Friday, May 27, 2016

Game, Set, Match

From the March 2013 E-Block.**This item is done by reader request to examine a few samples of what is colloquially called "Game." Despite the innocuous designation, the premise of Game stems from a somewhat anti-feminist movement among Christians, and those of similar profession, in which adherents boldly declare what might be called a radical complementarian view of male-female relationships.
Giving the reader an idea what I mean, here are some samples from "Game" oriented online essays: One website compares relationship advice from a modern website to that from a 1890s book, which includes such directives as this one:
Does your husband love to see things in order, then be careful and keep the house in good shape. Does he love a good dinner, then study your cook book and study his tastes. Does he like to be caressed, do your prettiest in that line.
Does he admire beauty in women, then dress neatly and tidily and try to keep clean and in good health, and meet him with a smile. Is he a man of literary tastes, cultivate your literary taste, and be appreciative of his ability. If he loves beautiful things, study house decorations and defer to his tastes….

Expressing a pointed preference for the 1890s view, the site declares, "Women: Most of the relationship advice you will find nowadays is worse than useless. Ignore it. Bad advice is worse than no advice at all."
  • The same site also encourages "men to stop listening to inanity from women about wanting them to open up and share their feelings all the time" and expresses a preference for "men to experience all-male spaces again where they can support one another."
  • The same site (which, by the way, is by a woman) expresses a desire to "be remembered as the generation during which the Nineteenth Amendment was repealed" (that is, the amendment which gave women the right to vote).
  • An article on one site comments on the reputed proclivity of women to criticize men for engaging in "manly" activities like gaming, sports, or going off to bars with their friends. Although the article doesn't say specifically what we are supposed to do about this, it indicates that women who engage in such criticism are simply unjustly complaining -- though the exact word they use begins with a "b," if the reader catches my drift. Commenters suggest that women do this because they have a desire to be controlling. The posting also includes jokes indicating that women who, for example, favored temperance in the early 20th century did so because they were ugly.
  • Another site remarks upon the recent NFL trial of Lauren Silberman, to the effect that it is an example of an attitude that "causes women to reach for things that are far out of their grasp." A comment on another site also offers insight into the view in question:
  • When Charles Lindbergh was being celebrated for his incredible feat of creativity, skill, and risk taking, feminists were beside themselves. Here was a man who was being celebrated for masculine virtues; they needed a woman to pretend to do something similar so they could tamp down this troubling national celebration of masculinity. So, feminists found a woman with a pilot’s license who wrote newspaper columns about flying and they had her ride as a passenger on a transatlantic flight; then they threw her a hero’s welcome as Lady Lindy, complete with a ticker tape parade and an invitation to the White House.

    The whole point of putting women in combat is to make sure we can never again say: Thanks to the men who sacrificed so much for us without feminists chiming in “and women too!” This is why no unit can be left untouched, even elite ones.

    A fundamental change in Christian thinking is the acceptance of the ever present threat of divorce, should the wife become unhappy. This isn’t a grudging acknowledgement of unfortunate legal reality, but a full-fledged internalization of the secular world-view on divorce. It is now unquestioningly accepted that a Christian husband’s first priority must be to prevent his wife from becoming unhappy and divorcing him.

    In practice, the modern Christian approach to marital difficulties ends up being the same approach followed in the secular world; the wife shares her feelings at great length and the husband must listen and do something about it. This inverts the biblical relationship of the husband and his wife’s emotions. In biblical marriage, the husband is his wife’s emotional rock, and he lovingly anchors and shelters her when her emotions storm over her. If he didn’t, she would become untethered. In this new bastardized version of Christian marriage the wife’s emotions rule both persons.
  • Here's a representative commentary from one site, responding to a feminist critique of Valentine's Day:
  • The gifts, the flowers, the candy, they’re great and all . . . but they aren’t enough. You see, that sets up the idea that the women in question might feel OBLIGATED to have sex with the men in their lives ("husbands"), the ones who just shelled out a car payment on an expression of their affection that can be adequately bragged about at work. And if men are getting anything out of it, then it has to be BAD for women.
  • The same site also offers this illustration:  
  • Consider this example: Mrs. Apple would really prefer Mr. Apple to get her a little more juiced by presenting more Alpha – more, she’d like to see him really take charge and handle things, now that they’re both fairly secure in their marriage. But Mr. Apple is hesitant. He’s been told all of his life that GOOD husbands don’t assert themselves and their male privilege in a marriage, because that’s WRONG and means he’s a bad person.
    He feels that deferring to Mrs. Apple is the only way to be happy in a marriage, and he accepts this because a) he’s been made to feel guilty for and ashamed about his masculinity and b) because it allows him to escape the accountability of traditional masculinity...
    ...She wants the dependable, loving, empathetic provider, a man adept with comfort-building Beta skills. But she craves the strong, decisive, resolute and protective Alpha male she reads about, sees in the media, and may even know in real life . . . and hubby ain't him. Some days she wonders if they're even in the same species. She desperately wants him to be that man, but at the same time she fears losing control of both him and the relationship. Encouraging his Alpha is dangerous, after all. That's why she wants it. And fears it.
    What to make of all this?
    Overall, not a whole lot. While I've only observed a sample of material, none of the material is produced by anyone I'd regard as a qualified expert in any subject related to human behavior, relationships, or psychology -- though I dare not say none such exists. I also found nothing in the way of systematic analysis and explanation of views. Much of what the above comes from barely passes the level of "sustained rant" for the most part.
    It’s also not clear to me whether "Game" proponents are arguing that their way of pursuing male-female relationships is the only viable course. The last item quoted above does lean in that direction, as even the last quoted portion shows. The impression I am left with (maybe wrong) is that of a "one size fits all" approach to relationships.
    Some Game proponents, as noted, profess to be Christians. Not all of the sites quoted above include such a disclosure, and I am not sure that some, in particular, are Christian. However, it is enough that some Christian or Christian-aligned spokesman have aligned themselves with the movement and its presuppositions. Chief among these, I have been told, is the commentator Vox Day, though I did not read any of his material.
    In terms of Scriptural backup, Game adherents, who do profess some form of Christianity, don't accomplish a great deal, especially when it comes to contextualization. The passages appealed to are of the usual fare, such as Titus 2:3-5 and all the usual "wives, submit to your husbands" references. There is no awareness that these passages reflect the standard "household codes" of the first century, which reflected a necessary order for daily survival in the harsh conditions of the ancient world. Nor is there any perception of how these passages might be interpreted contextually. Indeed, based on many of the writings I found, it would shock these commentators to learn that marriages, in the Biblical world, were arranged, and that husband and wife frequently did not meet until their wedding day. Much of the advice given assumes otherwise, which is a hazardous thing when attempting to apply Biblical text to the modern world.
    I found a few outright errors of the fundamentalist-exegesis variety. One of the sites says: "...many Protestants accept divorce in the case of abuse even though no such escape clause exists in the Bible." Well, yes, actually it does -- as a little serious contextual study clearly shows. (Link below.) Thankfully, the site does at least allow for separation in cases of "extreme physical abuse" (one wonders HOW "extreme" it has to be for satisfaction). On the other hand, it also virtually says Christians who engage in what it considers illicit divorce will end up in hell.
    What, once again, is one to make of this? "Game" seems to be a reactive pendulum swing to radical feminism, and to that extent, it is, at times, its own form of extremism. Reading the text above on "Alpha" vs. "Beta" manhood, I cannot but think that many pastors, spiritual leaders, and apologists (myself included) would be sloughed off as "Beta" dross. I got the impression of persons who lived in their own secluded world, within narrow confines of what may be properly defined as being human. Maybe I am wrong, and can only hope that more investigation would prove otherwise.
    Since there isn't much within my expertise to address otherwise, I'll close with my own observations. As some readers know that I lean towards an egalitarian view. This does not mean I think men and women are "exactly the same" or that "anything a ___ can do, a ___ can do better." (Insert "boy" or "girl" in either order; I have heard it done both ways.) What I do think is illustrated by my creative efforts in my Annals of Hearthstone web-comic. In my own Narnian paradise, the sexes are equal in privilege and rights, just as "there is neither male nor female" in Christ. However, the sexes also recognize their differences, and relish in them as a way to combine their strengths to meet common goals. Thus, for example, among the warrior races of Hearthstone, both male and female may serve in combat situations, but they perform different duties according to their respective gifts. As hand to hand fighters, the males possess greater strength, but the females possess greater agility and intuition. Either one might win a hand to hand contest against the other, but that would be based on the application of skills, and not on any matter related to gender.
    In the end, it is perhaps best to color me "confused" by the exchanges associated with Game theorists. By the reckoning of some of them, my 22+ year marriage to my beloved Mrs. H is heading for trouble, and is likely to end in divorce within the next 10 minutes. Either that, or Mrs. H, they would say, uses me as a whipping post, though that is nothing of the truth, and it is probable that Mrs. H would gladly use anyone as a whipping post who insinuated otherwise. The two of us are vastly different personalities that complement each other, making us an effective, efficient, and more than that, enormously happy team. That's a problem?
    I can only hope not. Our examination of "Game" ideas will, for now, end here, but at some future date, if readers request it, we may pick up the topic again.


