Friday, May 22, 2015

Nor the Bart


From the February 2012 E-Block.
***
In Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament, contributor Adam Messer offers an important essay responding to charges by Bart Ehrman regarding Matthew 24:36: 

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
 
In some manuscripts, "nor the Son" is missing. Ehrman finds this to be evidence of theological tampering by scribes who were embarrassed by Jesus' lack of omniscience. 

We have already answered (with Wallace) that the excision of the critical phrase "nor the Son" does not by itself warrant such a change, since, among other things, 1) the phrase is only rarely excised from the Markan parallel account, and 2) Matthew still has Jesus say that the Father "only" (or alone) knows the day and hour, which excludes the Son quite clearly so that the alleged problem remains. Messer now contributes a coup de grace to Ehrman's thesis with a survey of patristic evidence concerning Matthew 24:36, which is so valuable that we feel it worth a summary article in the E-Block -- especially given, as Messer observes, that Ehrman makes this one of his showcase examples of scribal tampering. 

Messer reasons that since scribes were not exactly theologians, if they had any problem with a passage, it would have come from teaching authorities. Logically, then, if Ehrman is correct, Matthew 24:36 ought to have been a source of consternation for early church theologians. The problem Ehrman has, though, is that it clearly wasn't -- there is no sign at all that patristic authors were disturbed by "nor the Son" being in the text. To be sure, it posed a theological question that required an answer; but the patristic authors, far from entering panic mode, discussed what they perceived to be reasonable solutions in the same manner they discussed other issues of the same type. There is no sign that they consider "nor the Son" to be some sort of insoluble problem which might lead them to wish it were not there. 

Having surveyed patristic references to Matt. 24:36 (and the parallel in Mark 13:32), as well as other relevant information, Messer offered some pertinent observations.

First, there is a factor involved that we probably wouldn't think of: Copies of the NT were also made by heretics, and for various reasons associated with the economy of producing manuscripts, it is not impossible that orthodox Christians unwittingly used manuscripts that had been copied by heretics. In other words, rather than "nor the Son" being excised by orthodox scribes, it could be that the phrase was excised by heretical scribes, and that these manuscripts came into the possession of the orthodox and were used and copied by them.

Surveying heresies of the period, Messer concludes that certain modalist heresies, which desired to eliminate any difference between the members of the Trinity, would be motivated to remove "nor the Son". Among heresies of this order were Sabellianism, which concluded that the Son and Father were the same.

Second, Messer compiles the reactions of several patristic writers to Mathew 24:36/Mark 13:32 and finds that there simply was no serious difficulty had with it. Here are the clearest referents from among those he collects:
  • Ireneaus (c. 180 AD) actually regards Jesus' ignorance as instructive for Christians, demonstrating that as Jesus was not ashamed to admit his ignorance of the time of the parousia, so likewise Christians should not hesitate to reserve greater questions for God. Since he does not quote the verse, it is not clear if his copy was missing "nor the Son." However, if it was, then he clearly derived this lesson from the verse simply saying that the Father alone knew the time of the parousia -- which of course demonstrates our earlier point about the excision not resolving the "problem".
  • Tertullian (c. 200 AD) references the passage three times, and in not one instance does he perceive Jesus' ignorance to be a problem, merely noting it as a fact -- though notably, from the perspective of saying the Father alone knew the time more substantially. Messer acknowledges that since Tertullian was arguing with modalists, he may have left out any reservations he had on this issue in some of his writings, but in writings not addressing them, he maintains the same view. It is also not clear if his copies had the key phrase excised.
  • Origen (c. 220 AD) also described Jesus' ignorance in plain terms and with no reservations. This is especially significant since Origen "often contemplated the limitations of Jesus" described in Scripture.
  • In contrast, Athanasius (c. 320 AD), the chief defender against the Arian heresy, did have a serious problem with Jesus' ignorance and sought to explain it in terms of Jesus' human nature being ignorant. It is also clear that his copy of Matthew lacks "nor the Son."
  • Following this, Hilary (d. 368 AD) and Epiphanius (367 AD) also offered extensive arguments explaining this as a problem, and from that time on, it remains a problem under discussion.
Third, combined with the above information, information on the text itself leads to the conclusion that the phrase did not exist in at least some manuscripts prior to the Arian controversy. The above analysis may lead to speculation that the Arian controversy was what inspired the excision. However, an important fact is that Origen -- a writer well before the Arian controversy -- was our earliest textual critic, and discussed any variant he was aware of. Matthew 24:36 is not in his roster. While he may have forgotten such variations, or not had a universal enough awareness of all manuscript traditions, this remains a point of reckoning.

Additionally, there is a point which confounds Ehrman rather ironically: For all of these later writers to discuss the problem means that they had manuscripts which contained the key phrase. Some were also aware of manuscripts that did not have it. So, Messer asks us, what must have happened? The evidence, he believes, leads to the conclusion that the excision (if that is what it was) happened very early, in the late second century , and was not the result of some conscious effort or demand, but was "naturally disseminated" as were many other variants.

Fourth, based on the above, Messer points to another problem not considered by Ehrman. Ehrman supposes that "nor the Son" was removed as a reaction to the adoptionist heresy. But as noted, modalist heresies would be anxious to remove it as well. Therefore, the scribe Ehrman supposes to be on the job would be darned if he did, darned if he didn't. Only modalists had a motivation to remove it, in a way which would not also give in to some other group.

In the end, Messer's conclusion is that Matthew originally lacked, "nor the Son" -- and I daresay in light of his discussion that this earns the right to be called the simplest solution as well.

Friday, May 15, 2015

An Open Letter to Erwin Lutzer: Errors in "Hitler's Cross"



An open letter to:
Erwin Lutzer
Pastor, Moody Bible Church

Dear Pastor Lutzer,

This letter is written to request that you assume responsibility for, and publicly correct, serious errors in your book Hitler’s Cross

In that book you incorrectly identify Adolf Hitler as involved in the occult. Your source material for this thematic claim is entirely unreliable and should not have been used in any serious discussion of Hitler’s religious beliefs.

In point of fact, Hitler was not an occultist. There were a fraction of Nazi leaders who were occultists, notably, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Schultzstaffel. There were also some who might be termed paganists, such as Alfred Rosenberg, an influential early leader in the Nazi Party who wrote The Myth of the Twentieth Century

However, the few credible and documented Hitler comments and actions we have on the subject of the occult clearly indicate that he had no use for it. Hitler’s only close friend as a youth, Augustin Kubziek, says that the young Hitler was “absolutely skeptical of occultism.” Commenting on Himmler, the Party’s leading occultist, Hitler declared: "What nonsense! Here at last we have reached an age that has left all mysticism behind, and now he wants to start that all over again...” This sums up Hitler’s view of the occult as found in recorded history. 

His views on paganism are more equivocal, but indications are that he also rejected it. The World War Two historian Steigmann-Gall asserts, "Not once did Hitler have anything positive to say about paganism." 

Your assessment of Hitler as an occultist, as noted, is based on entirely unreliable source material.  You repeatedly cite, in your chapter titled “The Religion and the Third Reich,” two exceptionally unreliable sources: Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny and Dusty Sklar’s Gods and Beasts.
Ravenscroft’s work is nothing but an outlandish fantasy. Despite Ravenscroft’s constant appeal to a man named Walter Stein as a source of information on Hitler, not a single scholarly biographer of Hitler is aware of a man named “Walter Stein” in Hitler’s background. The simple reason for this is that Ravenscroft made up the story out of whole cloth. The British historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author of The Occult Roots of Nazism, describes Ravenscroft’s work as “fanciful.” Clearly, Ravenscroft’s book cannot be taken seriously.

Sklar’s work is little better. In addition to using Ravenscoft as a source, she also uses the works of Hermann Rauschning and Josef Greiner, who are also widely recognized by serious historians as unreliable (or at best, tenuous) sources on the life of Hitler. Like Ravenscroft, Sklar does not deserve to be taken seriously.
Other sources used for the chapter are no more credible. Authors like Dave Hunt, Gerald Suster, and Texe Marrs are not responsible historians and have no place in any serious historical work.

Beyond this, Hitler’s Cross, though it gets some facts about Hitler correct, is 
marred by numerous factually incorrect statements, such as:
·        
           "[T]he Third Reich reinterpreted the cross of Christ to advance a pagan agenda"
·         "[Hitler] was initiated into deeper levels of occult transformation"
·         "Hitler was fascinated by Hinduism"
·         "Himmler said that he did not act without reference to the Hindu writings"

You also retrieve an alleged deathbed quote by Hitler’s early mentor, Dietrich Eckart:

Follow Hitler!...I have initiated him into the 'Secret Doctrine,' opened his centres in vision and given him the means to communicate with the Powers.

In reality, no such quote can be credibly documented from Eckart. Nor can any documentation be offered for an alleged quote by Hitler you refer to, "Man is God in the making.”

Given the depth of error in your book in this regard, I am publicly calling upon you to repudiate these mistakes, and issue a formal apology to your readers.  As Christians we have a responsibility to be honest and forthcoming with the facts. Although I assume your errors in this book were not intended, it would indeed be irresponsible to continue to allow them to stand uncorrected.

Sincerely,

James Patrick Holding (tektonics.org)

***

I'll be spreading this around in various places over the next few weeks.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Paul Fan Club 2: Craig Winn, Part 1

From the February 2012 E-Block.
**
Back in 2009 we did a series called the Paul Fan Club in which we examined the words of Douglas del Tondo, author of the pretentiously titled Jesus' Words Only. Del Tondo offered some rather absurd and unscholarly machinations with the intention of arguing that Paul was a black hat in disguise. 

Craig Winn, a former businessman with a remarkable record for controversial failure, is now another "big name" in the Paul-dissing camp, and his online book Questioning Paul picks up for anti-Paulines where del Tondo dropped off -- in more ways than one. I noted that del Tondo was a poor writer, one whose book was "a ponderous volume that is overlong by two times, and undersupported in its premises by three times." Winn amazingly succeeds in outdoing del Tondo in terms of pretense. His first two chapters alone, plus an intro, take up 71 pages, and Winn manages to say far less of consequence in this space than seems humanly possible, which still managing to use absolutely no scholarly sources in his reporting. 

It is also worth note that Winn made a name for himself as a critic of Islam, and while I don’t give much credence to those who reply to him (including my former nemesis Nadir Ahmed), I doubt he is a credible expert in that either.
In this installment we will look at that intro and the first two chapters. We will also be reviewing Winn while seeking anything new -- not found in del Tondo, whose work we reviewed in 2009, in articles which will soon be appearing on the Ticker blog for those without access to the earlier E-Blocks. Anything known previously from del Tondo will be briefly noted but not discussed in depth.

Introduction

The intro is somewhat biographical, giving Winn's account of how he came to realize Paul was spoiled goods, and spending a great deal of time on platitudinous rambling and pretentious sermonizing in the process. Thus there is little we need to say about it. The most amazing aspect of the introduction is Winn's profession of expertise after having reputedly translated the "oldest Scriptural manuscripts" on his own: 

As a result, I have come to understand God’s nature, purpose, and plan far better than most scholars and theologians. And that perspective is pertinent because Paul purports to speak on behalf of this God. If [Paul] contradicts or misquotes Yahweh’s Word I am in a position to hold him accountable.

I think such delusional self-importance speaks for itself.

Chapter 1

Initially Chapter 1 begins with the theme of Paul as one who was self-authorized to "annul the Torah," with Galatians put forward as prime evidence. This is a place we've been before, of course -- there was no annulment of the Torah by Paul here; there was a response to persons who insisted that Christians were obliged to take a step backwards, as it were, and become Jews before they could become Christians. The matter is summed up in the "Peter vs Paul" article linked at the end. Winn also hauls out the standard James vs Paul misapprehension, supposing that Paul pitted "faith" against "law"; again see the end link.

Cognizant of none of these subtleties, and informed not at all by them, Winn proceeds to paint a stark picture of Paul as one designating the Law "as a cruel taskmaster which ultimately enslaves and condemns everyone." There is little warrant for that sort of negative spin, which Winn engages freely; thus for example Paul is said to have "mercilessly condemned" Peter and "demeaned" James and John. As our articles show, the excess hyperbole does little justice to the texts or contexts, and is never justified by Winn.

The above does reflect, however, an obvious concern of Winn in terms of the pertinence of the Law to the Christian. Winn designates the covenant of Christ the "Renewed Covenant" rather than the New one. In this, he again mirrors del Tondo, and he hauls out the expected reference to Matthew 5:17-18. But he is obviously not sacrificing at the Jewish Temple, so like del Tondo, he is not practicing what he preaches -- not literally, anyway. Shortly we will see that he does, however, have an excuse for that.

Allusion is also made to the standard "Paul: Acts vs Epistles" routine (link below, again) though thorough analysis is deferred until later. One immediately relevant point, however, is that Winn opts to identify the meeting of Galatians 2 with that of Acts 15, whereas we argue that Galatians 2's meeting came before Acts 15. Winn places some weight on this chronology, so if it is false, a minor pillar of his case is lost.

It takes some time, and a great deal of effort, to dig out actual argumentation from Winn's hyperbolic sermonizing, which goes on and on for pages at a time, descending at times into childish silliness such as this:

In this light, it is instructive to know that Paul’s given name was Sha’uwl. It is of Hebrew origin, and it means "to question." And that is precisely what we are going to do: question Paul. You should also know that sha’uwl is indistinguishable in the Scriptural text from she’owl, Hebrew for "the grave," "the pit," and even "hell."

And this means -- what? Nothing whatsoever. One may as well make much of the fact that the name Barbara has the same consonantal combination as bribery. This is little more than semantic silliness.

Just as silly and childish is Winn's assessment that Galatians is "poorly written; reflecting the worst writing quality found in the Renewed Covenant. We will encounter a steady diet of missing words, and worse. Many of Paul’s sentences are incomprehensible." For some reason, however, credible Pauline scholars, and specially analysts who have studied Galatians (Witherington, Nanos, Betz, and numerous others) do not share Winn's assessment, which leads to the obvious suggestion that the real problem lies in Winn's own incompetence as a theorist.

A great deal of time is then spent defending Pauline authorship of Galatians, which obviously we see no reason to engage. A rather humorous point in that case, however, is this one:

And seventh, Paul’s signature term is charis, which is transliterated into English as "Grace," based upon the Roman name Gratia. Apart from Paul’s letters, the use of charis can only be attested by an ancient manuscript in one other place in the whole of the Renewed Covenant. Therefore, the frequency of its use in this letter suggests that it came from Paul.

Del Tondo raised a similar point, to which we said:

DDT also notes that "grace" is only mentioned twice in Revelation, and supposes this to be some specific aspect of Paul's teachings. But it is not: Grace simply meant favor (Handbook of Biblical Social Values, 89) and again, DDT would hardly deny that Jesus showed various persons favor. DDT creates a false dichotomy between the teachings of Paul and Jesus based on anachronistic definitions of critical words.

Of course, “grace” (charis) is also used other times by non-Pauline writers, especially Peter, but also James, Jude, and John, but we will see later that Winn has an excuse for that.

Just as amusing is this profession:

Without Galatians, "faith," is irrelevant, as is the religion of Christianity.
And in this regard, faith is the opposite of trust. Trust emerges from a discerning evaluation of the evidence, while faith thrives in the absence of information and reason.

As we have shown, however, the meaning of pistis was precisely what Winn says “faith” is not! (Link again below). His error in this regard is profound, such that he claims that Paul misquotes Habakkuk 2:4 -- under the assumption that for Paul, "faith" means something other than what it actually does. Winn has Paul taking it to mean "belief" -- but that is what moderns (though not serious scholars) have wrongly read Paul as saying.

A major complaint revolves around Galatians 3:10, For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Winn presents his own translation from the Greek, which differs from that of standard translations, and which, prima facie, given Winn's lack of proven expertise, I see little reason to accept over that of translations offered by credible scholars. Even so, his main accusation is that Paul "misquoted Deuteronomy 27:26," which he reads as, "Cursed is whoever is not established by the words of this Torah, observing and accomplishing them." Unfortunately, since the case for a "misquote" depends on Winn's own translation, there's little to recommend it as anything more than Winn creating the contradiction.

Adding to the absurdity, Winn gets from Deut. 27:26 the outlandish idea that the Torah was "presented as the lone means to becoming restored and established". There isn't a hint of exclusivity of that sort anywhere in the passage; Winn illicitly expands the semantic range of "whoever" to the entirety of mankind, when it is rather clear that the semantic range of "whoever" is Israel as the covenant people. It would make little sense for God to announce to Israel that their covenant law, with all its blessings and curses specifically oriented towards their lands and their situations, was in some way directed to Farmer Xocothl in the Andes Mountains.

The sum of it is: Winn's own errors reading Paul are what create the problems he finds. He reads Paul as annulling the Law (even as he hypocritically cannot be keeping all of it -- but again, see his contrived explanation below), when Paul was actually rejecting a backwards step that rendered Christ's death meaningless in practice; he reads into Paul's use of "faith" a modern mistake of meaning that Paul would never have recognized.

Like del Tondo, Winn also creatively imagines Jesus warning that Paul was on his way, predicted as one of the "wolves" in Matthew 7:15.

Winn next proceeds outlining his conspiracy theory behind the formation of the NT, which need not detain us since it is an explanation for a non-problem. What we will move to rather is Winn's rather contrived excuse for his convenient lack of Torah observation (particularly sacrifices). He writes:

...the essence of the Torah isn’t a set of laws to be followed, but instead the Torah is a word picture of Yahweh’s purpose. It is a portrait of His Covenant. And it serves as a symbolic depiction of His plan of salvation. The Torah’s every story and example represent facets on a diamond, providing a perspective from which to observe, enjoy, and benefit from Yahweh’s brilliant Light. The Torah is overwhelmingly metaphorical and symbolic, painting word pictures to help us know Yahweh, understand His plan of salvation, and rely on His provision.

Unfortunately, such a wildly idiosyncratic perspective of the Torah is completely unsupported by contextual scholarship, which recognizes in Deuteronomy a suzerainty treaty between suzerain and vassals, inclusive of laws to be followed -- not some "word picture" or metaphor. (The irony of this is that Paul, clearly, does regard the Torah as a set of rules to be followed, which means that Winn is criticizing Paul for, as he sees it, telling people to not follow a set of behavioral rules that Winn himself doesn't think is what was intended!)

From here begins what is apparently meant to be a by-verse treatment of Galatians. Winn's first misgiving is directed to Galatians 1:1, in which Paul claims to speak for Jesus. Winn makes (far too) much over Paul saying he speaks for Jesus as opposed to the Father, and supposes this is some major issue to be concerned about. It is not. Paul is reflecting the proper perspective of a patronage/covenant relationship, in which Jesus as the formal covenant broker "subcontracts" work to his servants/slaves. In such a relationship, God as patron would hardly be communicated with.

Winn also repeats a grievance of del Tondo that Paul designated himself an apostle; however, he creates from whole cloth the idea that the other disciples "refused to convey" the title to Paul. Like del Tondo, though, he unwittingly admits that the error is in his own assumption: ...[Paul] was not an Apostle—at least as the term is transliterated into a title. Yes, precisely. And as we said to del Tondo:

The case, needless to say, is not promising. DDT begins by supposing that Paul was tried for falsely claiming to be an apostle. But his entire case here commits a classic confusion which he is at pains to avoid clearing up. "Apostle" is not simply a titular word; it simply means one who is sent. DDT even admits that such a distinction exists, and admits that Paul was an "apostle" (little a, after his example) in a real sense, because he was "sent" by the Antioch church to do missions. [219] But to find Paul guilty of a "self-serving" crime, DDT must assume that anywhere Paul calls himself an "apostle" he meant it in the titular sense (with a capital A). But there is no sign of this anywhere, and DDT provides no evidence to show that Paul thought of himself as an apostle in this titular sense. Indeed, Paul identifies the Twelve as a distinct group of which he is not a part (1 Cor. 15).

However, oblivious to his missed burden of proof, Winn rattles on and on against Paul for assuming "apostle" in the titular sense. He provides no argument for this, save this rather strained appeal:

And the reason we know that Paul intended "Apostle" to be his title, rather than a descriptive presentation of his purpose, is that he writes "Paul called an Apostle," in his letters to Rome and Corinth.

This is simply nonsensical. There is nothing about the word "called" that makes "apostle" titular. All apostles -- which means, a person who is sent -- would be "called" by someone; otherwise they could hardly be "sent"!

Yet another invented charge is this one:

[Paul's] greeting tells us that he was convinced that he did not represent any human institution, and that would include the ekklesia, the Renewed Covenant’s called-out assembly. And that’s a bit of a problem because Yahweh and Yahshua were represented by the Yaruwshalaym Ekklesia. And that would make [Paul] a freelance operator and an independent contractor.

However, the base premise here -- that the ekklesia was a human institution -- is itself false. Jesus himself established his assembly, and he did so with divine authority as incarnate Wisdom.

There follows a good deal of disconnected rambling that presents no real arguments, accuses translators of incompetence (with the arrogant statement that "it is incumbent upon us to correct 1,700 years of religious tampering and corruption"), and then an extended section of what Winn calls "Divine Placeholders" -- (nomina sacra -- a term that by itself Winn thinks has caused untold grief) -- basically, abbreviations for divine names. Winn finds some grave offense in the fact that translators have presumed to offer the full names or titles these abbreviations represent, making reference to Leviticus 24:9-16 and commands against "diminishing the use of [God's] name". It is said:

And yet, if any portion of the Renewed Covenant text was inspired by God, then these ten placeholders were designated by God. It is as simple as that. Ignoring them would then be in direct opposition to God’s will. And yet, if any portion of the Renewed Covenant text was inspired by God, then these ten placeholders were designated by God. It is as simple as that. Ignoring them would then be in direct opposition to God’s will.

Well, why not take it to its logical conclusion? The texts were inspired in Greek. Obviously this was the language for Scripture designated by God. Ignoring that would be in direct opposition to God's will. So we must not translate the Scriptures -- we will all have to learn Greek. Such is the absurdity to which Winn's legalistic logic leads. (And actually, he is not far from that in the end, as he goes on to say that "all of God’s titles convey essential truths in Hebrew which are lost in translation. Rather than replace those meanings with Greek pseudo-equivalents, Yahweh wants us to turn to the Torah, Prophets, and Psalms for complete explanations and accurate answers." One wonders why it wouldn't be possible to simply explain -- in our own languages -- these alleged "essential truths" Winn finds tucked into the divine names so that they won't be "lost in translation.")

Much is also made of how (reputedly) the name "Jesus" is "a colossal fraud purposely promoted by religious leaders desirous of separating Yahshua from Yahweh, and the Torah from the Healing and Beneficial Message." How this is so is not explained, but in all likelihood, abject legalist paranoia plays a leading role. No one I know of in any way connects the spelling of the name of Jesus to Trinitarian mechanics; and of course, the alleged "message" of the Torah is so far as we have seen merely Winn's imagination.

So likewise paranoia seems active in Winn's suggestion that, despite what experts in Greek say, christos does not mean "anointed," but rather, "drugged" (from which we get another sermonizing skein). It certainly isn't any sort of linguistic justification, since none is given.

In this diversion on placeholders, Winn goes so far as to say:

The truth is: "Lord" is Satan’s title. And lord represents the Adversary’s agenda and ambition. At best, "Jesus" is meaningless, and at worst, it is the name of the savior of the Druid religion (Gesus), where the Horned One is God. Worse still, "christos" means "drugged" in Greek. In fact, it is from the rubbing on of medicinal ointments that the anointed connotation of christos was actually derived. The Rx or Rho Chi symbolism associated with today’s drug stores is a legacy of the first two letters in christos.

Such semantic nonsense is simply contrived and unjustified. Most authorities link the origins of the Rx symbol to a medieval shortening of a Latin word which meant “take this”; more spectacular speculation links it somehow to the Egyptian deity Horus or the Roman deity Jupiter. At the same time, it does not occur to Winn that one does not become "drugged" by topical ointments.

Next, Winn declares that "the replacement of ekklesia with 'church' is the most lethal copyedit found in the Renewed Covenant." He prefers the terms "called out assembly," but what actual difference this makes is hard to say, since it seems clear that a church is an assembly of persons "called out" by God. Winn somehow manages to blame the term "church" for "creat[ing] the impression" that Jesus "had conceived a new, Christian institution to replace the Chosen People..." The details of this alleged tragic semantic history are not explained, but it seems more likely that if any such sentiment exists it has more to do with human sin nature than with usage of a particular term. In other words, Winn confuses symptom with cause, perhaps because causes are too complex to analyze and it is much simpler to make a big deal over a single word.

Absurdity continues as Winn declares that in wishing the Galatians "grace" (1:3) he is invoking the pagan goddess Charis. That charis was both the name of a deity and a common noun is something he later unwittingly admits, but does not allow to disturb him: It should, for there is more than one example of this, such as Eris, the goddess of strife, whose name also meant contention (and is also used by Paul).

However, caring little for any extrabiblical testimony to such usage of charis, Winn manufactures excuses to suggest that Paul was responsible for the word being used in early Christianity; to accomplish this, every usage found outside Paul (Luke, Peter, James) is conveniently discarded as some sort of interpolation, even when (as in nearly all cases cited) no supposed text-critical evidence affirms this.

We next run across the claim, made also by the person who recently brought Winn to my attention, that Paul puts a pagan quote in Jesus' mouth in Acts (the "kick against the pricks" quote). Winn's upset is that this quote appears in a pagan play, and he doesn't suppose Jesus would go around quoting pagan plays; but aside from not explaining why this would be so anyway (it's not as if "kick against the pricks" carries some hidden idolatrous message), the fact is that the phrase is actually a common saying which the pagan play happened to use.

Amazingly, Winn also manages to admit that there was a Hebrew word equivalent to charis, but he doesn't grasp that this upends his case for the use of charis by Paul as though it meant a pagan deity. One must ask: Why would Paul wish "grace and peace" on people, mixing the name of a pagan deity with "peace" as a common noun? Why would he wish a pagan goddesss "to" people, and what on earth would that mean in practical terms? Is Paul wishing that Charis the goddess would stop by Galatia for a visit? And then, having assumed illicitly that "charis" in Paul was indeed the pagan goddess, Winn complains that translators respected that, but not the nomine sacra as abbreviations.

Commentary on Galatians 1:4-5 by Winn doesn't actually advance his case, and serves well mainly in saying in 10000 words what could have been said in 100, and although none of it contains anything Winn uses to accuse Paul, he manages to forcibly relate every part of it to his accusations by association. He also manages to offer a ridiculous association between the word "amen" and the Egyptian deity "Amen-Ra", which we have addressed before:

Here's a corrective for that idea from Marvin Wilson's Our Father Abraham [182ff]. The word "amen" is part of a family of Hebrew words stemming from the verb aman, to believe or trust. (Gen. 15:6, "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.") Other related words are emunah, "faithfulness" or "steadfastness" and emet or "truth."

Winn actually admits the connection to the Hebrew word, but excuses this away by saying that because "amen" is capitalized, this ends up invoking Amun-Ra as the actual god we pray to. Note of course that he spells the name wrong anyway; and apparently, we have to avoid using "amen" as the first (or only) word in a sentence so that Winn's paranoid imagination isn't stoked. Thus ends Chapter 1.

Chapter 2

To open chapter 2, we see Winn adding another to his list of idiosyncratic interpretations, as we are told the Greek word euangelion, good news or gospel, should be rendered "healing message." This would make for some rather interesting results regarding what we once reported:

The Greek term euangelion, was actually "used as a technical term for the good news of political victory and private messages that brought joy to someone" [Patz.MNT, 58] - it was used for news of victory or for the utterance of an oracle [Heib.Int, 19]. ...let us give some examples where euangelion was also used to refer to announcement of known or mundane historical events (only one of which, the Priene inscription, Winn refers to):
  • Plutarch, Pomp. 66.3: "A number of people sailed for Lesbos, wishing to announce to Cornelia the good news (the eu-word) that the war was over."
  • Heliodorus, Aeth 10.1.3 describes the mission of going to announce (eu) to those at Meroe the good news of victory.
  • Announcing that tyranny is overthrown and liberty recovered (Lucian, Tyr 9)
  • T wo messengers announce to Marius his fifth election to the consulate and give him written notice thereof (Plutarch, Marius 22.4)
  • Announcement of a wedding ceremony (Menander Georg. 83; Longus Daph. 3.33.1)
  • The birth of a child "if someone brings the morose man the good news of the birth of a son, he replies, 'There goes half my property'" (Theophrastus Char. 17.7)
  • A midwife encourages a pregnant woman by announcing to her (eu) a lucky delivery (Soranus Gyn. 21)
  • Even an opportune death--"I begin by announcing this good news to you: Demaenetus is dead" (Heliodorus Aeth. 2.10.1)
Of course, good news can be "healing" in a certain therapeutic sense, but Winn has yet to really explain what he means by "healing" anyway, and it is hard to say exactly what any of the above instances would indicate was "healed". This is all the more ironic since Winn goes on to obnoxiously declare:

No matter where you look, Christian apologists say that "Gospel means ‘good news.’" But if that is true, why not simply write "good news." Or more to the point, since euangelion actually means "healing and beneficial message," why not translate the Greek term accurately?

And really, what's the difference between "good news" and "beneficial message" other than semantic nitpicking? Winn even admits that "Christians will protest that something which heals and is beneficial is by definition 'good,' and that a message can be 'news,' " but haughtily declares, "there is no reason to extrapolate when the primary meaning is readily apparent." Use of synonyms, in a different language, is "extrapolation"? Really?

As usual, we're left wondering what dozens of credible, peer-reviewed scholars of Greek have missed that Winn, operating in a corner with no peer review to speak of, has not. He goes on to offer a paranoid explanation regarding the linguistic origins of the word "gospel" as derived from some occult origin (e.g., "god's spell") but even if all of this is true, it is doubtful that it would have any bearing on 99.9% of Christians who would simply be unaware of it.

There follows some ranting to suggest that Paul had trouble with several of his congregations because his message differed from Jesus', though the only specific so far given is that of Galatians and the alleged dichotomy we have discussed above regarding grace. Much more is also made of the use of the word "gospel" to signify euangelion, with the explanation that the word has led Christians to think Paul, when he uses the word "gospel," has the canonical Gospels in mind. I know of many ignorant Christians, but I have yet to meet one that ignorant; thus while Winn offers satisfactory reasons not to make such an equation, and goes on for many paragraphs debunking it, I cannot help but wonder what kind of people he must know to think such explanations necessary.

Further defending his odd distinction between "beneficial message" and "good news" above, Winn makes the rather childish observation:

Along these lines, if aggelos meant "news," as opposed to "message," the aggelos, or "spiritual messengers," would be "newscasters," instead of Yah’s envoys, representatives, and messengers.

Of course, in English the word "news" is also used to mean good reports, not just "news" that is "cast" in television; and someone who gives news of any sort frequently is and envoy or representative (of their radio station, for example), and is a messenger by definition. Winn is simply vainly attempting to parse language to foist a supposed inaccuracy. Not that it matters even so: Certainly anyone who judges by merely two words ("good news") and then makes shallow judgments about content isn't going to be much more enlightened by Winn's tendentious rendition, "healing/beneficial message," and will come up with their own misapprehensions about it. It is simply paranoid nonsense to say that by using "good news," we “obfuscate the evidence thoughtful people require to evaluate its veracity."

Some space is spent in which Winn discusses one of his own earlier erroneous interpretations of Galatians, and this need not detain us. However, it is noteworthy that Winn admits to such clumsiness in exegesis, but somehow thinks he got it right this time. Then there is more fussing about supposed offenses of the KJV and NLT and even the NAS and NIV, which even if true, need not detain us; once again it is only Winn's arrogance, not his credibility as a peer-reviewed scholar, that serves to prop for preferring whatever translation he may offer. It then takes some time and a great deal of sermonizing before we get to any new points of note, as Winn merely affirms his assumed premise, that in Gal. 1:8-9 it was "Yahweh, His prophets, Yahshua, and His Disciples" that Paul wanted to be cursed, before he complains that "Paul writes, he never bothers to explain the nature of the argument." What escapes Winn is that this is exactly what Paul does in Gal. 2 by example when he describes his contest with Peter, and thereafter in Galatians when he discusses the demands of Judaizers. Winn is being tripped up by Paul using an order of argument common to ancient rhetorical conventions.

In Gal. 1:10 and on, Winn makes much of Paul speaking against "pleasing men," and declares that Paul:

...was actually guilty of a non sequitur. The initial question was not answered by his hypothetical. And there was no quid pro quo between "accommodating man" and "serving the Messiyah."

In this and complaints that follow, Winn is simply oblivious to the point that "man pleasers" is a specific term which means, essentially, one who sucks up to others as their argumentative strategy rather than arguing their case from facts and persuasion. Winn simply assumes that Paul is referring to commonplace pleasing of men. Following this is a hyperbolic assessment that "Paul is lashing out at everyone," which is corrected by relating what Paul says to the Judaizers confronting the Galatians, and another paranoid reading in which Winn supposes that Paul is literally thinking he "thought himself qualified to persuade God to change His plan of salvation." In reality, it is the rhetorical question Winn denies that it is, a typical ancient rhetorical convention.

Another misplaced charge is that when Paul speaks of "himself" he fails to "associate the message with Yahweh or Yahshua". This is an oddity, given that Winn otherwise complains that Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Yahweh. So Winn damns Paul if he does, and damns Paul if he doesn't: If he claims to speak for God, he is a liar; if he claims to speak of himself, he is ignoring the authority of God. As even with del Tondo, the stage is set so that Paul loses no matter what he does. So likewise with translations, which are accused at every turn, as so:

In standard form, the NLT ignored six of the twelve Greek words, and they added ten English words of their own choosing. Still inadequate to support their theology, they grossly misrepresented, and inconsistently translated euangelion. "Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning." The use of "mere" implies that "human reasoning," was a contributing factor. And that suggests that Yahweh’s message was incomplete or inadequate, and that He required the contribution of [Paul]’s considerable intellect.

Somehow it doesn't seem likely that the intended connotation of "mere" was anything of that order. Rather, "mere" would have been used to specify the inadequacy of human reason in context.

Much follows based on the illicit reading of Paul as anti-Torah, more accusations against translations, and yet more grief over such trivialities as expanding nomine sacra. From Paul's simple statement that he was wayward as a Jew when he was pursuing Christians, Winn gets the outlandish idea that Paul "was stating that the Jewish religion was in opposition to God’s institutions and people" and further imaginatively accuses Paul of anti-Semitism, from there spending paragraphs blaming Paul for anti-Semitism in later history -- based on nothing more than what he adds to the text assumptively. He also manages to deduce that Paul was a "dropout" from rabbinic school because "but as a young man, we find him making tents back in his hometown of Tarsus, in what is now southwestern Turkey." We do? Prior to his conversion to Christianity? Does Winn possess some historical text scholars are unaware of? To be sure, Paul probably never did graduate as a rabbi -- since Jesus issued a course change.

Just as outlandish is Winn's designation of Acts 22:3, where Paul speaks of his dedication to Judaism, as a "revolting confession" inasmuch as Paul admits to having been part of the Pharasaical school whose members Jesus regarded as rivals and enemies. Particularly, he takes Paul's note that at the time he was still a rabbinical student, he considered the oral rabbinic law accurate, as some sort of profession that Paul still thought it was accurate at the time of Acts 22:3 -- and even as he admits that others might read this as a retrospective view by Paul, Winn provides no response to this point other than to say it "requires an enormous leap of faith." How this is so is not explained.

Next in line to turn Paul into an anti-Semite, Winn drags in 1 Thess. 2:14-16, which we have dealt with in the link below. Winn's abuse of this passage is the usual one. Winn is also later shown incompetent in the anthropology of the first century, as he says, "Judaism" is a religion. "Jews" are a race. The difference is gargantuan. Well, no, not really. The connection of ethnic identity with religion was so close that there really wasn't a difference.

In between some sermonizing that does nothing to advance his arguments, Winn discusses some autobiographical details that are quite revealing:

As an entrepreneur, with the help of others, I built three businesses from business plans into companies with annual sales exceeding one hundred million dollars. I had the privilege of taking two of those companies public. And as a result, at least for a brief moment, I became a billionaire. But a year after having left the management of my last enterprise, I found myself on the cover of an international publication, being publicly humiliated for things I had not done.

Indeed? Compare that to the information related below in an article by Business Week magazine.

And later, Winn further exposes his megalomania:

Then, the moment we were done, Yahweh spoke to me, and asked me to do to Islam, what I had anticipated Sha’uwl doing to Judaism—exposing and condemning it based solely upon its religious texts.

If God talks to Winn, it is unfortunate that He did not give Winn better training at contextual exegesis. As it is, we now have some idea why Winn feels free to so diverge from sound scholarship: No doubt God is letting him know that everyone else is screwing up.

Moving on to what substance can be found, Winn offers five alleged reasons why Paul could not have gone to Arabia. The first offers the usual declarations of incompatible chronology between Acts and Galatians that we have answered before (link again below). Winn rather pompously warns the reader, If you are a Christian, the fate of your soul hinges upon your ability to process what you just read. All that simply because Winn didn't have the humility or presence of mind to consult a few commentaries. More amazingly, he somehow wrenches from Paul's words that he claims to have met Jesus while in Arabia, which is another imaginative addition to the text, as is the supposition that Paul collected disciples for himself. Further, based on his assumption that the Christian message is not in essence antithetical to Judaism that resists identifying Jesus as Messiah and covenant broker, Winn condemns Paul for saying he was able to confound Jewish opponents in debate.

It is also said:

Further, the notion that Yahshua’s Disciples met with him in Damascus in Acts 9:19, but were then afraid of him in Jerusalem in Acts 9:26, isn’t realistic.

It isn’t? Those that met him in Damascus knew he had been struck down and then healed by God; it happened in their neighborhood, and one of their own, Ananias, testified to it and was the instrument of healing. Those in Jerusalem would know nothing of this until told, and that was undoubtedly part of what Barnabas needed to do. There’s nothing unrealistic here; Winn simply doesn’t think well.

Winn's second reason why Paul didn't go to Arabia assumes his premise that Paul was anti-Torah to argue that it is the sort of story Paul would make up to give himself credibility -- again also assuming that Paul says he met Jesus in Arabia, which is as noted Winn's imaginative addition to the story. Rather, Paul was undoubtedly little different in this respect than thousands of other Jewish pilgrims who visited the site of the former covenant's origins for inspiration and contemplation. Amazingly, Winn even manages to condemn Paul for not describing the experience he had with God that Winn himself adds to the text.

Winn's third reason is based on his erroneous rendering of the chronology of Acts 15 with relation to Galatians 2, and so assumptions of contradiction. The fourth reason assumes, again, that Paul was offering anti-Torah teachings. The final reason is based on an erroneous assessment of contradiction between the timelines of Acts and Galatians. It must be noted that it is hard to see why these last three in any sense support the argument that Paul never visited Arabia, since one has nothing to do with the others. Apparently Winn feels that any shred of doubt he can invent spoils absolutely anything Paul says -- at least that Winn finds inconvenient.

Following this, we have another series of rambling paragraphs that go argumentatively nowhere, offering little but more fussing about how translations have reputedly obscured something essential by translating, to the point that Winn considers it a major problem for Protestants that the Hebrew name behind "James" (Yakob, or Jacob) was translated as James, thus, according to Winn, "undermin[ing] the credibility of the King James Bible, and indeed the credibility of every English translation since that time," as well as being symptomatic of "the lack of moral character manifest by Christian leaders who continue to accept the wholesale infusion of Babylonian religious rites and symbols into Christendom." By itself, this is manifest paranoia and overreaction, but it’s plain wrong, and Winn is simply out of touch to suggest it was done to honor King James. As a report at Probe Ministries states (link below):

Tracing the etymology of a word is a fascinating endeavor. And as it is translated from language to language, or even its development within a language, spelling and pronunciation often change. Beyond the Greek and the Hebrew, this word went through several stages of the Latin language (i.e., Old Latin, New Latin, Late Latin), and there were further influences of the word through the barbarian tribes that overran Western Europe in the fourth and fifth centuries. In England this involved two distinct blendings of language--the first by the Anglo-Saxons (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes), who overlaid their language on top of the (1) Latin & (2) Celtic (two dialects: Brythonic and Goidelic) amalgamation as they conquered much of England between the fifth and seventh centuries, and second, by the Norman/Vikings, who overlaid their language upon all of that during the eleventh and twelfth centuries!
One of the reasons the English Language is such a rich one is because of the blending of these linguistic strains which created totally different words for identical things: for example: lamb-mutton, brotherly-fraternal, etc.
The words Jacob and James come out of this matrix. Jacob follows the French/Norman tradition (Jacobin, for example), and James comes out of the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

The use of "James" in the King James Version was not something they had to think about. It was already imbedded into their language as the equivalent of "James" or "Jacob." Since this translation from Greek and Hebrew involved putting the text into readable and understandable English, they chose the popular word already in circulation.

Other sources note that “Jacob” was rendered “James” even in translations before the KJV, so apparently, Winn has simply uncritically accepted a myth.

After this comes a rant on Catholicism which we will not engage, and some repeat rants on Paul claiming too much authority for himself. Then there is another flub, based on Gal 1:20:

Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.

Of which it is said:

....while grapho simply means "writing," the term is often used in the Renewed Covenant to designate Scripture. But what’s particularly telling here, is that [Paul] has set his "grapho – writing" in the context of something "to behold in the presence of God because I cannot lie." And in that context, it’s hard to miss the fact that Paul wanted his letters to be seen as "Scripture," equivalent to the Torah, Prophets, and Psalms.

Actually, it's hard to see why anyone ought to stretch that far at all. Such an oath as this one simply reflected that one called upon God as a witness to one's oath -- whether spoken or in writing. It meant Paul thought what he wrote was true, but obviously, not all that is written and true is categorized as Scripture.

A few more issues raised revolve around Winn's poor assessment of the coordinated Acts-Galatians chronology. Then the NLT is called out for some imagined offenses, among them, again, that they use the word "church". In the process Winn displays remarkable ignorance of the difficulties of translation, as he says:

As for their pervasive use of what they call "dynamic equivalence," we must conclude that they believe everything [Paul] had to say would have been "confusing to the normal, uninitiated reader." And that means, that if Galatians is to be considered Scripture (in the sense of being inspired by God), then the folks working for the New Living Translation believe that God is a very poor communicator.

No, actually, it means that the Greek language has many nuances, twists, turns, and artifices that don't replicate well in English; to say nothing of the vast difference between a primarily literate and oral society. The implication is not that God communicate poorly, but that human language is fragile.

Returning to Paul after the diversion, paranoia too returns in the following:

But the praiseworthy connotations associated with doxazo aren’t directed exclusively at God in [Paul]’s letter to the Galatians. He wrote that people "thought highly of God in me," which is extraordinarily arrogant, placing Paul in the company of the Caesars, Emperors, and Pharaohs who claimed to be god—or at the very least, to represent him before men.

However, this too is based solely on Winn’s own idiosyncratic translation, and absent his credentials to translate, there is little reason to accept it.

Then, yet more repeated issues, particularly with the meaning of pistis; and with that, we have come to the close of Chapter 2. Do we need to do more? Maybe not, as it becomes clear quite quickly that much of what Winn presents is based on his own idiosyncracies and lack of competence. But it seems rather appropriate that in a review of Winn’s prior business career, Business Week (full link below) spotted some of the same kinds of problems with his work with his former company, Value America – entering into areas in which he had no expertise; making snap decisions based on little to no evidence; and bizarre behavior, and making things up:

Value America's rise and fall is emblematic of an era of unbridled optimism and outright greed. Possibly only during a period of unprecedented valuations and a seeming suspension of the rules of finance could someone of Winn's background amass the following and the finances to get a company off the ground as quickly as Value America took flight. For most of his stint at the company, Winn, who collected a salary of $295,000 a year, had little of his own money at risk. His business experience consisted mainly of leading another public company into bankruptcy. His technology experience: nil. Winn and his company practiced New Economy values with a vengeance. A massive ad budget was spent well in advance of any profits. Yawning losses were excused as a necessary evil in the pursuit of market share. There was a rush to take an untried company public at the height of the investor frenzy for new dot-com stocks.

But the Value America saga goes beyond the excesses of the Internet era. Serious questions are also being raised about alleged gross mismanagement, abuse of corporate funds, and the sometimes erratic and bizarre behavior of Winn, who asked that the money-losing company finance his personal jet and who dreamed out loud of running for President. ''There have been a fair amount of decisions and expenditure of funds that were questionable,'' says director Schmitt. (Winn counters that the plane was needed because of the company's location in Charlottesville and that the board approved of it.) ''Everyone figured he was more a genius than crazy,'' says a former senior executive at Value America. ''As time went on, everybody got more concerned.''

One thing Craig Winn, a salesman at heart, could do is spin a good tale. His story of a ''frictionless'' business model was perfectly attuned to the times.

I wouldn’t trust this man to do anything right – much less interpret the Biblical text.
  • Peter vs Paul
  • James vs Paul
  • Paul: Acts vs Epistles
  • Faith defined
  • 1 Thess 2
  • Probe Ministries article
  • Business Week article