέω – meaning ‘destroy’, ‘nullify’) refers to the destruction of angelic ἀρχαὶ by Christ in 15.24 – a highly suggestive parallel,

(c) the rulers are ignorant of the wisdom which God “established before the ages – a point of some relevance to immortal angels, but meaningless in connection with humans,

(d) the rulers are presently being destroyed, an assertion which might fit with angelic rulers but not with Herod and Pilate, who died long before Paul’s letter was written, and

(e) Paul writes specifically of “the rulers of this age“, suggesting a narrative of cosmic conflict between certain powers of evil and Christ (cf Gal 1.4; 2Cor 4.4; also Eph 2.2; Ascen. Isa. 2.4). In early Christian tradition, the ‘current age’ is most commonly associated with the rule of Satan and his subordinates.

These arguments suggest that this text is similar in scope to 1 Cor 15.24 and Col 2.15.

(p. 137, my formatting and bolding; italics original)

read more »

5. More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
  3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
  4. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”

(Related topic: “Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH”. . . . )

–o0o–

1 Corinthians 2:6-10

(6) But we speak wisdom among the perfect, wisdom which does not belong to this age nor to the rulers of this age, who are being destroyed. (7) But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God foreordained betöre the ages with a view to our glory. (8) This wisdom none of the rulers of this age knew, for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
(9) But as it is written: ‘Things which eye has not seen nor ear heard, which did not enter into the heart of man, things which God has prepared for those who love him’. (10) But to us God has revealed (these things) through the Spirit.

Translation by Judith Kovacs (see below)

(Contrary to what I learned years ago in a certain church, in Kovacs view, the new revelation of verses 9-10 refers to the cross as the pivotal turning point in history and the grand cosmic drama: from the that moment on the hidden ruling powers of this age were in the process of being conquered and humanity would soon be released from their clutches and this evil age would pass away.)

–o0o–

Charles Kingsley Barrett, 1968, 1971

Barrett, C. K. 1971. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 2nd ed.. Black’s New Testament Commentaries. London: Black. p. 70-72

C.K. Barrett

C.K. Barrett saw the same “rulers of this age” being condemned in

  • John 12:31  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
  • John 14:30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me
  • John 16:11 the prince of this world now stands condemned.

The wisdom that these rulers do not know is the wisdom of this “evil age” (Gal 1:4), a wisdom that sets itself against God. As far as men are concerned it is a “man-centred” wisdom (as Paul has discussed in the preceding passages). Yes, it is a human wisdom, but….

He calls the evil powers ‘archontas‘. If these themselves were ignorant how much more were also the men by the intermediary of whom the demons crucified the Lord.” —

Héring, Jean. 1962. The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. Translated by A. W. Heathcote and P. J. Allcock. Epworth Press. p.16

But more than men are concerned. It is the wisdom of the rulers of this age (compare verse 8; and 2 Cor. iv. 4). Paul, like very many of his contemporaries, conceived the present world-order to be under the control of supernatural beings, often represented by or identified with the planets, or other heavenly objects. These (except in so far as the power of God was available to overthrow or hold them in check) controlled the destiny of men. The wisdom they themselves entertained, and perhaps communicated to men, was naturally of the kind described. (p. 70)

Paul understood that these rulers were in the process of “being brought to nothing”.

Up until now I have made much of the difference between the hidden wisdom being about God’s plan for salvation through the cross on the one hand and the identity of Jesus as God’s Son and Christ by whom salvation was to be wrought. So I find myself pulled up when I read C.K. Barrett writing:

None of the rulers of this age . . . knew . . . this true, divine wisdom. Either: they did not understand God’s plan for the salvation of the world, based as it was on the cross; or: they did not recognize Christ crucified as the agent chosen by God for the world’s salvation. These two interpretations are distinguishable, but the difference between them is not great. (p. 71)

Of course, Christ is himself the wisdom of God according to 1 Cor. 1:24 and 1:30.

Barrett treats the “rulers of this age” as the supernatural powers controlling the events of this age, at least up till the time of the crucifixion, but acknowledges that a few others at that time differed. One of these was J. B. Lightfoot who held them to be earthly rulers such as Pilate and Caiaphas. Barrett responds:

This view is possible in verse 8 but much less likely in verse 6; and the gospels represent the ministry, and not least the death, of Jesus as a record of conflict with supernatural powers. On this question, see Héring, . . . . Man may, however, properly recognize himself in the inability of the world-rulers to see God’s wisdom in the cross. (p. 72)

We have seen this argument before, that the gospels, or at least the gospel of Mark, presents Jesus’ conflicts on earth as a contest between supernatural powers. When we do turn to Héring as Barrett suggests we find the source of Barrett’s own understanding of “rulers of this age”.

To understand these verses we must first ask who are the ‘rulers of this age’ (‘hoi archontes tou aionos toutou“). With Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia and in contradistinction to Chrysostom we think that this expression must be linked with ‘archon tou kosmou toutou‘ (Jn 12:13, 14:30, 16:11), where there is no question that supernatural powers are meant. If this is so, there is then here no reference to Pontius Pilate or the Roman emperors, but to powers of the invisible world. This seems to be supported by:

  • the parallel text of Colossians 2:15, where Christ triumphs by the Cross over hostile powers, called ‘archai kai exousiai’;
  • as well as by Romans 8:38, where the ‘archai‘ (along with other supernatural powers) are mentioned as being likely to hinder the work of Redemption;
  • the fact that the Roman Empire was looked upon by the Apostle as a providential and beneficent power (Rom 13 1-7);
  • possibly also by the use of the verb ‘katargein‘ (2:6), which is sometimes a technical astrological term for the nullifying of an astral influence by a superior power;
  • the fact that they diffuse a wisdom, i.e. teaching, which is in no way characteristic of the political powers.

We are concerned, then, with astral powers, directly related to the ‘stoicheia’ = ‘the elements’ of Galatians. There is nothing to show that the Apostle ranked these among the beings which were evil by nature, like the ‘daimones‘ of 10:20-22 or like Satan or Beliar. All we are told is that they were opposed to the Gospel. But they would not have been, had they possessed divine wisdom. For in such a case, they would have known that it was not in their own interests to crucify the Lord, since his death struck a terrible blow at their rule (Col 2:15). Some scholars further think that they did not even recognize the Lord, recalling in this connection the gnostic (oriental) myth of a god who deceived the ‘devil’ by hiding his identity. (On this see. . .  Ignatius, Ep. to the Ephes. 19; as well as the Ascension of Isaiah X.11ff)

(Héring, pp. 16f)

Following Héring Barrett notes that the expression “lord of glory” is found most commonly in 1 Enoch:

22:14 Then I blessed the Lord of glory and said: ‘Blessed be my Lord, the Lord of righteousness, who ruleth for ever.’

25:3-7  And he answered saying: ‘This high mountain which thou hast seen, whose summit is like the throne of God, is His throne, where the Holy Great One, the Lord of Glory, the Eternal King, will sit, when He shall come down to visit the earth . . . . Then blessed I the God of Glory, the Eternal King, who hath prepared such things for the righteous, and hath created them and promised to give to them.

27:3-5 In the last days there shall be upon them the spectacle of righteous judgement in the presence of the righteous for ever: here shall the merciful bless the Lord of glory, the Eternal King. In the days of judgement over the former, they shall bless Him for the mercy in accordance with which He has assigned them (their lot).’ Then I blessed the Lord of Glory and set forth His glory and lauded Him gloriously.

63:2 Blessed is the Lord of Spirits and the Lord of kings, And the Lord of the mighty and the Lord of the rich, And the Lord of glory and the Lord of wisdom

75:3 For the signs and the times and the years and the days the angel Uriel showed to me, whom the Lord of glory hath set for ever over all the luminaries of the heaven, in the heaven and in the world, that they should rule on the face of the heaven and be seen on the earth, and be leaders for the day and the night, i.e. the sun, moon, and stars, and all the ministering creatures which make their revolution in all the chariots of the heaven.

Not mentioned by either Barrett or Héring (unless I have missed something) is the association in 1 Enoch of the Lord of Glory with both wisdom and spiritual rulers of the earth.

It is difficult to avoid bringing these two associations in to the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, and especially to 1 Cor 2:6-8.

–o0o–

No portrait, a boring cover, and most of HC’s interesting information is in his footnotes that I do not include here.

Hans Conzelmann, 1975

Conzelmann, Hans. 1975. 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Edited by George W. MacRae. Translated by James W. Leitch. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. p. 61

Conzelman acknowledges those who disagree with his view:

The question whether the άρχοντες, “governing powers,” are demons or political powers has long been in dispute.44 The mythical context suggests the interpretation demons,45 and so also does the solemn predication των καταργονμινών, “which are being brought to nothing.”46 They are the minions of the “god of this aeon” (2 Cor 4:4).47

–o0o–

Judith Kovacs, 1989

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Reply to James McGrath’s Criticism of Bayes’s Theorem in the Jesus Mythicism Debate

Aviezer Tucker

James McGrath in a recent post, Jesus Mythicism: Two Truths and a Lie, made the following criticism of the use of Bayes’s theorem in the Jesus Mythicism debate:

. . . . as I was reminded of the problematic case that Richard Carrier has made for incorporating mathematical probability (and more specifically a Bayesian approach) into historical methods. . . .

If one followed Carrier’s logic, each bit of evidence of untruth would diminish the evidence for truth, and each bit of evidence that is compatible with the non-historicity of Jesus diminishes the case for his historicity.

The logic of this argument is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of historical inquiry and how a historian is expected to apply Bayesian logic. (It also misconstrues Carrier’s argument but that is another question. I want only to focus on a correct understanding of how a historian validly applies Bayesian reasoning.)

In support of my assertion that James McGrath’s criticism is misinformed I turn to a historian and philosopher of history, Aviezer Tucker (see also here and here), author of Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography. He treats Bayesian reasoning by historical researchers in depth in chapter three. I quote a section from that chapter (with my own formatting):

There have been attempts to use the full Bayesian formula to evaluate hypotheses about the past, for example, whether miracles happened or not (Earman, 2000, pp. 53–9).

We may compare McGrath’s criticism. He is of the impression that the Bayesian formula is used to evaluate the hypothesis that Jesus did exist. This is a common misunderstanding. If you are confused, continue to read.

Despite Earman’s correct criticism of Hume (1988), both ask the same full Bayesian question:

“What is the probability that a certain miracle happened, given the testimonies to that effect and our scientific background knowledge?”

We may compare McGrath’s criticism again. He is of the impression that the historian using Bayesian logic is asking what is the probability that Jesus existed, given the testimonies to that effect and our background knowledge. If you are still confused then you share McGrath’s misunderstanding of the nature of historical inquiry. So continue with Tucker:

But this is not the kind of question biblical critics and historians ask. They ask,

“What is the best explanation of this set of documents that tells of a miracle of a certain kind?”

The center of research is the explanation of the evidence, not whether or not a literal interpretation of the evidence corresponds with what took place.

(Tucker, p. 99)

In other words, biblical critics and historians ask (Tucker is assuming the biblical critic and historian is using Bayesian logic validly and with a correct understand of the true nature of historical research) what is the best explanation for a document that, say, purports to be by Paul saying he met the James, “the brother of the Lord”.

I use that particular example because — and someone correct me if I am mistaken — Jame McGrath and others believe that passage (Galatians 1:19) makes any questioning of the historicity of Jesus an act of “denialism”. (McGrath does not tell his readers in the post we are addressing what he has in mind as the “clear-cut” evidence for the historicity of Jesus but from previous posts and comments I am convinced that it is the “brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19 that he has in mind. If I am wrong then someone will no doubt inform me.)

No one, I am sure, would mean to infer that the late and highly respected Philip R. Davies was guilty of denialism when he suggested that the historical methods he applied to the Old Testament should also be applied to the New — a method I have sought to apply to the study of Christian origins ever since I read Davies’ groundbreaking book.

Back to the question. It is the question of what is the best explanation for the passage in our version of Galatians that I have attempted to address several times now.

That is the question that the historian needs to ask. Every decent book I have read for students about to undertake advanced historical studies has stressed, among many other duties, the necessity for the researcher to question the provenance, the authenticity, of the documents he or she is using, and to know all the questions related to such questions from a thorough investigation of the entire field. My several posts have attempted to introduce such questions that should be basic to any historical study.

Tucker, from my reading of his book, would not consider such an exercise to be “denialism”, but sound and fundamental historical method — and even sound biblical criticism. read more »

Seven problems for the view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” were human authorities

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
  3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8

This post sets out the weaknesses that Robert Ewusie Moses (REM: not to be confused with a rock band or type of sleep) sees in the prevailing view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified Jesus Christ is a reference to human authorities. REM’s discussion is found in his doctoral thesis, Powerful Practices: Paul’s Principalities and Powers Revisited (pages 123-131).

Argument: the gospels inform us that the demonic powers did know who Jesus was so the rulers of this age who crucified Jesus because of ignorance (1 Cor. 2:6-8) could not be these spiritual powers

Suddenly, they screamed, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Did you come here to torture us before the proper time?” — Matthew 8:29

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” — Mark 1:24

He healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. However, he wouldn’t allow the demons to speak because they knew who he was. — Mark 1:34

Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they would fall down in front of him and scream, “You are the Son of God!” — Mark 3:11

“Oh, no! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” — Luke 4:34

Even demons came out of many people, screaming, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus rebuked them and ordered them not to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah. — Luke 4:41

(ISV translations)

The above argument is Gene Miller’s [see previous posts for details] but before Miller, REM notes, Julius Schniewind argued the same:

that while Paul may have believed that the devil stood behind Jesus’ opponents, the view that the rulers of this age are spiritual powers cannot be maintained because it would put Paul in tension with the Synoptic Gospels, which portray demonic spirits as recognizing the identity of Jesus.

(REM, p. 124)

As an aside I may interject to point out that we first encounter this argument in Tertullian’s attack on Marcion who did argue that the “rulers of this age” were angelic forces.

The most fundamental objection to the above argument is its fundamental logical or methodological error. It is not valid to interpret the original meaning of a document written around 50 CE according to other ideas and stories that were extant a generation later. But that aside….

REM’s Objection #1

Paul’s views were opposed to a number of mainstream positions in the early church (e.g. law; gentile inclusion). Paul was a contentious figure. So that Paul would disagree with gospels or early church is not remarkable. read more »

A Crucified Messiah Was Not an Offensive Scandal to Jews (with a postscript on evangelical language among scholars)

The idea that Jews would be (actively and aggressively) scandalized by the message of a crucified messiah because of his manner of death should be retired from New Testament scholarship.

Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle

Crucified Jewish Rebels from Jerusalem Post

This is a topic I’ve posted about before but this time I am sharing Paula Fredriksen’s version of the argument. (Yes, I know I have several other series I am supposed to be completing but as I follow up footnotes and related references to works on those posts I find myself coming across other little interesting details like this one along the way.)

Paula Fredriksen sums up the widespread scholarly view this way:

Some scholars have conjectured that the core message of the new movement — the proclamation of a crucified messiah — would have deeply offended any and all Jews. In Galatians 3.13, Paul cites Deuteronomy 21.23:

Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.

Jews in antiquity took “hanging on a tree” to mean crucifixion (so too, e.g., 11 Q Temple 64.6–13). On this scholarly construction, the early kerygma was an affront to pious Jews anywhere and everywhere, since a messiah known to have been crucified like a criminal would be viewed as dying a death “cursed by the Law”: for this reason, Jews would be scandalized by the message of a crucified messiah (cf. 1 Cor 1.23). How could the messiah be “cursed of God”?

This is one of those tropes of New Testament scholarship that refuses to go away, despite all its problems as historical reconstruction.

Fredriksen, Paula. Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle (Kindle Locations 1567-1573). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition. — My formatting and bolding in all quotations

The first point to note (as Paula Fredriksen points out) is that the Deuteronomy passage does not speak of executing a criminal by hanging but to a post-mortem public display of the executed criminal’s body. (I am reminded of the later Talmudic account of a Jeschu (Jesus?) being stoned and his corpse subsequently being strung up on a tree.)

By the first century, however, “hanging on a tree” had become a circumlocution for crucifixion as we learn in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But a significant point that Fredriksen notes is that there is no evidence in any Jewish literature that death by crucifixion was considered a “cursed” type of death as appears to be indicated in Galatians 3:13. So it is worth looking at the broader context what death by crucifixion or hanging meant to Jews of Paul’s day.

Saul and Jonathan hanged

David retrieved the bones of King Saul and his son Jonathan that the Philistines had hung up on public display in one of their cities. Though hanged,

nowhere is this taken to mean that they had died under a special curse (2 Sam 21:12).

800 Pharisees crucified

In Antiquities of the Jews 13.380 Josephus tells us about king Alexander Janneus crucifying 800 Pharisees.

. . . . . after which the Jews fought against Alexander, and being beaten, were slain in great numbers in the several battles which they had; and when he had shut up the most powerful of them in the city Bethome, he besieged them therein; and when he had taken the city, and gotten the men into his power, he brought them to Jerusalem, and did one of the most barbarous actions in the world to them; for as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes. This was indeed by way of revenge for the injuries they had done him; which punishment yet was of an inhuman nature . . . .

Sons of Judah the Galilean crucified

Again we learn from Josephus in Book 20 of Antiquities of the crucifixion by Rome of two sons of a Jewish rebel:

And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom [Tiberius] Alexander commanded to be crucified.

2000 Jews crucified in wake of Herod’s death

Josephus further tells us in Book 17 of his Antiquities that the Romans crucified 2000 Jews to crush a rebellion that broke out after Herod’s death.

Upon this, Varus sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were most guilty, and some he dismissed: now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand.

Thousands of refugees crucified during the Jewish War

In the fifth book of his Jewish Wars Josephus writes of the crucifixions of thousands of Jewish refugees attempting to flee the besieged city of Jerusalem:

Some of these were indeed fighting men, who were not contented with what they got by rapine; but the greater part of them were poor people, who were deterred from deserting by the concern they were under for their own relations; for they could not hope to escape away, together with their wives and children, without the knowledge of the seditious; nor could they think of leaving these relations to be slain by the robbers on their account; nay, the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that, when they were concealed from the robbers, they should be taken by the enemy; and when they were going to be taken, they were forced to defend themselves for fear of being punished; as after they had fought, they thought it too late to make any supplications for mercy; so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more . . . . . So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.

No suggestion of divine curse, no offence in death by crucifixion

Paula Fredriksen observes that in all of the above Jewish accounts of crucifixions Josephus

nowhere claims that other Jews regarded these people as therefore having died under a divine curse.

read more »

Why Were Some Early Christians Giving Up Work?

Michael Goulder

Well, I never suspected that about those idlers condemned in 2 Thessalonians.

6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. — 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (NRSV)

Many scholars don’t believe 2 Thessalonians was written by Paul (see #1 in insert box below) but we find the same problem addressed in 1 Thessalonians, too:

But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, 11 to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one. — 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

What is going on here? One suggestion I came across recently (okay, maybe I have been the last to know) is that some among the Thessalonian converts had gone the way some always seem to go when possessed of apocalyptic fervour, expecting the end of days and coming of the Lord any day now.

I stumbled across this possibility as the explanation for “idleness” among the Thessalonians in Michael Goulder’s 1992 article, “Silas in Thessalonica” in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament 15, 87–106.

Idleness sounds like the culprits are just lazing around drinking beer paid for by others but the complaint is really about giving up work. Goulder has a “charitable” perspective:

1. The link between 5.14 and 4.11-12 is made by J.E. Frame (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St Paul to the Thessalonians [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912], pp. 196-97) and approved by Holtz (Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher, p. 251). A connection with the parousia theme is suggested by the phrase following in 5.14, ‘comfort the όλιγοψΰχους’; cf. 4.18, 5.11, ‘comfort one another’.

2. There is adequate evidence from the papyri for the meaning ‘idler’; see J.E. Frame, ‘οί άτακτοι, I Thess. 5.14’, in Essays in Modern Theology and Related Subjects (Festschrift C.A. Briggs; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), pp. 189-206. Holtz says correctly that their motive in Thessalonians is far from being idleness; and he comments that even if 2 Thessalonians is not by Paul, this seems to be an especially Thessalonian problem, Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher, p. 241 n. 536.

The new converts have given their money away in a burst of excitement. This is a sign of the Holy Spirit (1.5; 4.8) and it is marvellous; but in their enthusiasm some of them have given up work. No doubt they did this so as to attend to the distribution of funds to the poor of their and other churches, and to healing services, spreading the word, and so forth. Paul had to tell them to cool down (ήσυχάζειν); to leave church affairs for a while and ply their own trades (πράσσειν τά ϊδια); and to work with their hands rather than expect God to provide all by prayer.
 
 . . . . . such a practice is common in millenarian movements. The passage just cited (4.11-12) is immediately followed by the section on the parousia (4.13-5.11); and in 5.14 Paul bids the church νουθετείν τούς άτακτους.1 Now ‘disorderliness’, here unspecified, is clearly delineated in 2 Thessalonians 3 as being the cessation of work; so whether 2 Thessalonians is Pauline or not, άτακτος seems to carry a NT connotation of ‘idler’.2 If so, then the parousia passage is straddled by references to the giving up of work, and the connection of ideas would be clearly evidenced in the text. (pp. 88f)

Common in millenarian movements

Goulder cites the example of the followers of Sabbatai Sevi so I tracked down Sabbatai Ṣevi: The Mystical Messiah, 1626–1676 by Gershom Scholem and copy here one interesting passage:

The question how the community survived the economic crisis brought about by the excess of messianic enthusiasm is not yet satisfactorily answered. The wealthier classes were completely impoverished, and according to the Jesuit author of the French Relation, Sabbatai Sevi scornfully boasted of having “ reduced to beggary” all the rich Jews of Salonika.96 Throughout the winter and summer of 1666 some four hundred poor lived on public charity. (p. 634)

Another example, this time quoting Goulder:

Similarly, from the 1950s, L. Festinger et ai., When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1957): Dr Armstrong, a teacher in a local college in California, lost his job for evangelizing the students, and did not seek another, believing that most of N. America was about to be inundated. (p. 88)

Paul versus the Gospel of Matthew

Even more interesting is Goulder’s connecting the propensity of religious zeal to lead converts to give up work with the Gospel of Matthew. He draws attention to the following passages: read more »

Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8

Previous posts in this series:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. — 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)
  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.

Each heading represents an argument Gene Miller addresses.

In 1 Cor 2:6-8 Pau’s “rulers” (archai) is a pesonalization of the spiritual powers “elemental spirits/principles” (stoicheia tou kosmou) in Col 2:20

Miller responds: Paul would be unlikely to use an ambiguous term (archai) that could mean either human or demonic authorities to indicate “elemental spirits”.

Comment: Such an assertion needs to be accompanied by a justification.

In Rom 13:1-7 Paul considers the Roman authorities to be “a providential and beneficent power” so he would not in 1 Cor 2:6-8 accuse them of being ignorant and crucifying Jesus. 

Miller responds: Paul’s view of Roman authorities is irrelevant since he believed it was the Jewish authorities who were responsible for crucifying Jesus. In support Miller cites Acts 13:27-29 and 1 Thes 2:14-15.

Comment: The author of Acts elsewhere portrays a view of Paul that is in stark contrast to the Paul of the letters. That author known as Luke appears to have been creating a Paul more suited to the “orthodoxy” of his day. The passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 is of very doubtful authenticity according to a number of scholars so cannot be relied upon as a sound basis for an argument.

I Cor 2:6 says the “rulers of this age” have a certain kind of wisdom, implying in a sense that they are more than human.

Miller responds: In this context, Paul has been speaking only of human wisdom. Ergo, the rulers of this age have a human wisdom and are therefore human. Compare 1:19, 20 where Paul speaks of the wise person, the scribe or teacher, the philosopher of this world. read more »

Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change

Up till the 1980s it was the accepted view that the “rulers of this age” who crucified the Lord of Glory according to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians were spirit beings. Several scholars explained that they did so by influencing their earthly counterparts to carry out the deed. The passage reads*:

* Two outlier voices arguing that 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 is a non-pauline interpolation into the original letter are those of

Widmann, M. 1979. “1 Kor. 2:6-16. Ein Einspruch gegen Paulus” ZNW 70: 44-53.

Walker, W.J., 2002. Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, London. pp. 127-146.

 

Widmann’s arguments are challenged by

O’Connor, J.M., 2009. Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues, Oxford University Press, New York. 257-260

Walker’s argument takes O’Connor’s rebuttals into account and attempts to strengthen Widmann’s case.

I may set the pros and cons for interpolation in a future post. In this post I assume the passage was penned by Paul.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)

Thus in the 1985 edition of A Translator’s Handbook for 1 Corinthians Paul Ellingworth could write of the passage translated “rulers of the age”:

A majority of scholars think that supernatural powers are intended here.

(p. 46. Cited in Doherty, E. 2009. Jesus: neither God nor man: the case for a mythical Jesus. Age of Reason Publications, Ottawa. p. 222)

Bolded highlighting in all quotations is my own

It is not difficult to find confirmation of Ellingworth’s observation:

Without doubt the usual interpretation [of 1 Corinthians 2:6-8] at present is that the rulers are demonic spiritual forces, and this is mainly due to Everling’s recovery of the idea. It has, however, a long pedigree, being found in Origen and Marcion, and is currently supported by, among others, Bultmann, Lietzmann, Delling, Schlier and Barrett.16 . . . .

An allied view is that the rulers are both human and spiritual forces. This is supported by Dibelius, Leivestad, Wendland, Dehn, Caird, and especially Cullmann.18

16 Origen, de Princ. 3.2; Marcion in Tertullian, adv. Marc. 5.6. Bultmann, Theology, I, 147ff; Lietzmann, An die Korinther I, II (Gottingen, 1949), ad loc.; Delling, TDNT, I, 489; Schlier, Principalities, pp. 45f; C. K. Barrett, ‘Christianity at Corinth’, BJRL 46 (1963), 278ff, and I Corinthians, ad loc. . . . .

18 R. Leivestad, Christ the Conqueror (London, 1954), p. 106; J. Wendland, Die Briefe an die Korinther (Göttingen, 1946), p. 19; G. Dehn, ‘Engel und Obrigkeit; ein Beitrag zum Verstandnis von Röm. 13. 1-7’, in E. Wolf (ed.), Theologische Aufsätze fur Karl Barth (Munich, 1936), p. 104; Caird, Principalities and Powers, pp. 16f.

Carr, W., 1981. Angels and Principalities: The background, meaning and development of the Pauline phrase hai archai kai hai exousiai. Cambridge University Press. p. 118

(To assist with identification I hyperlink references that are unclear or lack descriptive detail.)

In the 1987 publication The First Epistle to the Corinthians Gordon D. Fee (disapprovingly) acknowledges the same:

But who are the “rulers of this age”? . . .  [T]here has been a growing consensus over many years that the “rulers” are demonic powers,21 or at least that by these words Paul wants the Corinthians to see demonic powers as lying behind the activity of the earthly rulers.22

21The literature here is immense. Among commentators, see Weiss, Moffatt, Lietzmann, Héring, Barrett, Conzelmann. Among others, see R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (ET, London, 1952), I, 259; Wilckens, 60-63; Scroggs, “Paul,” p. 41; BAGD.

22This view is espoused by such various scholars as O. Cullmann, Christ and Time (ET, London, 1962), pp. 191-206; G. B. Caird, Principalities and Powers (Oxford, 1956), pp. 80-82; G. H. C. MacGregor, “Principalities and Powers. The Cosmic Background of St Paul’s Thought,” NTS 1 (1954/55), 17-28; W. J. P. Boyd, “I Cor. 2:8,” ExpT 68 (1957), 158; and Bruce, 38. . . . .

(p. 103.)

A backward look from a 2012 doctoral dissertation (supervised by Richard Hays) reminds us again of what the dominant scholarly view once was, this time approvingly: read more »

The Gospel of Luke in its Original Context; New Perspectives, part 3

Shelly Matthews questions the view that Luke-Acts was finalized as an early stage of a specifically anti-Marcionite program. I am one who has tended to see Luke-Acts as an initiator of a trajectory of proto-orthodoxy that can be traced through Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian and that stood in opposition to the “heresies” of Marcionism, docetism, gnosticism.

Rather, Matthews places Luke-Acts in a far more fluid place and argues that it defies classification as either orthodox or proto-orthodox. She argues that it precedes the time when Christianity could be divided from our perspective into the simplistic split between what we see as orthodoxy and heresy but is the product of

a more variegated context of early Christian pluralism. (p. 165)

In the previous post we saw one of the reasons for Matthews’ view: the view of Jesus as calm and passive throughout his final hours and the unnatural concept of his flesh. Such a depiction would appear to have more in common with the views of docetists than what emerged as orthodoxy.

Matthews further sees the Gospel of Luke as an attempt to subordinate other leaders, both women and men, who were looked up to as leaders by virtue of having had visions of Jesus. That is, the author was responding to more than Marcionism. In fact the gospel overlapped with Marcion’s gospel in key passages as we saw in our initial post.

Downgrading Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus

According to Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:1-8 an apostle was one who had seen the risen Lord. In the Gospel of John chapter 20 we read that Mary of Magdalene was one such figure. We even have a documentary record among noncanonical texts that Mary was regarded as a leading figure among certain Christians and that she was sometimes considered to be in conflict with Peter and other male apostolic visionaries. We have the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip in which Mary has a special (physical) relationship with Jesus, and the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus promises to make Mary a male so she, too, is worthy to enter eternal life. But let’s look for a moment at Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus in the Gospel most of us are familiar with. John 20:14-18

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

Matthews refers to Mary Rose D’Angelo who shows the structural similarities between Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus and the elder John’s vision of the heavenly Jesus in Revelation 1:10-19. I have highlighted the significant passages in D’Angelo’s argument.

John in Revelation likewise hears a voice and turns back to see the risen Jesus. Jesus negatively admonishes John in a way that draws attention to the divine nature of the one encountered in the vision. Both John and Mary are then given a commission to go and tell others what they have seen. And as per Paul’s qualification of apostleship, Mary, too, can and does say that she has “seen the Lord”. If we take our canonical form of the Gospel of Luke as having been completed after the Gospel of John (which a number of scholars do, and I often find myself siding with them) then we can readily interpret Luke’s depiction of Mary as an attempt to reject the status of Mary as an apostle.

Luke “rewrites the tradition” by having Mary not seeing the risen Jesus but seeing only the empty tomb. Her encounter is with angels and it is only angels who tell her to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen. In Luke it is Peter who runs to find out for himself the truth of what Mary has reported and it is Peter who is the first to see the risen Jesus.

Recognizing the invisible Jesus

That brings us to the Emmaus Road episode in Luke’s gospel. Here a couple, Cleopas and another unnamed companion, are walking along a road when they are joined by a third party they do not recognize. Their eyes are prevented from recognizing him, presumably by means of some spiritual agency. It is, of course, Jesus. The couple finally “recognize” who they have seen only after he disappears from them as they “break bread”. Matthews is one with scholars who interpret this passage as representative of what all Christians are to experience as they partake of the Lord’s supper. It is in that ceremony that they “see” Jesus. In this way the incident cannot be interpreted as a genuine vision of the risen Lord that qualifies one for apostleship. That is confirmed after the couple race to tell the disciples and are in turn themselves told that Jesus has already appeared to Peter.

The authority of men only

Even here Mathews believes we see further evidence of Luke reducing the status of women in the church. If we compare the two key persons on the Emmaus road with the Clopas/Cleophas (a Semitic form of the Greek Cleopas) and his wife Mary named in John 19:25 then it does look suspiciously the case that Luke has chosen to suppress the name of the wife involved in that famous incident.

Other indicators (listed by Matthews) that Luke sought to denigrate the status of women: read more »

Doubting that Luke-Acts was written to refute Marcion; New Perspectives, part 2

Continuing my posts on Shelly Matthews’ 2017 article. . . .

I am one of those who have leaned favourably towards arguments that our canonical form of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were early to mid second century attempts to take on Marcionism. See my series on Joseph B. Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle for instance. Others who have raised similar arguments in recent years are Matthias Klinghardt and Markus Vincent; further, Jason BeDuhn and Dieter T. Roth have produced new reconstructions of Marcion’s gospel.

If Marcionites believed in a Jesus who was not literally flesh and blood like us but only appeared to be so, then it has been argued that Luke (I’ll use that as the name of the author of the Gospel of Luke in its final canonical form) introduced details of how Jesus was very much a fleshly body when he was resurrected and showing himself to his followers. See the previous post for the details.

Resurrection accounts overlap

Matthews draws attention to a problem with this view. The “problem” is that all reconstructions of Marcion’s gospel (even BeDuhn’s and Roth’s) include at least significant sections of Luke’s fleshly portrayal of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus says in Luke 24:39 and in Marcion’s gospel according to all reconstructions:

Look at my hands and my feet. . . . . a ghost does not have . . . bones, as you see I have.

Marcion’s Jesus also eats just as Luke’s Jesus does in the same chapter. BeDuhn gives Marcion the following and Roth suggests it is at least close to Marcion’s text.

41 And while they still did not believe [were distressed] . . . , he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. . . . 

So Marcion’s Jesus, it seems, also had bones and was able to eat fish. Given that that was what Marcion read in his own gospel how can we interpret Luke’s details as an attempt to refute Marcionism, Matthew’s asks. (Not that this “problem” has not been noticed by scholars like Tyson but Matthews is proposing a different way of looking at the data.)

Neither Luke’s Nor Marcion’s Jesus Truly Suffers

Luke’s Jesus may bear a body of flesh, even after the resurrection, but this flesh is not the ordinary flesh of humankind, which agonizes when threatened, writhes when tortured, and decays in death. (p. 180)

Matthews sets aside as an interpolation Luke 22:43-44 that so graphically pictures Jesus in agony sweating great drops of blood in Gethsemane. Shelly Matthews explains:

For persuasive arguments that Luke 22:43-44 is a secondary insertion motivated by concern that Jesus be depicted as suffering anguish in Gethsemane, see Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, rev. and enl. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 220-27.

Another difficulty that Matthews’ sees for the view that our Gospel of Luke was finalized as a rebuttal to Marcionism is its portrayal of Jesus “suffering”. I use scare-quotes because Luke’s Jesus does not appear to suffer at all and so looks very much the sort of figure we would expect to see in Marcion’s gospel. In Luke there is no hint that Jesus on his way to the cross or hanging from the cross is in any sort of torment or agony. Luke’s Jesus is totally impassive.

Indeed, on the question of whether Jesus experienced torment either in Gethsemane or on Golgotha, Luke’s passion narrative can be read as an argument for an answer in the negative, as the later interpolator who felt the need to add the pericope of Jesus sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane surely sensed. (p. 180)

Matthews continues:

The Lukan Jesus does employ the verb πάσχω both in predicting his fate (9:22,17:25,22:15) and in reflecting on that suffering as a component of prophecy fulfillment (24:26,46; cf. Acts 1:3, 3:18,17:3).44 Yet, as is well known, narratives of Jesus’s comportment both on the way to Golgotha and on the cross itself suggests that his “suffering” does not include human experiences of physical agony or emotional distress.45

44 As Joel B. Green notes, the phrase “to suffer” in Luke is used to evoke the totality of the passion (The Gospel of Luke, NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 856).

45 Jerome H. Neyrey, “The Absence of Jesus’ Emotions: The Lucan Redaction of Lk 22:39- 46,” Bib 61 (1980): 153-71; John S. Kloppenborg, “Exitus clari viri: The Death of Jesus in Luke,” TJT 8 (1992): 106-20.

(I located each of Matthews’ references [Green and Neyrey] intending to add more detailed explanation from them but not wanting to take unplanned hours to finish this post have decided to leave those details for another day.)

For Luke, then, Jesus’ flesh is not like our flesh. It is not the sort of body that naturally recoils in anguish at pain or even threats of pain. It does not even decay when it dies.

Acts 2:31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 

Acts 13:37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

The idea that flesh of certain persons could in fact be immortal was part of common Greek cultural belief. Matthews cites Greek Resurrection Beliefs for those who are unaware of this fact. (Perhaps that’s another topic I can post about one day. I have touched on it a number of times incidentally with particular reference to Gregory Riley’s Resurrection Reconsidered, as for instance in this post.)

In this post I have addressed some of the areas that would appear to make the Gospel of Luke in close agreement with Marcion’s gospel rather than a direct rebuttal of it.

Furthermore there are other features of Luke-Acts that appear to be directed at extant ideas or disputes that had nothing at all to do with Marcionism as far as we know. Those are for the next post.

 


Matthews, S. (2017). Fleshly Resurrection, Authority Claims, and the Scriptural Practices of Lukan Christianity. Journal of Biblical Literature, 136(1), 163–183.


 

New Perspective on the Gospel of Luke; part 1

Shelly Matthews

Professor of New Testament Shelly Matthews has a different take on the Gospel of Luke. Different, that is, from one that I have for a long time generally embraced on this blog. I have written positively before about Shelly Matthew’s work and find myself doing so once more here. This time I am discussing her article in the Journal of Biblical Literature last year, Fleshly Resurrection, Authority Claims, and the Scriptural Practices of Lukan Christianity.

Why Stress the Flesh of the Resurrection Body?

Unlike the earlier gospels Mark and Matthew, Luke 24 focuses readers’ attentions on the fleshly nature of Christ’s resurrection body:

39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

The Gospel of John is usually understood in a similar vein, not least because of the following scene in the 20th chapter:

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

But as Matthews points out, Luke and John have quite different purposes for their respective body of flesh scenes. The fourth gospel uses the physical wounds of Jesus as identifying marks so that Jesus can know who is standing in front of him: it really is Jesus who was crucified by being nailed to the cross and then speared in the side.

The need for Thomas to see the wounds may be a Johannine employment of a common topos in Greek literature evident as early as the Homeric tradition—as with Eurykleia in the Odyssey, who does not recognize Odysseus until she has touched his scar. Yet the high point of the recognition scene is not Jesus’s affirmation that the body demonstrated to Thomas is fleshly but rather a rebuke of faith that requires sight. Thomas sees the wounded Jesus and confesses, “My Lord and my God,” to which Jesus responds, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:29). (Matthews, p. 168)

Contrast Luke’s focus on demonstrating that Jesus’ body is flesh, just as it was before he was resurrected:

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

In John 21 Jesus does not eat the fish but distributes it among his disciples. In Luke 24 Jesus eats the fish to prove he is a fleshly body.

The question that follows, of course, is why would Luke want to make such a point.

Matthews’ answer is that the author of the third gospel is using the fleshly body of the post resurrection Jesus as a vital element in establishing the supreme authority of the twelve apostles against others (various visionaries such as Mary and Paul) who were looked to as authorities in his day.

Details to follow.


Matthews, S. (2017). Fleshly Resurrection, Authority Claims, and the Scriptural Practices of Lukan Christianity. Journal of Biblical Literature, 136(1), 163–183.


 

The Abomination of Desolation in Mark 13: What Did the Reader Need to Understand?

“Today, we know only too well the experiences of refugee treks, what such an escape can look like.” Yazidis of Iraq fleeing to the mountains.

When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

Mark 13:14-19

What was that “abomination of desolation”? When we read “let the reader understand” we surely are right to think that it is some sort of mystery to be decoded or explained to us.

The following explanation comes from Der Weg Jesu by Ernst Haenchen (1968). Since it is in German I have had to resort to a machine translation. Fortunately, though, Ken Olson on the Biblical Criticism and History Forum set out the main argument to enable me to get started. I recommend reading his post for more detail than I will provide here.

To begin with Jesus is addressing an inner circle of his disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John, “in private”. So it is secret teaching that we are reading.

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” Jesus said to them . . . .

Mark 13:1-5

For whom is Mark recording this warning?

Haenchen pulls us back from immersion in the story and confronts us with the question: Who was “Mark” writing this for? Was he writing a warning for Christians who were caught up in the Jewish war of 66 to 70 CE? If so, what was the point? The warning was recorded too late for them.

Further, the warning is for those who “see”, not “hear about”, the abomination of desolation. So was the abomination of desolation something that could be seen by all and sundry “in Judea”, not just in Jerusalem?

Common explanations suggest the abomination was something set up by the Roman army in or near the temple in Jerusalem. But if that were the case then what was the point in telling people throughout Judea to run for the hills at that point? If the Romans were already inside Jerusalem then they had already swept through Judea. Why wait to run until after the enemy has occupied your homeland?

Haenchen’s solution resolves such problems.

“Then the king’s officials came to the town of Modein”

Compare the prophecies in the Book of Revelation. Symbolic language is used, arguably to protect those who treasure the writing. It is proposed that explicitly anticipating the fall of Rome was not something to shout out about so Babylon was substituted for Rome. Those “in the know” knew the coded language. The Book of Revelation also speaks in its thirteenth chapter of a terrifying moment when God’s chosen would face an image of a beast and be ordered to worship it or be killed.

What situation in these early days of Christianity, in the days when the Gospel of Mark and the Book of Revelation were being written, would arouse such fear that the only way out was to drop everything and run immediately into the wilderness and hide in the hills?

The answer: the visit to one’s town of an imperial official setting up an altar and calling on all inhabitants to sacrifice to the emperor. Penalty for refusal was death. The mere possibility of such a moment was enough to generate fear.

Mark was not writing a warning for the people of Judea long after any danger facing them had passed. The war was over. What he was doing was couching (or coding) a warning to his readers in Italy, Syria, anywhere throughout the Roman empire, in the language of Daniel the prophet.

Haenchen writes, p. 446 read more »