    Friday, May 20, 2016

    The Quiverfull Movement, Part 2

    The legal fundraiser is over for the time being; I may report on some more results and related issues later. For now it's time to get back to some old E-Block postings, and here's one from March 2013.


    This is our second and, for now, final look at the Quiverfull movement, with my subject being the book A Full Quiver (FQ) by Rick and Jan Hess. In this, I will be looking in the main for anything new compared to our prior essay that was in the last issue. I did not find much that was new.
    For the record, we should briefly cover the points which are mirrored in our prior essay.
  • Scripturally speaking, the Hesses add little or nothing to the case for having a "full quiver." The usual citation from Psalm 127:3-5 is said to reflect "God's eternal feelings about children." Absolutely no consideration is given to relevant contexts (i.e., the presentation of this thought in a Psalm, a poem nonetheless[!], and in the setting of the ancient world where infant and child mortality was so high). Once again offered, are statements by Jesus praising children, and a claim that Satan is deceiving Christians into not wanting as many children as they really could have. With that, of course, we have the admonition that if Christians would have more babies, we could take over [167] the White House and most of the Senate, House, and governor's mansions by 2088. Really? What if unbelievers get wind of this idea and start having large families to counter Christians? What then is the plan from the Hesses, to have 16 children instead of 8?
  • The theme of "trusting God" is used, as before, as a club -- those that don't simply let themselves have children without discretion are implicitly accused of lacking trust in God. As they put it: "If the couples have a deep desire to be godly and to follow Christ in their marriage, God will make the necessary changes in their lives." [123] Of course, if things don't work quite that way, it's easy to predict the Hesses response -- they will offer a version of what we have called here "parking space theology". Whatever does happen, they will say, God had a plan for you and you should just shut up and accept that it is God's will that you deal with these problems. Not that Scriptural support for this view is any better; we find the Hesses pressing into service Psalm 37:25-26, in which David says that he has never seen the righteous begging bread. This the Hesses take as meaning: "you can predict that believers with large families will be taken care of." [144] We need not comment again on the irresponsibility of using a poetic passage for support of literalist doctrine, but we can no doubt add that if this doesn't bear out from statistics, the Hesses will surely have some ready pious explanation such as, "You're not faithful as believers" or "God has a plan for your suffering."
  • Also as before, potentiality arguments are thrown into consideration, for which the opposing potentiality is ignored. It is noted, for example, that many famous figures, like George Washington, were fourth or later to be born to their parents. Just as before, this sort of argument is worthless to the extent that it can readily be turned around (i.e., if we find a serial killer who was the eighth child in a family, what does that prove about having large families? Nothing!). Potentiality is also extended into the realm of stating that we should avoid vasectomies because "we wouldn't be at all surprised to discover all sorts of unexpected ill effects from this attempt to thwart God's design for the male body." [127] By the same logic, why not say, "we wouldn't be at all surprised to discover all sorts of unexpected health benefits" from the same procedure?
    With that…let us now turn to what is unique in FQ.
  • The authors make much of what they perceive to be unfair treatment of those with children. For example, they compare a loudly coughing elderly man with an occasionally cooing baby, asking which one gets the hard stares in church. Well, from what I have seen, they both do; or sometimes one and not the other. Either way, it's hard to buy what comes across as a persecution complex by the Hesses. That we wish for a church service where it is possible to concentrate without interruptions by noisy children does not express, as they indicate, that people do not "love" children.
  • Perhaps the most radical (and outlandish) point offered by the Hesses comes of their analysis of how several Biblical women experienced miraculous pregnancies. From this infinitesimally small sample, the authors conclude, with the massive non sequitur, that ALL pregnancies are the result of direct action by God. When the Hesses advise readers that, "we would do well to give God control over how many children we have," [57] they do not simply mean we should allow God to be sovereign; rather, they envision God as having direct, micro-managerial command of conception ("lock, stock, and baby" as they put it [94], and elsewhere, "pregnancy is not going to occur except through God's active agency" [106], and yet again, "...the Scriptures prove that God Himself is our birth Controller" [141], and finally, "God Himself is all the birth control we need" [158]…and let us add, as a related point, this quote: "Menopause occurs at exactly the time in a woman's life when God decrees that she is to bear no more children." [189] I have not seen even a Calvinist assign God that much micro-managerial control!). In line with this radical view, the Hesses go as far as indicating that sexual intercourse between married couples is off limits unless there is at least an option for procreation. Thus, in reply to someone who says that they have health problems (which would mean pregnancy could literally kill them), the Hesses legalistically say, "If you're too sick to have babies, you're too sick to have sex." [102] Apparently, the Hesses have no conception (pun not intended) of there being any difference in how particular acts may affect particular conditions. For them, it is "all or nothing" – representing an appalling lack of logic.
    Adding to the self-centered character of their response, the Hesses add that "God has a way of miraculously healing people, too -- sometimes through the very pregnancies that were supposed to kill them." [102] In support of this view, they offer a single, undocumented anecdote of such a thing happening -- certainly an excellent data pool on which to base such a critical decision!
    Even more outlandishly, the Hesses put God directly in charge of genetics, asking, "does God decide eye color or does Mendel's Law?" [183] and, quoting a source as saying: "God individually chose and gave each child his or her blue eyes. We have to keep in mind that God can modify or abolish genetic or reproductive trends as He wills." [184]
  • One chapter features 20 questions the authors have apparently been asked. Most are rather odd, but a few are valid. One, for example, relates to questions of overpopulation and stewardship of our environment. As before, the answers are too simplistic to be taken seriously. For the Hesses, it amounts to thinking that if it were not for overpopulation, "some suffering baboon in Upper Bongo-Bongo would have had enough living space, food, lumber, and minerals." [71] While I am by no means a radical environmentalist, this sort of issue is hardly little more than the leftist political football they make it out to be, and the sarcasm, lacking as it does in hard facts, does more to indicate irresponsible childishness than it does responsible stewardship. The Hesses only reply source is a booklet from a group called "Basic Life Principles", which contains no documentation for its claims, and some points that are outlandish on their face. One is a point we have seen prior, about how the world's population (back then, 4.5 billion) could fit into an area the same as Jacksonville, Florida, with each person being given 2.6 square feet. I would very much like to see the Hesses and other Quiverfull advocates live within such a space for as little as a few months just to actually see how they like it and just how that works out (i.e., the typical prison cell, in contrast, holds two inmates within a space of about 50-100 square feet)! A little later they allow for some expansion, of up to the area of Nebraska, Kansas, and a bit of South Dakota, allowing 1000 square feet per person. It is very considerate of the Hesses to declare that each of us can have a space equal to ten prison cells so that they can have as many children as "God" leads them to have.
    Another section relates how the Hesses respond to someone who asks why they have so many children. A response they say "never fails to stop them in their tracks" is, "to pay for your Social Security." My retort would be: "Good, because I will need it to pay for groceries when everyone has as many children as you do, causing the food supply to be short, which in turn will raise food prices to astronomical levels." While that's rather simplistic, so is the Hesses retort. The Quiverfull movement doesn't seem too keen on basic economic principles of supply and demand.
  • The Hesses rather naively assume that admonitions for household management in the New Testament reflect some sort of universal blueprint, such that wives always and forever are to stay at home and be mothers. They are apparently unaware that the NT here substantially mirrors the household codes of that day. Their logic is no better than the "Dr. Laura" fundamentalist who could not explain to President Bartlett why some OT laws were still to be obeyed and others would not be obeyed.
  • The Hesses claim to have Scriptural support for their views would be aided considerably if they did not commit abuses like this one: They note 1 Cor. 7:5, which says, "Stop depriving each other, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you." The Hesses say that this verse shows that "the rhythm method [of birth control] is unacceptable." [116] As with all their exegesis so far, this is a vast non sequitur -- their assumption is that because Paul gave a specific reason to withhold sexual relations, no other reason to do so is permitted! In this the Hesses mirror the horrendous legalism of fundamentalists like the Church of Christ, who forbid musical instruments in church on the same flimsy grounds.
    This closes our look at Quiverfull literature, at least for now. The nicest thing I can say is that FQ is no better in terms of having anything to commend it as a reasoned and Scripturally valid expression of the movement. We'll close with a reminder that in our last issue, we affirmed that none of this is intended to condemn those who choose to have large families; however, if one wishes to do so, FQ will not provide any formal sanction for it from Scripture over and above those who select to do otherwise.
  • Friday, February 26, 2016

    URGENT: Legal Defense Fund for Tekton/TheologyWeb

    Update 4/13/2016: The fundraiser has reached nearly $6000 at this point. See more details below.
    2/28/2016: See note below regarding comments from others, including Rene Salm.


     This, I imagine, will be something of a ton of bricks to drop. It hasn't been discussed publicly until now for reasons that will be obvious.

    In July 2015, 20 members of the TheologyWeb forum were named as targets of a “libel” lawsuit by a former atheist member.

    So far only one of those 20 -- me -- has been served with complaint and summons, and litigation is in process. The other 19 include several owners and moderators, and a handful of "everyday" members. I'll leave it to them as to whether they wish to be identified, save that I'll note that one of them is my ministry partner, Nick Peters. He's the only one of the 20 besides me who is a public figure to any extent.

    I had planned to do the defense myself (pro se), but logistical problems led me to decide it was better to hire an attorney in the area where this atheist lives, which I did. He's been working on the case since October.

    A win for me in court will help shield the other 19 targeted defendants. We humbly ask for the assistance of others in defending ourselves from this lawsuit.

    Any funds gathered will be used as follows:

    1) To defray my attorney expenses, which have so far been just short of $8,000. Currently we are working on a motion to dismiss the case based on lack of personal jurisdiction (I do not live in the same state as the Plaintiff).
    2) To prepare a similar defense for any of the others in the group, should they be served with a suit. At least 3 of the 19 others are in this Plaintiff's immediate crosshairs, including Nick.
    3) To prepare an alternate defense, should either 1) fail, or should one of us be sued in our own home state.

    I've set up a crowdfund page at
    Funded Justice, which is a special website for legal fundraising only. I'm told it's a bit of a pain to register and donate, but it's also possible to choose an option to donate as a "guest" of the site:

    That's all for now. For obvious reasons, I can't give too many details about the case, but I can be emailed ( with specific questions and general questions can be answered at a thread on  TheologyWeb (where I posted an earlier version of this post as an  opening post):

    Since the nature of this post is urgent, I will not be adding any more to the Ticker for a while. 

    As might be expected, certain fundy atheists out there are already adding to the story and making foolish remarks. For example, here's a corrective to Rene Salm's posting on the subject:

    1)That's definitely NOT a picture of me he's got up.

    2) Despite Salm's wishful fantasies, Tekton has NOT "been brought to its knees and must suspend all upcoming projects." I'm only not updating the Ticker blog for a while, so the fund appeal can stay on top. Everything else on my ministry plate (e-books, vids, etc) is proceeding as usual; the Ticker blog just represents 1% of my activity -- posting old E-Block articles.

     3) My wife got a good job back long ago. That crisis has been over for months.

    It just goes to show that you can't count on the fundy atheist crowd to get ANYTHING right.

    Friday, February 19, 2016

    Countercounterforgery, Part 2

    From the Janaury 2013 E-Block.
    We pick up our evaluation of Ehrman's FAC with his brief commentary on 2 Peter. 

    Ehrman spends far more time explaining why he thinks 2 Peter was forged than actually arguing for it being forged. He appeals to the usual external testimonies, which are negated by the fact that in the final analysis, 2 Peter was accepted as canonical, and then arguably after serious critical consideration of the sort Ehrman assumes the early church lacked. There is also the usual supposition that "an Aramaic-speaking peasant", like Peter, could not write in this sort of Greek, but this is merely an insult to pre-literate peoples as a whole. In an age when people in their 90s get a GED, it seems rather bigoted of Ehrman to suppose that after several decades of life, Peter would be unable to learn to read and write in another language, even, to have been able to do so particularly well. The elaborate style Ehrman sees is also not particularly problematic for someone who would have been attuned to oral performance, as clearly was the source for Mark. 

    Further objections by Ehrman assume the usual eschatological issues my preterist view renders moot, and that beg the standard question assuming Peter couldn't possibly know of his imminent death; though really, 2 Peter 1:14 need not reflect any special prophetic knowledge, either. Human beings may have a sense of being "not much longer for this world" without prophecy telling them so like: a certain unease of health, or by advanced signs of aging, which are more than enough for Peter to say that he must "shortly" put off his own tabernacle.
    There is also the usual appeal to the parallels to Jude, and reference to Paul's collected letters, which we dealt with in Trusting the New Testament.

    A final objection is rather odd, as Ehrman says that 2 Peter has "nothing Jewish about it." Our answer: So what? By any reckoning 2 Peter is written to Gentile converts. It is also a very short epistle, mainly for exhortation. Why does it need to be peculiarly "Jewish"? Why on earth should Peter tell such people, as Ehrman implies, to not follow "standard, high morals" rather than the Law? What about the fact that by the time of 2 Peter, Peter would have lived for decades among Gentiles in Rome where he would have become quite acculturated. Does audience and context mean nothing to Ehrman?

    1 Peter

    The next book to be dealt with moves us back one in the canon. Ehrman hauls in a scattershot of objections, many of which he admits are "subsidiary" even as he uses them. Those we have not covered in TNT:
  • He says there is no evidence that Christianity had spread to the provinces of Asia Minor listed in 1 Peter 1:1, by Peter's day. Ehrman is right. We should simply assume that on the way from Jerusalem and Syria to Rome in the 50s (to those whom Paul writes his letter), Christian missionaries grew wings and flew over the provinces of Asia Minor in between, not stopping to spread their message. And of course, Paul was writing to some other Galatia than the one in Asia Minor.
  • He says, "other traditions do not associate Peter with Christians in the general region." The answer that is sufficient is, "so what"? Ehrman doesn't respect the accuracy of church traditions from the likes of Papias, when it comes to Matthew's authorship, so why would he want one about Peter associating with churches in Asia Minor? Needless to say, traditions are helpful, but no one thinks they are comprehensive, and unless Peter too grew wings, he had to pass by the area to get from Jerusalem to Rome.
  • He says Peter, if the author, "gives no indication that he was a companion" to Jesus. Perhaps Ehrman fails to recognize, even after rejecting such ideas, that he is making the same argument Earl Doherty makes of Paul to declare Jesus never existed at all. The answer is much the same: High context authors do not need to re-specify what their readers already know.
  • Relatedly, Ehrman wonders why Peter calls himself a "presbyter" (5:1). Apparently, Ehrman forgets that the word used means elder, as in, an older person. In so describing himself, Peter is claiming for himself the honor and authority that went with age in his social world, and also using it for relational purposes towards the elders in his audience. This also emasculates Ehrman's objection of this term as reflecting a too-early instance of the office of "elder". Ehrman mistakenly thinks the references to oversight (5:2) mean "elder" is an office, when it is actually the normal in-group function of those wise and advanced in years.
  • Ehrman appeals to the use of "Christian" (4:16) as a sign of a late date, though to do so, he must date Acts to the late first century and assume the reference there (26:28) is an anachronism. Ehrman also reads 4:14 with appalling fundamentalist literalism, arguing that no one would be persecuted "simply" because of the name of Christ. Has he forgotten that the word "name" in the Biblical world doesn't "simply" mean nomenclature, but also has to do with authority and identity.
    A particularly outlandish argument for placing 1 Peter after 70 AD is derived from Hunzinger, under the assumption (with which we agree) that Rome is "Babylon" (5:13). Hunzinger argues that Rome was called this because it destroyed the Temple, and so he concludes there can be no other reason 1 Peter would call Rome "Babylon" -- such as you know, being a chief headquarters for idolatrous practices, or being well known for licentious behavior, or having enmity against the people of God. The connection made by Hunzinger is, at any rate, weak. The passages he appeals to, from 4 Ezra 3 and Syr. Baruch 11, indicate no cause-effect relationship between the destruction of Jerusalem and the naming of Rome as "Babylon." Rome is simply called "Babylon" as though it were a given. We owe it to Ehrman's lack of imagination that he cannot see any "obvious and palpable" reason to call Rome "Babylon" until the Temple is destroyed.
  • There is the usual replay of objections about Peter's illiteracy; we need not engage that in detail, as Ehrman has (as seen in the last installment) dispensed with scribal activity with a wave of his hand. He also spends far more time explaining why he thinks 1 (and 2) Peter were forged versus defending the proposition that they were.

    This section by Ehrman begins with an unpromising recital of the usual "Peter vs. Paul" canard (see link below), where Ehrman gets the source of the dispute wrong (it was not about being "gentile to the Gentiles," but about ritual purity). Ehrman quickly dispenses with the inclusion of Luke within the "we passages" of Acts with the expedient that Acts doesn't relate much about the life of Paul, an objection we covered in TNT, and alleged contradictions with Paul's letters, which we covered in the link below. With that summed up so, Ehrman moves on from the argument in a mere handful of sentences, having failed to interact with widely available contrary arguments.


    Ehrman's centerpiece against James as author is the usual canard that James could not read or write; here he doesn't even consider a scribe in a role that not even he has bothered to object to earlier i.e., that of writing down more or less exactly what James said. He elaborates on this point for several paragraphs, oblivious to the single question we have asked. We also dealt, briefly, with the "illiteracy" argument in TNT, by noting that the same argument could be used to claim that Paul was illiterate and could not have written his letters.

    Ehrman also offers arguments that the epistle does not accord with what we know of James elsewhere:
  • He says that Gal. 2:12, Acts, and Hegesippus show that James wanted people to maintain their Jewish identity by observance of the law. But, while he elaborates extensively on the evidence showing this proclivity of James, he fails to show that the epistle is contrary to any of this. Instead, he asserts rather strangely that James' lack of mention of such issues in the epistle is a point against! This is simply absurd, because as Ehrman admits, James' readership is itself Jewish. This means that his readers would already be wholly in agreement with James on the point of honorary law-observance -- so why does Ehrman think it ought to have been brought up?
  • Even weaker is the point that the emphasis on the importance of good works is thought by Ehrman to reflect a later stage of the Christian church (the 60s), after James had died. Is Ehrman serious here? Does he think concern for good works, as part of a movement founded by a teacher of morals (Jesus), would lie dormant for decades, and do so in an atmosphere where good works were also a concern of Jews and pagans alike?
  • Weaker yet is the claim that commentary on the wealthy in James surely could not have been a problem this early in the Christian church. Apparently Ehrman forgets that Wayne Meeks has shown abundantly that well-off people were a higher than usual part of the church, and that even those who were of what we would regard as modest means would be "wealthy" by the measure of the typical peasant. And that's not even accounting for the potential presence of persons like Nicodemus. At the same time, wealthy people amount to "1%" of the population today, and there are more than enough critics of their ways as their power is disproportionate to their numbers. The same would also have been the case in the first century. The real question is, how can Ehrman be so insensate as to think there would NOT be a commentary on the wealthy? Ehrman adds some of his usual reliance on eschatology as a problem, and that sums it up. He also offers the usual error on James vs. Paul (see link below).


    Ehrman's treatment of Jude is very brief and brings up nothing we have not covered in TNT. I might add that Ehrman shows an extraordinary lack of faith in the ability of humans to learn. In remarking on the alleged impossibility of someone like Jude learning to read and write proficient Greek, Ehrman imposes all manner of artificial barriers, such as an alleged lack of time to learn. I can only say in response that Ehrman needs to have a little more faith in humanity and in the intelligence of persons other than himself. I have met, over my lifetime, many persons who have learned to read, or mastered a second language in a decade or even less (usually, Spanish/English), and given that ancient languages lacked one huge hurdle of modern languages -- namely, vocabularies of several hundred thousand words (Koine Greek had only a few thousand in general use) -- it can only have been easier, not harder, for a self-teacher to pick up a second language, or to learn to write.

    When it comes to Greek in particular -- the lingua franca of the Empire -- Ehrman underestimates the at hand available resources and motivation to learn. As noted in an article linked below:

    Although aristocratic Romans monopolized formal education in Greek, the lower classes in Rome did not exclusively speak Latin; on the contrary, bilingualism in both Latin and Greek thrived in the city during the late Republic and Principate, and the usage of the Greek language developed both private and public functions. Rome’s geographic location exposed the city to Greek culture and language, which helped shape the development of Latin, and the importation of slaves exponentially increased the number of Greek-speakers in the city. Finally, epigraphic evidence, population analyses, and contemporary literary sources demonstrate how Latin and Greek bilingualism undertook both public and private roles in the social classes outside of the Roman aristocracy.

    Determining how extensive Latin-Greek bilingualism was during the first and second centuries of the Principate in Rome intrinsically rests on the extent of the ethnic diversity of its population during that time period. Prior to the Augustan period, Romans had already been in contact with neighboring Greeks for centuries through trade and war, an exchange that helped Latin evolve and mirror its Hellenic counterpart. Evidence of nominal exposure to the Greek language at this time period is best represented through Latin’s assimilation of foreign terms and adaptation of Greek phonetic sounds.

    Of course, the Jews had been in contact with Greeks for several centuries by the time of Jesus -- including some rather unpleasant interactions with Hellenization.

    The article notes that slavery, and the duties associated with it, as motivation for slaves to learn Greek, which in turn brought it to others. Christians had their own motive to learn; namely, evangelism. This does not mean slaves mastered "complex Greek syntax and grammar," but the degree of motivation and purpose must be accounted for. As in-group leaders of a diverse movement, like James or Jude, had every reason to want to learn to speak and write as well as they could in Greek.

    Furthermore, it is noted that once learned, bilingualism was "passed on" in families. Given the forced Hellenization of the Jews in an earlier period, men like James and Jude would already have had a basic introduction to Greek from birth, especially in the neighborhood of Sepphoris, where basic Greek would be needed to conduct business.

    In short, at the very least, this point deserves far more than the breezy dismissal and rhetorically-posed yet uninvestigated questions Ehrman offers.

    John's Letters

    For these, Ehrman hardly even bothers to advance arguments for forgery but merely assumes the letters are forged, and gives explanations for what he takes to be their purpose in being forged.

    Ehrman's treatment of canonical material ends here, and as has been shown, though Ehrman's length of dissertation has increased, his devotion to substance has remained harmfully minimalistic.

    Pete vs. Paul
    Acts vs. Paul
    James vs. Paul
    On bilingualism
  • Friday, February 12, 2016

    Near Death Checks, Part 6: Howard Pittman's "Placebo"

    From the Janaury 2013 E-Block.
    For our last entry in this series (for now), I picked a subject out of the air, so to speak. On YouTube I discovered a video with over 2 million views that reported the content of an alleged NDE (Near Death Experience) by one Howard Pittman, as recorded in a book titled Placebo. Supposedly, Pittman had some urgent message for mankind as a result of this NDE, and given the level of viewership, I thought it worthwhile to order the book so as to be best able to evaluate the NDE.

    The matter in sum is that Pittman's alleged NDE contains no measurable truth claims of the sort this series has pursued. It is, however, filled with all sorts of reputed details about how things are in the spirit world. How are things? If you've read Frank Perretti, you already know. According to Pittman, while in the NDE he could see all kinds of demons walking around the Earth, possessing and influencing people. Angels are hanging around too, though are not described as being as busy as the demons are.

    Pittman also tells us that he had a visit with God during his NDE. God wasn't too happy with Pittman at first, and yelled at him, but later showed Pittman some mercy. That led to a pretty clear disconfirmation of the veracity of Pittman's NDE, as he described God in those familiar terms of overfamiliarity we have become used to from modern, American Christians, who don't realize how anachronistic such a description is.

    At times Pittman is a painful read because of his naiveté. He adheres to one of the more primitive manifestations of dispensational eschatology, such that we are now, he says, in the "Laodecian Age" of the church as reported in Revelation. He also writes of having strange dreams -- mostly about dogs -- with utterly nonsensical symbolism: For example, in one dream, Pittman says he is carrying a bag of dog food, and a friend said that this symbolized the message he was to bring to the world. Apparently, God's capacity to create suitable metaphors has gone downhill since the time of the New Testament!

    To round off the pedantry...this message Pittman was to bring was, as he admits, nothing that couldn't already be found in the Bible (i.e., basically, be sincere in your devotion to God). For this, Pittman was given the grand tour of Demon World, followed by Heaven Land? Didn't God get the message out right the first time?

    We close this series with the observation that it seems NDEs, however real they may be -- and I tend to think many are -- by nature aren't particularly useful tools for providing revelatory knowledge.

    Friday, February 5, 2016

    Perpetual Green Arrow: The Quiverfulls, Part 1

    From the January 2013 E-Block.


    The so-called "Quiverfull" movement is one that encourages Christians to have unlimited offspring. Most readers will be familiar with the television program featuring the Duggar family, which at last report has 19 children. The Duggars are perhaps the best known Quiverfull proponents in the nation (though I have read that they deny being part of the movement).

    How sound, though, are the Biblical arguments of the Quiverfull movement? In this article we will examine those presented by Nancy Campbell in Be Fruitful and Multiply (hereinafter “BFM”). Campbell's arguments can be grouped into several categories, none of which offers much in the way of persuasion for the Quiverfull position. 

    Before proceeding, I should issue the necessary caveat that none of what is offered below is intended to encourage or condemn those who wish for a large family. What is being addressed is the insinuations from Campbell that ONLY those who have large families are acting in obedience to Biblical principles. 

  • Potentiality arguments. Several of Campbell's points speak to the reputedly wasted potential of those who do not conceive children. For example: "Who knows which of them will be another David, or Paul, or Einstein, or Billy Graham!" (73) 
  • Such arguments may have a persuasive emotional component, but they are all too easily turned around to say something like, "Who knows which of them will be an Al Capone, or a Ted Bundy, or an Osama bin Laden!" While this may seem over the top, Campbell's example is as well. Potentiality, therefore, simply isn't a viable argument. Again, this doesn't mean that those who choose to have large families are in the wrong, only that this isn't a viable argument for having a large family.
  • Preferred anecdotes. Campbell carefully selects stories to tell about people who filled their quiver with children and came out happy about it; however, as with the potentiality argument, this too can easily be turned around. Campbell's selectivity bias would lead her to leave out any stories that ended up tragically, or with a family living in grinding poverty, or with some other distressing conclusion (e.g., the "Octomom" and her travails).
    In particular, Campbell carefully selects stories of people who filled their quiver with children and "trusted the Lord" to provide what they needed. In this, Campbell is no better positioned than the televangelist who tells stories of "seed faith" where donors ended up getting money, while ignoring any stories of people who never received anything. Rather disturbingly on this account, Campbell illicitly reasons that those who are poor should desire more children, because "with children come all sorts of blessings including economic blessings." [129] Then she adds, "Faith simply obeys -- and trusts God!" [130] We will refer more to this below.

    "The church could take over!" Campbell argues that if godly Christians had quivers full of children, the church could become more numerous and take over society. This is flawed, initially, as a potentiality argument, and one that can be readily turned around. Campbell prefers anecdotes? I know of a Christian family with four children, and all four committed apostasies. I also know of a family with four children where all four remain Christians. So, this argument fails the same way as potentiality arguments. (Campbell, however, thinks it is part of Satan's plan (!) to limit Christian children.)

    Old Testament figures. Campbell points again and again to accounts of Old Testament figures who had numerous children. These people are, BFM says, "considered blessed to have many children" (4), which leads us to the most serious problem in Campbell's presentation, a lack of contextual considerations.
    In the OT world, infant and child mortality was exceptionally high. In addition, the average human lifespan was around 35 years. In contrast, infant and child mortality in the modern West is extremely low, with such persons living well into their 80s and 90s.

    In this light, to have Campbell -- who lives nestled comfortably in the modern West -- give ALL Christians advice (if not implicitly, a command from God) to fill their quivers with children, is in many ways not only misguided, but also insensitive. Big families were a survival necessity in the ancient world, but in the modern world they are not. Ancient people had big families so that they could survive. Modern Quiverfulls, like Campbell, have big families so that they can indulge themselves with what they think is a "blessing" from God.

    The reader will note here that I have not engaged any arguments regarding overpopulation. Nor will I do so to any real extent, since it requires sociological expertise that I do not possess. That said, I cannot help but feel disturbed by some of Campbell's attempts to answer such arguments.

    For example, Campbell argues that if one drives from coast to coast, one will see that there is plenty of empty land to put people in (26). Indeed? How much naiveté does it take to suppose that one could fill a place like the Sonoran desert with people, and support it as a population? How about Antarctica? Campbell points out that if every person on Earth were grouped together, we'd all fit into Texas and have 2000 square feet apiece, and she supposes that with proper management of resources, we'd be able to take care of forty billion people (26-29).

    Really? Again, I am not an expert on this matter, but Campbell does refer to one expert -- and only one worthy of the name -- as saying that 40 billion is not out of the question. She refers to Roger Revelle, of the Harvard Center for Population Studies, as affirming this. Campbell gives no note for this point, and it is not hard to see why: Revelle's "40 billion" number was based on an exercise intended to estimate how much the world could feed, not establish a practical and sustainable population level -- and certainly not a level of population that would allow someone like Campbell to continue in her own current lifestyle. What Campbell neglects to mention is that Revelle's scenario permits each person 2500 kilocalories a day, on a strictly vegetarian diet.

    Again, I am not expert on this matter, so I do not claim to have any definitive answer to Campbell on what some call the Earth's "carrying capacity." What I can note is that Campbell doesn't tell the whole story when she appeals to such numbers -- and from what can be found, is not currently living the sort of lifestyle Revelle suggested was necessary for that 40 billion level to become a reality. Among her anecdotes are those of multi-children families whose children happily sleep on the floor, since they have no room for beds (132). Of course, in this, they live as simply as people in Bible times did. To that extent, Campbell does well to question the excesses of Western materialism. Yet, she also enjoys the modern convenience of a website and publishing an occasional magazine. So there is clearly a certain inconsistency between what Campbell practices and what she preaches. I can only hope it is because of naiveté rather than deception or indifference.
  • Risk arguments. Campbell recites alleged difficulties and risks associated with various forms of contraception and birth control. But again, this is a potentiality argument that can be readily turned around. There are also multiple difficulties and risks associated with childbirth but, of course, Campbell would never accept this as an argument for not having children. Other claims used by Campbell seem questionable on other grounds. As a remark on the benefits of breastfeeding, she quotes Renneker's Understanding Cancer as referring to the "Tania women of Hong Kong" who only breastfeed with the right breast, and tend to have more cancer on the left. But a Google search of Renneker's book reveals no reference to the "Tania women of Hong Kong."
  • Threats. Though she does not say those who use contraception are going to burn in hell, Campbell does find it necessary to issue threats now and then. For example, supposing that contraception somehow contradicts the "fruitful and multiply" mandate (which it does not -- see below), Campbell warns that we couldn't trust a God who changed His mind on the subject of contraception. Ironically the same sort of argument is used by atheists who object that God changed His mind about the OT law. Later, Campbell also claims it is "the strategy of Satan to minimize the holy seed" and keep Christians from having children (38). Finally, for good measure, she quotes 1 Samuel 15:22-23 as saying that obedience is better than sacrifice -- so make sure you obey God and have a lot of babies! Such threatening points are not the tactic of those who have sound arguments.
  • Scriptural arguments. Apart from the examples above, many of which are supplemented with Scripture references, does Campbell offer anything else?
  • One thing she points to more than once is the Genesis mandate to Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply." According to Campbell's introduction author, this was "(t)he first great commission given to man" (3). Later, Campbell herself interprets the words of the commission to mean "fill up the world to overflowing" (22). The specific word she points to is the Hebrew male, which is rendered as "replenish" in the KJV, Gen. 1:28. However, this is a tendentious reading of male that is not justified. The same word is used to describe the filling of the seas with marine life (Gen. 1:22), and the density of the undersea animal population is not even close to the point that they are "overflowing" the ocean -- nor could it ever have been. In another context the word is used to refer to the fulfilling of the time of pregnancy (Gen. 25:24) and Jacob's term of servitude under Laban (29:21). The word clearly indicates simply filling to a certain level, not "overflowing."
    Campbell also notes several other passages where Israel is commanded to "increase," "multiply," be "plenteous," etc.; however, none of these offers any specific mandate or timetable to reach a certain population goal, much less do they impose a mandate on individuals to procreate, as they are given only as directions to Israel as a collective and not to individuals.
  • Campbell misuses the story of Onan as though it were a teaching against contraception (link below).
  • Campbell's intro writer also claims that Romans 1 speaks against contraception inasmuch as it speaks of those who do things "against nature." However, Paul goes on to quite clearly specify what he means when he says: "And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet." This illicitly expands the category from homosexual behavior to "perversion/selfish unbiblical gratification," and under the errant assumption that contraception is one such perversion, wrongly assumes it is condemned by Paul. The rub of this is that by this reasoning, any couple that is not able to conceive for some reason -- whether because of illness or some other cause beyond their control -- is therefore constrained to avoid sexual intercourse altogether, since they are not able to use their bodies, as she puts it, for anything but the "gratification" aspect of sex!
  • More than a few times, Campbell takes illicit liberties with Scripture. She uses Romans 7:4, for example: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, [even] to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. " From this, she gets a lesson that "God's intention for the marriage union" is that we are to have fruit (children). But in Romans 7 Paul is using marriage as a metaphor for the Christian life, not giving literal instructions for marriage! This is one of several cases where Campbell uses the text in a midrashic fashion. Another such misuse is Matthew 18:5, where Jesus welcomes a child into the midst of his disciples. Campbell "misdrashes" this passage into a directive to have babies so that we can welcome them into our households!

    We'll have a look at another Quiverfull publication next time. For now, it seems clear that Campbell, at least, relies more on sentiment than she does on fact and/or exegesis of Scripture.
  • On Onan
  • For perspective, a blog entry for a former Quiverfull member

  • Friday, January 29, 2016


    From the December 2012 E-Block.


    Forgery and Counterforgery (hereafter CF) is presented as the scholarly version of Bart Ehrman's Forged. Because we previously addressed Forged, our reply to CF will initially check what we reported there and compare it to what is found in CF. 

    Only about a third of CF is relevant to our purposes; namely, the parts which address the NT books Ehrman disputes. The rest is not of interest to us, but this 
    does not mean we think it is sound and above criticism.

    2 Thessalonians

    The first issue to cover is the range of scholars who say 2 Thessalonians is authentic. We had quoted Witherington:

    Here is where I say ‘caveat emptor’—let the buyer beware when Bart begins to make sweeping claims like “Second Thessalonians… is itself widely thought by scholars not to be by Paul” (p. 19). I phoned Bart on this very point, when we were debating at New Orleans Baptist Seminary last month. I pointed out that if one does the head count of what the majority of commentators say about 2 Thessalonians (even if restricting one’s self to so-called critical commentators), they believe Paul is responsible for 2 Thessalonians.

    Bart’s rebuttal was that he was not counting conservative or orthodox commentators. My response to that was that, in fact, he was ruling out the majority of Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and at this point, also Jewish scholars. In other words, his ‘canon’ of critical scholars is small, a distinct minority of the total number of NT scholars around the world, with whom he has chosen to agree. My point here is, don’t believe such claims as ‘widely believed’ or ‘the majority of good scholars’ without first doing the math. In fact, Bart’s math does not add up. Thus,d while it is true that often forgers throw people off their trail by warning about forgery in their own forged documents, in fact, there were plenty of genuine warnings of this sort by authors like Galen, who were really upset with people writing documents in their own name. Galen even published a list of his authentic writings to make forgeries clear. As it turns out, many ancients were very concerned about the dangers of forgery, and Paul was one of them.

    Ehrman in CF comes back to this issue, but he fails to overcome or even address Witherington's reply. Instead, Ehrman resorts to a shallow ad hominem, saying that even if it is true that the majority of scholars think 2 Thessalonians is authentic, "it is simply because a sizable plurality of biblical scholars (counting broadly) hold theological views that make the presence of literary forgeries in the canon of scripture untenable on principle. Among scholars with no such scruples, the balance swings in the opposite direction, and for compelling reasons." [157]

    To begin, it is ironic that Ehrman cites lack of "scruples" as a deciding factor, given the arrogant and unscrupulous nature of this accusation. Second, even if his evidence is "compelling" (we will see it is not), he is still giving a broad range of scholars an insulting short shrift. It is just as easy to say that it is the lack of scruples held by Ehrman and others that causes them to see their evidence as poor and that of other scholars as compelling. Finally, Ehrman here sounds little more authoritative than a fundamentalist preacher who says people won't accept the truth because they are evil sinners on the way to hell. Once again, Ehrman returns to his fundamentalist roots.

    In terms of the arguments, we noted the following used by Ehrman in Forged: Appeal to an alleged failed eschatology, which is moot under my orthodox (partial) preterist views, and alleged problems in 2 Thess. 2:5 and 3:17. The appeal to eschatology makes a major appearance again, but as before, Ehrman's assumptions are rooted in a different eschatological scheme, one that appears to derive from his former belief in a form of dispensationalism. So, we need add nothing new there. The argument re 2:5 is used again, briefly, but is not changed, so we also need not add anything. 3:17 is used again, but differently, as this time, Ehrman only addresses those who say it is a sign of authenticity, which is not an argument I would particularly use.

    Ehrman now expands his arguments in CF, and focuses some attention on the relationship to 1 Thessalonians. I should note that he gives short shrift (again - see below) to the role of scribes, so that one obvious answer to some of his issues, namely, that Paul did not pen the letters himself, does not even occur to him. It should have, since both 1 and 2 Thessalonians name Paul, Silas and Timothy as being behind the epistle, meaning that Ehrman needs to consider one or all of these as potential authors; however, this is not like the cases he objects to, where another person writes wholly on behalf of another, but a case where named person(s) are credited as authors, not scribes. If Silas or Timothy were the penmen for both epistles, then every one of Ehrman's style/content arguments are immediately refuted.

    For the sake of argument, however, we will now consider Ehrman's arguments, under the assumption that Paul alone is the penman of 1 Thessalonians.

    Ehrman's initial contention is a rather perverse argument that similarities between 1 and 2 Thes prove that 2 Thes is forged. One would think that similarities actually point to the same author, but Ehrman suggests some twists and turns to argue the opposite.

    The beginning and ending. Ehrman points out that these are virtually identical in the two epistles. Here is 2 Thes 1:1 as an example:

    Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

    The two openings, Ehrman says, are "virtually the same". The obvious answer is: Yes, so what? As readers who write to me will attest, for the past 12 years I have used the same opening ("Howdy") for my emails, and the same closing ("God bless, JP"), with almost no variations. Once in a while, I may use a different greeting if, for example, I think a reader may not be comfortable with an American colloquialism (say, if they are from Africa), or I may switch to "G'day" for Australian readers. In closings, I may add a "thank you" if the person has done me a favor, but 99.5% of my email start and end the same way. It apparently does not occur to Ehrman that the beginning and ending of a letter is exactly the place where a person is likely to adopt and stick to a certain pattern, especially when writing to the same person or persons.

    Beyond this, Ehrman makes much of the fact that only in these two letters does Paul not identify himself as an "apostle" or "slave," and that only in these letters is the church named as being "of" a place rather than "in" a place. How Ehrman thinks this helps him is hard to say. By his own reckoning, Paul did these things in 1 Thes, so why is forgery a better explanation than there being some circumstance that led the author of both epistles to write this way? If Paul neglects to cite a self-title in one letter, there is no reason he might not neglect to do so in another; the perversity of Ehrman's arguments here would make it so that, if Paul did not perform this sort of self-reference in Galatians, but did so in 2 Thes, Galatians does not lose any Pauline credit, and 2 Thes gains it.

    To make the perversity of Ehrman's argument even more clear, by his own reckoning, there is at least a 1 in 6 chance that Paul will fail to perform such a self-reference in any given letter to a church (Philemon is excluded as personal; and Paul calls himself there a "prisoner"). That means that if Paul wrote at least 12 letters, there ought to be at least 2 where he did not perform a self-referent. I doubt if Ehrman will deny that Paul wrote letters to churches that did not make the canon. So, 2 Thes already had a demonstrable 1 in 6 chance of missing a self-referent -- assuming the lack is merely a random phenomenon of Paul's writing, and not because of some contingency associated with writing to or from the Thessalonians in particular.

    In this particular case, a couple of potential contingencies exist. One is that if either Silas or Timothy penned these epistles, then it rather makes sense that Paul would not self-identify as a "slave" or "apostle" -- he's not holding the pen! Another is that Paul's purpose in citing his rank as "slave" or "apostle" is often taken to serve the purpose of affirming his position in Christ where questions may have been raised against it, perhaps because he was a latecomer to the game. In that case, the obvious retort is that the Thessalonians in particular never questioned Paul's honor status -- or else the question had long been settled for them.

    As for the "in/of" distinction, this is too much made of too little. Saying a church is "of" a place is not uncommon. In Revelation 2, the same author (even if Ehrman does not think it is John) varies considerably within seven entries: "angel [of] the Ephesian church," "angel [of] the church [of] Smyrna," "angel [of] the Pergamos church," "angel [of] the in Thyatira church," "angel [of] the in Sardis church," "angel [of] the in Philadelphia church," "angel [of] the church Laodecia.” Is it that a big deal? No! Nor is Paul as uniform in epistles Ehrman finds to be genuine as he implies (here are the rest to churches, leaving out Philemon, and adding a Strong's reference number for some specific words):

    Rom: "to all those being in (1722) Rome" (no "church")
    1, 2 Cor: "to [the] church [of] God existing in (1722) