Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Blogging Plans for 2011

I plan to go a whole different route this year where it concerns my blogging. I want to particularly focus in on the historical aspect of biblical studies, especially where it concerns the textual reliability of the Bible, the historical Jesus, Paul, and other similar subjects. I am also going to keep pressing the resurrection issue as well as the topic of the Kingdom of God (a pending, upcoming paper will be electronically published). I've created a reading list for myself that I will share with you guys below (in order by author).

Richard Bauckham:

Darrell Bock:

James D. G. Dunn

Craig Evans:

Gary Habermas

Craig S. Keener

Robert E. Van Voorst

N. T. Wright:
Resurrection of the Son of God  (already 400 pages in)

The above list isn't meant to be comprehensive, but these are some of the ones I plan on reading over the next year or so (see a fuller list, here). If anyone has a book to recommend that is along the lines of the topic(s) above, leave a comment with the suggestion! 

I also plan on fully transitioning to my WordPress blog. This is because it has a lot more features than does blogger. You can upload files (doc, docx, pdf, etc.) on WordPress--something you can't do on blogger, also it has working footnotes (!), and other little features that blogger doesn't. 

So, I think this might be the end of the road for this blog... 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Jesus & History

Ben Witherington III is one of my favorite New Testament scholars. I think the man is brilliant. Below is a video interview where he discusses Jesus and history. Interesting bit, I think.

The Chreia

[NOTE: This is a revised and expanded entry from my other earlier post entitled, "The Chreia," which has now been deleted. Hope this is helpful for those interested in the historical Jesus studies.]

The Chreia as a Literary Form

There were Greek rhetoricians long before Aristotle (4th century B.C.E.) and they continued at least until the 11th century. These ones were those that trained and schooled lawyers and other public orators. From about the time of Theon (1-2 C.E.) to the time of Doxapatres (11th century), these rhetoricians used a literary form called a chreia.

A chreia is defined as “a reminiscence that is succinct, about a character, whom it credits. Why is a chreia a reminiscence? Because if it were extended, many times it would be narrative or something else. Why is about a character? Because many times without a character reference a succinct reminiscence is a maxim or something else. Why is it called a chreia? Because of its usefulness.”[1]

Thus the requirements for a literary form to be a chreia are as follows:

1. It was always concise
2. The speaker is identified
3. The statement or action is always given
4. The content is various (that is, it can be about ethics, philosophy, education, etc.)

This literary form was employed for a shortcut in memory. It was an easy and accessible way for recording accounts and memorizing them. But how reliable are they? Do their literary forms change over time?

Theon writing from about 1-2 C.E. (latest would be 2nd century C.E.) wrote and recorded some chreias. The later commentator, Doxapatres, from the 11th century, reproduced some 18 chreias that Theon had penned [these weren't originally his, but he had copied them from other sources] about a millennium earlier. How much did they differ? How similar were they? Bellow I will reproduce some of the chreias.

Chreias in Transmission

# 1

Theon (c. 1-100): When Olympias found out that her son, Alexander, declared himself [the son] of Zeus, she said, “Will this one not stop accusing me to Hera?”
Doxapatres (c 1000-1100):
When Olympias, the mother of Alexander, heard that her son said he was [the son] of Zeus, she said, “Will the young man not stop slandering me to Hera?”

# 2

Theon: When Pythagoras, the philosopher, had been asked how long the life of man was, he went up on the roof and peek over briefly.
Doxapatres: When Pythagoras had been asked how long the life of man would be, he appeared briefly and then hid.

# 3

Theon: A certain Lacedemonian, when someone asked him where the Lacedemonians held the boundaries of the land, pointed to his spear.
Doxapatres: When the Lacedemonian had been asked where the boundaries of Sparta were, after he extended his spear and pointed, he said, “There.”

# 4

Theon: When Alexander, the king of Macedon, stood over Diogenes, while he was sleeping, he said, “it is not good for a counselor to sleep all night long,” and Diogenes answered, “to whom the people turn and who has so many cares!”
Doxapatres: When Alexander stood over Diogenes, sleeping, he said, “it is not good for a counselor to sleep all night long.”

# 5
Theon: Plato, the philosopher, said branches of virtue grew with sweat and labor.
Doxapatres: Plato used to say the branches of virtue grew with sweat and labor.

# 6
Theon: Isocrates, the rhetor, used to say his well-developed disciples were children of the gods.
Doxapatres: Isocrates said his well-developed disciples were children of the gods.

Evaluation of Data

Above I reproduced 6 of the 18 chreias found among Doxapatres-Theon transmission. The differences are not very much. Further, none of the differences affect the essence of the message. We are likely to see more variation from newspapers in the 21st century than we do with these chreia. We should also keep in mind that these reflect a transmission process of about a millennium (1,000 years!).

Chreias among the Christians

Below I will present the chrea where it concerns Polycarp’s account of John, the apostle.

Eusebius, DE 3.39, 6, on the authority of Polycarp, (c. 156 CE):  “Once the apostle John entred a bath house in order to wash himself, but when he learned that Cerinthus was inside, he left the place, fled through the door, and would not remain under the same roof with him, but urged each one with him, saying, ‘Let us flee, lest the bath house collapse, since Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is inside!’”

DE 4.6, (c. 320 CE): “John, the disciple of the Lord, when he went to wash himself in Ephesus, after he saw Cerinthus inside, ran out of the bath house without washing, but called out, ‘Let us feel, lest even the bath house collapse, since Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is inside!’”

Theodoret of Cyr. Eccl. Hist. 2.3 (c. 447 CE): “This one, as they say, saw the divine John, the evangelist, washing himself, for it happened because of ill health that he used the bath house. ‘Let us flee,’ he said, ‘from here, least because of Cerinthus, the bath house fall in and we share [the destruction].’”

De recept. Haer. 28 c-29A (c. 600 CE): “They said that also Saint Polycarp said that when washing himself in a bath house, the evangelist John, having learned that also Cerinthus was washing himself, left the place and fled, warning those with him, ‘Let us flee, lest the bath house collapse, since Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is inside.’”

De haer. Libell. 4 (c. 1000): “When it was necessary, the apostle John used a bath house, but when he found out as he was about to enter that Cerinthus was inside, he jumped up and left through the door as quickly as possible, not considering it right to be with him under the same roof. He explained also to those with him saying, ‘Let us flee, lest the bath house collapse on us, since Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is inside.’”

Though the wording differs in some instances, and some phrases and words are added, it is, in essence, the same chrea with the same basic message: John entered a bath house but fled when he saw Cerinthus. This chrea went under 900 years of transmission and we can still deduce the essential message that it was meant to convey.
Chreias in the New Testament
And a certain scribe came up and said to him: “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you are about to go.” But Jesus said to him: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.” (Matthew 8:19-20)

Then another of the disciples said to him: “Lord, permit me first to leave and bury my father.” Jesus said to him: “Keep following me, and let the dead bury their dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22)

And still another said: “I will follow you, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those in my household.” Jesus said to him: “No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62)

Departing now, Jesus was on his way from the temple, but his disciples approached to show him the buildings of the temple. In response he said to them: “Do YOU not behold all these things? Truly I say to YOU, By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:1-3)

Sayings of Jesus in Chreia Form
The sayings of Jesus that are represented in chreia form can be considered to be extremely reliable, as we have seen from the transmission of the chreias between Theon & Doxapatres. The chreias in the New Testament, however, didn’t go through a 1000 year transmission.

Most critical scholars date Matthew to about 80 CE. If this is so, the chreias were transmitted for a mere 50 years[2]. If a 1000 year transmission span of chreias can be considered fairly reliable, as the data suggests, then how much more reliable would the chreias in the Gospels be that were transmitted for no more than 50 years[3]?

Considering all the above, I should note here that the sayings found within the chreias aren’t supposed to be Jesus’ words verbatim. The chreia is supposed to capture the essence or gist of the message. In other words, we can have confidence that the chreias in the Gospels accurately and reliably preserve Jesus’ teaching not necessarily his words verbatim.

[1] Papiri Greci e Latine 1, no. 85.
[2] If Jesus’ ministry started in 29 CE.
[3] If some chreias were recorded in the year 30, it is possible that the authors of the Gospels had access to these original documents themselves. It is always equally possible that the chreias are the authors’ own. Whichever position one adopts, the reliability of the chreia is nearly 100%. 

John 6:62 (A Socinian Response)

A week or so ago, I had posted an entry dealing with Socinianism and John 6:62. Recently, a poster directed me to the following website and its comments on John 6:62.

The first thing they say is:
1. This verse is referring to the resurrection of Christ. This fact is clear from studying the context. Because the translators have chosen to translate anabaino as “ascend,” people believe it refers to Christ’s ascension from earth as recorded in Acts 1:9, but Acts 1:9 does not use this word. Anabaino simply means “to go up.” It is used of “going up” to a higher elevation as in climbing a mountain (Matt. 5:1; 14:23, et al.), of Jesus “coming up” from under the water at his baptism (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10), of plants that “grow up” out of the ground (Matt. 13:7; Mark 4:7, 8 and 32), or of even just “going up,” i.e., “climbing,” a tree (Luke 19:4). Christ was simply asking if they would be offended if they saw him “come up” out of the ground, i.e., be resurrected, and be where he was before, i.e., alive and on the earth.
 While it is true that the resurrection was very much in view here, to limit it to this would an error. John 6 is a very entertaining dialog and we shouldn't miss out on the small details found within it.

Most truly I say to YOU, Moses did not give YOU the bread from heaven, but my Father does give YOU the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Therefore they said to him: “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them: “I am the bread of life. He that comes to me will not get hungry at all, and he that exercises faith in me will never get thirsty at all. But I have said to YOU, YOU have even seen me and yet do not believe. Everything the Father gives me will come to me, and the one that comes to me I will by no means drive away; because I have come down from heaven to do, not my will, but the will of him that sent me. (John 6:32-38)
Jesus says that "the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven." The "bread of God" is therefore a person; indeed, Jesus himself says "I am the bread of life." Clear identification, there's no mistake about it. Later on in the dialog he says that he has "come down from heaven." Admittedly, this can simply mean that he has come from God, but I don't think this is so (see below).
Therefore the Jews began to murmur at him because he said: “I am the bread that came down from heaven”; and they began saying: “Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it that now he says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?(John 6:41-42)
The Jews asked "is this not Jesus the son of Joseph...how is it that now he says, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Clearly, the Jews didn't believe that "come down from heaven" meant that he was sent forth by God in an inspired or prophetic sense. They understood Jesus literally. They were wondering, 'How can a man come down from heaven when we know he was born from Mary?' 

Jesus replies: 
“Stop murmuring among yourselves. No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him; and I will resurrect him in the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by Jehovah.’ Everyone that has heard from the Father and has learned comes to me. Not that any man has seen the Father, except he who is from God; this one has seen the Father. Most truly I say to YOU, He that believes has everlasting life. “I am the bread of life. YOUR forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness and yet died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (John 6:43-51)
Once more, these 'came down from heaven' sayings can simply mean that he was commissioned by God in a special sense but I don't think this is so. Jesus' statement of nobody seeing the Father "except he who is from God" implies that he had seen the Father. This can't be just in some spiritual sense for prophets of old could claim the same thing, but see John 1:18. So we have (1) Jesus claiming to have come from heaven and (2) to have seen God. 
Just as the living Father sent me forth and I live because of the Father, he also that feeds on me, even that one will live because of me.This is the bread that came down from heaven. It is not as when YOUR forefathers ate and yet died. He that feeds on this bread will live forever.” These things he said as he was teaching in public assembly at Capernaum. Therefore many of his disciples, when they heard this, said: “This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were murmuring about this, said to them: “Does this stumble YOU? What, therefore, if YOU should behold the Son of man ascending to where he was before? (John 6:57-62)
While Socinians could appeal to verse 57 to suggest that 'coming down from heaven' simply means that Jehovah or the "Father" has "sent" Jesus "forth," they must still contend with Jesus' statement of seeing the Father and with verse 62. 

Verse 62 suggests that Jesus had been with the Father "before" he 'came down from heaven,' so that now, he has to 'ascend' to where he came from. If we view this entire dialog in light of verse 62, then not only do the 'coming from heaven' verses mean that Jehovah 'sent forth' Jesus in a special prophetic sense, but that he literally 'came down from heaven' so that he was no longer where he was "before." 

I think John 6 and especially John 8:58 are clear references to Jesus' pre-human existence.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Two or More Witnesses

(Matthew 18:16) . . .But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established.

The context is obviously a legal one, but I think this is a good rule of thumb to go by. Everybody wants to believe that what they believe is true. I'm not talking about theology and interpretation, but about the historicity of one's beliefs. Christians, all Christians, have many suppositions that they carry along with their beliefs. For instance, the major one being inspiration and inerrancy. The Bible doesn't claim any of these for itself in the modern sense. 

True, there are statements such as Matthew 5:17-18 and 2 Timothy 3:16. However, none of these prove the Christian supposition. Paul, for instance, says that "all Scripture is inspired" and beneficial. In context, he is clearly referring to the 22 (24) books in the Old Testament, but because of different counting we have 39. So at best, Paul believed these 39 books to be inspired. He's certainly not talking about the 27 which would later compose the New Testament canon. But even with these 39 "inspired" books, Paul says that they only see things "hazily," that is, not in its full splendor. Thus, even for an "inspired" book, it is still, in some sense, insufficient.

Moreover, I will argue, that there are different sorts of "inspiration." For instance, if the Apocalypse of John is inspired, then this is a revelation from God. Still, other books such as Ephesians (if or if not we accept as genuine Pauline) would be "inspired" in a different sense. This epistle wouldn't be a revelation from God as the Apocalypse would be. This epistle can be considered to be influenced or simply approved by God. Thus, in this sense, it is "inspired." 

So inspiration is a tricky and complex subject. However, if we get away from this supposition of inspiration, what parts of the Bible and of other extra-biblical literature can we verify as historical? How much of the Gospels can we say with a fair amount of certainty actually happened?  

This is actually a fairly complex issue. It is complex because we are dealing with "sources" not really documents. The general scholarly consensus holds to the theory of "Q." That is to say, that Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke used Mark and "Q" as a source. Where Matthew and Luke have unique material not found in "Q" or in Mark, then they used sources named "M" and "L." 

And in Historical Jesus studies, you have to have at least 2 independently attested events for it to have probably happened. If it appears in 3 or more, it almost certainly happened. 

So for instance: An event occurring in Mark, Matthew and Luke wouldn't equal 3 sources. It would only be 1 source since Matthew and Luke copied Mark. However, if this same event occurred in John, then you do have 2 sources (Mark & John). 

The methodology, in my opinion, is good. That is, events occurring in 2 or more witnesses should be given the most priority and we should probably base our beliefs on that which is most certain. 

However, I do disagree with the two source theory. I don't think "Q" existed nor do I think Matthew and Luke used Mark. Of course, I am now disagreeing with about 99% of scholarship. But I think there is good evidence for the independence of Matthew and Luke from Mark. I think oral tradition, eyewitness testimony, chreias, and a few other methods explain the similarities and differences in the Gospels. There is no need for the assumption of literary dependence, that is, literary dependence that assumes Matthew and Luke used Mark. I think it is plausible they did use similar sources, but not each other.

I will get into all this at a future date, but I will, in my next entry, get into a few accounts that I think are nearly 100% certain they happened. 


Over at http://bible-translation.net/, the Bible discussion group will be studying D. C. Parker's  An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts. So for those that want to join, right now would be a good time. You can either purchase the book or join the Yahoo Discussion Group and get the PDF version for free. 


Anyone who wants to join, can.

A problem that one may encounter, however, is that this is book number 7. So it may be at first difficult to know what certain terms mean and get down the basics.

Here's the book list: http://bible-translation.net/book_list_bible_translation_discussion

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Scriptural Issue with Socinianism

(John 6:60-62) . . .Therefore many of his disciples, when they heard this, said: “This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were murmuring about this, said to them: “Does this stumble YOU? What, therefore, if YOU should behold the Son of man ascending to where he was before?

The phrase "ascending to where he was before" suggests that he personally existed "before" he "became flesh." (John 1:14) How else can this be interpreted?