Category Archives: Paul and His Letters

Why Many Interpolations in Paul’s Letters are Very Likely

Some Surprises from the Apostle Paul by William O. Walker, Jr. contains an interesting chapter about interpolations. Walker does not agree that most scholars should remain sceptical regarding many proposed interpolations in Paul’s letters.

They see no way to identify such interpolations with any certainty, and they tend to regard arguments for interpolation as highly speculative and almost inevitably circular in nature. (Kindle ed, loc ca 1575)

Walker disagrees. He argues that there are “sound a priori grounds for assuming the presence of interpolations — probably many interpolations — in the Pauline letters but also that such interpolations can sometimes be identified with a fair degree of certainty.”

Interestingly there is one set of passages that Christ mythicists sometimes rely upon that Walker believes were probably not penned by Paul so maybe that little detail might encourage some of us to open up to the possibility he might be right. 🙂

Walker points to two reasons we should expect to find interpolations in Paul’s letters.

  • Scholars have identified numerous interpolations in other ancient texts — “Homeric, Classical, Hellenistic, Jewish and Christian.” We know of interpolations in letters by ancient philosophers to their followers. Even in the Gospel of Mark we have the little disputed interpolation of the final chapter, 16:9-20; and in the Gospel of John there is the episode of the woman taken in adultery found in 7:53 – 8:11. And in the gospels of Matthew and Luke we find that huge chunks have been interpolated into the gospel of Mark. So if we know for a fact that texts were very often expanded with inserted material then we should surely be surprised if Paul’s letters proved to be the exception.

Walker’s second reason for expecting interpolations throughout Paul’s letters involves what we know of their literary history: read more »

A Case for the “Easter” Appearances of Jesus BEFORE the Crucifixion

There is an inconsistency in a fundamental argument, or assumption, rather, among critical scholars of Christian origins that has long been bugging me.

The principle was set down by David Friedrich Strauss in the nineteenth century,

when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical. (Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, p. 89)

Now that maxim is frequently and sensibly deployed by critical scholars. It is the reason that Burton Mack  (no doubt there are others, too) denies the historicity of Jesus charging into the Temple and expelling the “traders” there.

It is a fictional theme derived from the scriptural citations. (Mack, Myth of Innocence, p. 292)

Many scholars, however, need the “Temple disturbance” to be historical in order to explain why Jesus was eventually arrested so many jettison the principle to make the narrative work as history. (Paula Fredriksen points out the flaw in their argument.)

David Chumney (whose book, Jesus Eclipsed, I have just completed, and which has many excellent points along with a few unfortunate flaws) makes the point loud and clear:

  • Matthew 8:16-17 (& 11:4-5) tell us that Jesus healed sicknesses in fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:4 (Unfortunately once again the Strauss’s criterion is put aside by most scholars who require Jesus to have been a healer in order to explain his “historical following”.)
  • The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is acknowledged by more scholars (e.g. E.P. Sanders, Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan, David Catchpole) to be a fiction created out of scriptures such as Psalm 118:25-26 and Zechariah 9:9.
  • The magi following the star (Matthew 2:1-12) is based on Numbers 24:17 and Isaiah 60:3, 5-6.
  • Herod’s massacre of the infants (Matthew 2:16-18) is crafted from Exodus 1:15-22 and Jeremiah 31:15.
  • The angel’s announcement of John the Baptist’s birth (to be) (Luke 1:8-20) is woven from Genesis 18:9-15.
  • Mary’s prayer, the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55) comes from 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

Robert Price draws attention to many more: the infant Jesus’ escape into Egypt; Jesus baptism; the 40 days in the wilderness and testing by Satan; the call of the disciples; the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and her response; Jesus healing of the paralytic; healing the withered hand; the appointing of the twelve disciples; the instructions given to them on how to go out and preach; Jesus calming the storm; the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac; the raising of Jairus’s daughter; Jesus’ family rejecting him; the execution of John the Baptist; the miraculous feedings of thousands; the walking on the sea; Jesus calling the people to listen to him; Jesus healing the daughter of the woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon; the transfiguration; the rivalry among the disciples for the most prestigious position; the story of the exorcist who did not follow Jesus; . . . . .

And the list could probably be just as long if we itemized each of the “prophesied” details in the Passion narrative. (See Price, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point” in The Historical Jesus: Five Views.)

John Shelby Spong concedes that pretty much everything in the gospels is fiction based a creative reworking of Jewish Scriptures. All except for virtually only one detail: the execution, the martyrdom, of Jesus.

That Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate,” as the Creed affirms, is historically the most stable datum we have concerning Jesus . . . (Joel B. Green, “The Death of Jesus” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, p. 2383)

. . . not that there is the slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate . . . (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 375)

There is no doubt both that he was crucified and that after his death he was believed to have been restored to life. (John Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes. p. 236)

Yet it is the crucifixion of Jesus that is the MOST chock-full of Old Testament Scriptural allusions and citations.  read more »

Luke’s Creativity (and Knowledge of Paul’s Letters) Continued — Hasert, part 2

The first part of this series concentrated on Hasert’s research into the relationship between the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Here we examine the evidence for the connections between the Gospel of Luke and Paul’s life and letters. But we begin with what Hasert interpreted as the third evangelist’s denigration of the Twelve, especially when contrasted with their treatment in the Gospel of Matthew. (See the previous post for bibliographic and author references.)

Salt of the earth no more

Matthew’s Jesus addresses his (twelve) disciples and tells them they are the salt of the earth (5:13). Luke omits those words; Luke’s Jesus does not so compliment the twelve.

Bad timing

Luke finds a vicious way to twist the knife into the Twelve when he moves the scene of the disciples arguing amongst themselves about who will be the greatest into the Last Supper, immediately after Jesus told them that one of them would betray him.

Luke 22:

21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Such a relocation of this incident makes a complete mockery of the disciples, intimating that they are ironically disputing over which of them would betray Jesus.

Peter’s light fades from view

We know Matthew’s famous moment when Jesus declared Peter to be the possessor of the keys to the kingdom and the rock upon which the church was to be built (16:18-19). Luke’s Jesus finds no occasion on which to bestow such honourable status upon Peter.

Democratizing the family 

In Matthew 12:49 Jesus once again confers special status upon his disciples:

Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. (NIV)

Luke, on the contrary, has Jesus say that any and everyone (not only his disciples) who hear and do the words of Jesus are his mother and brothers, (8:21):

He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (NIV)

Who is the faithful servant?

read more »

The Gospel of Luke As Creative Rewriting of the Gospel of Matthew – Hasert’s study

The following outline of ways the Gospel of Luke appears to rewrite the Gospel of Matthew is taken from a chapter by Vadim Wittkowsky, “Luke Uses/Rewrites Matthew: A Survey of the Nineteenth-Century Research” in Luke’s Literary Creativity (ed by Mogens Müller and Jesper Tan Nielsen, 2016). I focus here on just one of the authors discussed by Wittkowsky, Christian Adolf Hasert (1795-1864), who published a detailed analysis of the relationship between the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.


Luke’s Literary Creativity is a collection of essays from a 2014 conference on Luke’s creativity held in Roskilde, Denmark; Wittkowsky (photo) is listed there as based at Humboldt University, Berlin.

Hasert’s analysis indicates that the author of Luke’s Gospel was a “Paulinist” who objected to Matthew’s anti-Pauline views.

Every change, every omission or adding of details in parables, sayings and stories are of pure Pauline character (Wittkowsky, p. 11 – presenting Hasert’s summary of his research)

On the futility, impossibility, of seeking salvation by good works

Note, for example, 2 Corinthians 3:5,

By ourselves we are not qualified in any way to claim that we can do anything. Rather, God makes us qualified. (God’s Word translation)

That’s not what we see being taught by Jesus in Matthew 5:48,

Be perfect (τέλειοι), therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)

Luke changes “perfect” to “merciful” in Luke 6:36,

Be merciful (οἰκτίρμονες), just as your Father is merciful. (NIV)

For Luke one can only be like God insofar as one is merciful; perfection is out of the question. Notice also the concluding thought Luke adds to the parable of the dutiful servants in Luke 17:7-10,

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Recall the parable of the Great Banquet in Matthew that concludes with the king ordering the poorly dressed guest to be cast out into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:11-13); Luke’s version of the same parable (14:16-24) drops that miserable ending.

Recall further Luke 16:15,

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

— a saying that might be interpreted as a snub to the teaching of Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew’s Jesus instructs the disciples to search out for someone “worthy” with whom they might stay in a town they are visiting:

“And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy (ἄξιός) in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. (Matthew 10:11, NASB)

Luke, on the other hand, has Jesus merely require that his disciples stay put in the one place wherever they visit (Luke 9:4). read more »

Did Paul Learn the Gospel from Others? Bart Ehrman’s and Earl Doherty’s Arguments

I continue from the previous post with Bart Ehrman’s post and the query raised about its argument. Ehrman continues:

There is a second reason for thinking that Paul is not the one who invented the idea that Jesus’ death was some kind of atoning sacrifice for sins.  That’s because Paul explicitly tells us that he learned it from others.

Those of you who are Bible Quiz Whizzes may be thinking about a passage in Galatians where Paul seems to say the opposite, that he didn’t get his gospel message from anyone before him but straight from Jesus himself (when he appeared to Paul at his conversion).  I’ll deal with that shortly since I don’t think it says what people often claim it says.

The key passage is 1 Corinthians 15:3-6.   Here Paul is reminding the Corinthian Christians what he preached to them when he brought to them the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Pay careful attention to how he introduces his comments:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.   Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep….”

Note: he indicates that he “passed on” this message of Jesus’ death and resurrection as he himself had “received” it.   Now, you might think that this means that he received it straight from Jesus when Jesus appeared to him a couple of years after his resurrection.  There are three reasons for thinking that this is not what he means.

Ehrman’s sentence I have bolded is false. “Pay careful attention to how [Paul] introduces his comments” indeed! Paul does not tell us “explicitly” (as Ehrman claims) that he learned of the death and resurrection of Jesus from others. Paul makes no such explicit statement and Ehrman acknowledges this fact in the very following sentences when he prepares his readers to listen to three reasons for thinking Paul somehow implicitly (not explicitly) means that he must mean that he learned of the gospel from others. If Paul told us explicitly that he learned things from others there would be no need to compile three reasons to persuade us that that is what he meant.

There are several other errors and problems in the ensuing paragraphs but time constraints prompt me to bypass those for now and skip directly to his last point, (B):

(B)

What does Paul mean in his letter to the Galatians when he says that he did not receive his gospel from humans but direct from God through a revelation of Jesus?  Does he mean that he was the one (through direct divine inspiration) who came up with the idea that it was the death and resurrection of Jesus, rather than, say, Jesus’ life and teachings, that brings salvation?  And if so, doesn’t that mean that Paul himself would be the founder and creator of Christianity, since Christianity is not the religion of Jesus himself, but the religion about Jesus, rooted in faith in his death and resurrection?

It may seem like that’s the case, but it’s not.  Not at all.   Belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection were around before Paul and that Paul inherited this belief from Christians who were before him.   But then what would Paul mean when he explicitly says in Galatians 1:11-12

“For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me – that it is not a human affair; for I neither received it from a human nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ”?

That sure sounds like he is saying that his gospel message came straight from Jesus, not from humans, right?  Yes, right, it does sound that way.  But it’s important to know – and not just to assume – what Paul means by his “gospel” in this passage.  He doesn’t mean what you might at first think he means.
read more »

Paul and Eschatalogical Morality

In a recent post (What a Bizarre Profession), Neil cited James McGrath over at The Pigeon Trough, discussing Paul’s admonition to the Romans not to resist the powers that be.

13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
13:2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.  (NASB)

English: The Apostle Paul
English: The Apostle Paul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Naturally, McGrath mainly wished to take a few fizzling fusillades at mythicists, and that’s no surprise. What did surprise me was the number of respected scholars who actually take the scripture so seriously (if not literally), they feel obliged to tie themselves into rhetorical knots over whether and when to refuse to submit to governing authorities.

As Neil rightly said:

This human universal owes precious little to a few words written from a vaguely understood context and provenance in a civilization far removed from ours.

But even if he had written more clearly, and we fully understood the context of Romans 13, would we have any reason to consider Paul a trustworthy advocate for ethical behavior?

The question intrigues me, so I thought I’d compile a little list of reasons we might not want to trust Paul’s advice.

♦ Imminent Eschatology

Paul was clearly a believer in the imminent eschaton. He seems to have arrived at this belief by analyzing recent events, especially the resurrection, in light of scriptural reinterpretation. We might find his method somewhat odd, since he could have cited the teachings of his Christ instead. However, Paul either chose not to mention Jesus’ predictions concerning the coming of the Son of Man and the destruction of the Temple, or else he was unaware of them. read more »

The Reception of Jesus Tradition in Paul

The second paper of the first day of the Memory and the Reception of Jesus in Early Christianity Conference (10th-11th June 2016, St Mary’s University) is “The Reception of Jesus in Paul” by Christine Jacobi.

In sum, to the best of my understanding (and there is considerable external noise in the video) here is Christine Jacobi’s main argument.

Paul’s was indebted to a Jesus tradition conveyed by eyewitnesses and others but what impressed him the most and formed the foundation of his and his community’s identity was the Christ Event itself. This enabled him to justify certain rulings that were in keeping with the meaning of that event and the needs of his churches as they identified themselves with that Christ event, even if those teachings contradicted specific sayings that the tradition attributed to Jesus himself.

Christine Jacobi
Christine Jacobi

Christine Jabobi’s thesis: Pauline letters are part of the early Christian memory of Jesus although Paul was not interested in the earthly Jesus. With traditional materials and his own reasoning, the apostle subordinated the Jesus tradition that was known to him to a comprehensive overarching interpretation of the Christ Event. Paul did not care for historical distinctions between early original material and later interpretations.

Romans 12:14-21 is believed by many scholars to indicate that Paul did know of the Jesus tradition that later found its way into the gospels. The NIV translation:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jacobi explains that many scholars believe Paul took these ideas from those who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus and who were preserving and teaching the words they had heard Jesus speak, the evidence for this being found in the gospels; Luke 6:28

28 Bless those who curse you . . . .

Did Paul take the words of Jesus that he heard from the eyewitnesses of Jesus and did those eyewitness traditions eventually catch up with the gospel authors who set them in writing? Jacobi rightly argues that the evidence can just as validly support the argument that Paul adapted the teachings from other traditions, especially Jewish wisdom literature such as the Book of Proverbs, and that the evangelists who wrote the gospels took the words from Paul and adapted them to make them the words of Jesus.

One scholar, Dunn, argues that Paul could mix the “remembered” words of Jesus with his recollections of Jewish Scripture and use them both as if they had equal authority. Jacobi thinks it unlikely that Jesus’ words would have had such authority so early.

But Jacobi points to other passages in Paul’s writings that explicitly contradict the words of Jesus that the gospels indicated came from the “Jesus tradition”. We are familiar with Paul’s disagreement with Jesus over marriage and divorce. Paul additionally rejected the right, even thought it had been made explicit by Jesus, to be supported by the people he served in his ministry.

I Corinthians 9

14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.

Compare Luke 10

7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.

What is going on here? If Paul knows of the same Jesus tradition that is said to emerge later in the gospels then why does he short-change it? Notice that even in the Romans 12 passage on blessing one’s enemies Paul does not appeal to the same carrot that Jesus held out to motivate his readers. Jesus promised those who acted this way a great reward in heaven. Paul, rather, in other passages in his writings appeals to his followers to identify with God himself and to be like the God who revealed himself in the Christ event — that is, to be like the God who revealed himself in the flesh and forgave others before and after ascending to heaven.

In other words, Paul subordinated the words of Jesus to something far more important, far bigger, than discerning their exact form.

What is surprising to Christine Jacobi is that such a hypothesis would mean that the earliest accounts available to us that contain memories of Jesus are highly interpreted and adapted for contemporary needs while the later evidence, the gospels, contain the words of Jesus in a less interpreted and a more original form. One would normally expect to find the reverse in the extant evidence: the earlier containing the more primitive account and the later evidence the more highly interpreted and adapted forms.

Such in summary is my memory of Christine Jacobi’s conference presentation. Jacobi’s hypothesis is built upon the assumption that the gospel authors inherited memorized traditions from eyewitnesses of Jesus. There is no reference in her paper to any arguments that challenge the view that the gospels have written down oral recollections rather than having borrowed from other literature (e.g. Henaut 1993; Brodie 2004). (Although Jacobi does claim, if I caught her words correctly, that Paul’s/Jesus’ teaching to “Bless those who persecute/curse you” is a new form of pre-existing teachings and not directly found outside the Jesus tradition.)

Is it not a simpler hypothesis that Paul adapted teachings from Jewish and Hellenistic literature and that the gospels reframed many of his words and placed them in the mouth of Jesus? Does not this simpler hypothesis account for the same data we find in both the letters of Paul and the Gospels while raising fewer questions about why Paul went to such extreme lengths to distance himself and his words from any acknowledgement to “the historical Jesus of Galilee” whose life was, after all, integral to “the Christ Event” that so completely consumed Paul’s focus?

 

Is Ehrman’s Pre-Pauline Quotation an Anti-Marcionite Interpolation?

howJesusRecently Bart Ehrman debated Michael Bird the question of how Jesus became God. Just as he had written in his book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee Erhman argued that

  1. the earliest devotees of Jesus viewed him as a normal man, a human messiah, who had been exalted to become God’s son at the resurrection.
  2. Later, Christians came to think that he was the Son of God prior to the resurrection and reasoned that he had been adopted as God’s son at his baptism, as we read in the Gospel of Mark.
  3. Still later others moved his divine sonship back to the time of his birth in Bethlehem. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus only came into existence as God’s son when born to Mary.
  4. Later still Jesus was thought to have been always divine, even before appearing as a man, as we read in the prologue to the Gospel of John.

My first response to this argument was that it ran counter to the pre-gospel evidence, the writings of Paul. But I double checked and saw that Ehrman does find stage #1 above in the writings of Paul. Paul does open his epistle to the Romans with a clear statement of #1 — Romans 1:3-4

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, 

A1 who was descended

  A2 from the seed of David 

    A3 according to the flesh 

B1 and was appointed 

  B2 the Son of God in power

    B3 according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead

Ehrman is well aware that the rest of Paul’s writings inform us that Paul had a much higher view of Jesus than we read in these opening verses of Romans. So I think his larger argument still founders on the reef of Paul. But my interest here is Ehrman’s use of Romans 1:3-4 as the starting point from which he builds his case.

Ehrman informs his readers that many scholars have long considered these verses, 1:3-4, to be pre-Pauline creed that Paul is quoting. Indeed, Ehrman writes (p. 223) that

it could represent early tradition . . . from the early years in Palestine after Jesus’s first followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead. 

Why early?

Part of the reason Ehrman thinks the passage is so early is because of the words translated “spirit of holiness”: such a turn of phrase is an Aramaicism and since Jesus and his first followers spoke Aramaic it follows that they probably formulated the creed. (I will leave the identification of the flaws in this argument up to readers.)

Another reason to judge the passage early appears to be the focus on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah. Ehrman calls upon the much later gospels to support him here. He uses their late testimony (in the belief that true historical data can be gleaned from them via criteria of authenticity) to affirm that the disciples of Jesus believed he was the Davidic messiah in his own lifetime and that they continued to believe this after his death (even though he failed to overthrow Rome as the Davidic messiah was supposed to do) because of the power he attained with his resurrection.

Why think the words are not Paul’s own but a quotation of a well-known creed?

Why does Ehrman (presumably following widespread and long-held scholarly opinion) believe these verses are pre-Pauline words being quoted by Paul? read more »

The Historicity — and modern liberalism — of Paul

No doubt  many readers have already been alerted to Richard Carrier latest blog post: The Historicity of Paul the Apostle.

Our Kiwi friend at Otagosh has also posted an alert to this post with his own commentary.

I am traveling and it’s too awkward to elaborate with my own response at the moment. In sum, I do accept Paul as a historical figure but exactly who or what he was behind the letters is not entirely clear. Roger Parvus also raises interesting questions, as many of us know.

Skimming Richard’s arguments my first impression is that some are more solid than others (as with most things); some strike me as discussion starters more than conclusions. read more »

The Memory Mavens, Part 6: How Did Paul Remember Jesus?

We have covered the subject of the apostle Paul’s silence on Jesus’ life many times on Vridar. But for quite a while now, I’ve been thinking we keep asking the same, misdirected questions. NT scholars have kept us focused on the narrow confines of the debate they want to have. But there are other questions that we need to ask.

Last Judgment panel Diest 001
Last Judgment panel Diest 001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pretty apocalyptic prophets, all in a row

For example, Bart Ehrman, defending his claim that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, has habitually argued that we can draw a sort of “line of succession” from John the Baptist, through Jesus, to Paul. In Did Jesus Exist? he explains it all in an apocalyptic nutshell:

At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry he associated with an apocalyptic prophet, John; in the aftermath of his ministry there sprang up apocalyptic communities. What connects this beginning and this end? Or put otherwise, what is the link between John the Baptist and Paul? It is the historical Jesus. Jesus’s public ministry occurs between the beginning and the end. Now if the beginning is apocalyptic and the end is apocalyptic, what about the middle? It almost certainly had to be apocalyptic as well. To explain this beginning and this end, we have to think that Jesus himself was an apocalypticist. (Ehrman, 2012, p. 304, emphasis mine)

Dr. Ehrman sees the evidence at the ends as “keys to the middle.” For him, it’s a decisive argument.

The only plausible explanation for the connection between an apocalyptic beginning and an apocalyptic end is an apocalyptic middle. Jesus, during his public ministry, must have proclaimed an apocalyptic message.

I think this is a powerful argument for Jesus being an apocalypticist. It is especially persuasive in combination with the fact, which we have already seen, that apocalyptic teachings of Jesus are found throughout our earliest sources, multiply attested by independent witnesses. (Ehrman, 2012, p. 304, emphasis mine)

You’ve probably heard Ehrman make this argument elsewhere. He’s nothing if not a conscientious recycler. Here, he follows up by summarizing Jesus’ supposed apocalyptic proclamation. Jesus heralds the coming kingdom of God; he refers to himself as the Son of Man; he warns of the imminent day of judgment. And how should people prepare for the wrath that is to come?

We saw in Jesus’s earliest recorded words that his followers were to “repent” in light of the coming kingdom. This meant that, in particular, they were to change their ways and begin doing what God wanted them to do. As a good Jewish teacher, Jesus was completely unambiguous about how one knows what God wants people to do. It is spelled out in the Torah. (Ehrman, 2012, p. 309)

Unasked questions

However, Ehrman’s argument works only if we continue to read the texts with appropriate tunnel vision and maintain discipline by not asking uncomfortable questions. Ehrman wants us to ask, “Was Paul an apocalypticist?” To which we must answer, “Yes,” and be done with it.

But I have more questions. read more »

Jesus the Seed of David: One More Case for Interpolation

Romans 1:1-7 (YLT)

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle,

having been separated to the good news of God —

2 which He announced before through His prophets in holy writings —

3 concerning His Son,

(who is come of the seed of David according to the flesh,

4 who is marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of sanctification [=Holy Spirit], by the rising again from the dead,)

Jesus Christ our Lord;

5 through whom we did receive grace and apostleship, for obedience of faith among all the nations,

in behalf of his name;

6 among whom are also ye, the called of Jesus Christ;

7 to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints; Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ!

Interpolation is a four letter word for some scholars: it can only be justified under extreme provocation such as when all the earliest witnesses leave not a shadow of doubt.

Such a standard flies in the face of what we know about the transmission of ancient manuscripts, especially the canonical ones. See Forgery in the ancient world and List of scholars believing Paul’s letters were interpolated. Nonetheless I can understand why some authors play it safe by being very reluctant to treat any passage in Paul’s letters as an interpolation unless supported by widely acknowledged arguments. I’m not so conservative. If only one scholar produces very sound arguments that his or her peers fail to address then I’m willing to take the possibility of interpolation seriously.

So much for the preamble.

Sparks have flown between Christ Myth advocates and their opponents over the opening passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans that declares Jesus Christ to be “of the seed of David according to the flesh” but these verses may have another significance for our understanding of how early Christian ideas evolved. So forget the mythicist debate for a moment.

Many of us are aware of Hermann Detering’s arguments for Romans 1:2-6 being an interpolation laden with anti-Marcionite innuendo. I won’t repeat those here. Consider this a related post.

I have also posted the 1942 argument of A. D. Howell-Smith for Romans 1:3 (who is come of the seed of David) being an interpolation. Again, consider this post related.

Alfred Loisy (1935) makes a passing reference to Romans 1:3-4 (see the bolded passage in the side box) being a likely interpolation in Remarques sur la littérature épistolaire du Nouveau Testament, p. 9. These lines are anomalous padding within a standard introduction.

J. C. O’Neill in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (1975) published a detailed argument for why we should consider all of verses 1b to 5a as an interpolation. (See the indented lines in the side-box. He also found the words I have italicized intrusive.) It is O’Neill’s discussion pages 25 to 28 that I set out below.

Normal Letter Introductions

Normal introductions were as simple as possible. Example:

Demophon to Ptolemaeus, greeting.

Affectionate and official letters could be elaborated a little:

Apion to Epimarchus his father and Lord, heartiest greetings. 

Polycrates to his father, greeting.

Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting. (Acts 23:26)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, greeting. (James 1:1)

Paul’s Introductions

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Paul the Persecutor: The Case for Interpolation

The Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus as painted by Michelangelo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I posted Paul the persecutor? in which I suggested that Paul’s confession in his epistle to the Galatians to having persecuted the Church did not necessarily imply that he literally jailed, beat and killed Christians before his journey to Damascus.

J. C. O’Neill would have thought I was far too soft. Those passages in which Paul is confessing to have persecuted the church are late interpolations, he argued back in 1972 in The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

Here is his confession in the first chapter of Galatians:

13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; 14 and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. . . . 

22 And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; 23 they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

O’Neill believes a strong case that those verses were interpolated by a second century editor wanting to glorify Paul (my bolding, formatting and added translations, pp 24-27):

read more »

Paul the persecutor?

the-stoning-of-stephen-by-rembrandt-1625I’m taking a light diversion by challenging somebody on earlywritings.com over his assertion that Christians were persecuted like crazy (as per the popular notion derived from the Acts and Eusebian tales). The posts have since met a bit stiffer challenge from more reasonable and knowledgeable participants — so the discussion has become even more rewarding.

Reasons I am questioning the assumption that Paul before his conversion persecuted the church in the sense of haling people off to prison, engaging them with enhanced interrogation techniques, beating them, sometimes too severely so they died:

  • The word for “persecution” is διωγμός — one could “pursue” [δίωκε] righteousness; Paul wrote that Ishmael “persecuted” [ἐδίωκεν] Isaac. The word can have very unpleasant associations when used negatively but does not necessarily mean to beat up and kill.
  • The notion that Paul did beat and kill Christians before his conversion is derived from Acts. I argue elsewhere (following several scholars) that this is theologically motivated fabrication. I am arguing from the evidence of Paul’s letters alone. read more »

What Did Paul Know About Jesus?

Gregory Jenks
Gregory Jenks

Gregory Jenks has posted a new article on academia.edu, What did Paul know about Jesus? Jenks is a senior lecturer of theology at Charles Sturt University. Among other things he is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar and has a blog with the byline revisioning faith . . . shaping holy lives. I met Gregory Jenks in Toowoomba some years ago now when John Shelby Spong dropped in for a visit at his Anglican parish. He’s a nice bloke so I hope I don’t do any injustice to his article.

So first up let me give you the message Jenks wants to leave with sympathetic readers. He begins with this question for believers:

Does the historical Paul provide any help for contemporary people wondering to what extent information about the pre-Easter Jesus is relevant to the project of discipleship and faith?

After showing how little Paul addressed “Jesus traditions” he closes with the following answer that amplifies the message of his blog’s byline:

Paul appears to have exercised considerable flexibility and creative license in using whatever Jesus traditions may have been known to him and his readers. Christians today can claim that same freedom with respect to the Jesus tradition and the Pauline legacy.

Paul demonstrated that the priority always lies with direct life experience—interpreted within the context of one’s faith community and in the light of its tradition. Those who wish to honor the sage of Galilee might do it best by moving beyond veneration to the more challenging project of embracing life with openness and trust here and now.

I think I’ve been fair in presenting what Jenks sees as the importance of his article. I’ve no problem with his question or answer and respect his efforts in working towards a more tolerant and understanding society with that kind of message.

But what about the question of historicity and origins?

I was fearing that Jenks’ article would be yet one more “reading Paul through the Gospels” exercise but there was no need. Jenks is smarter than that. read more »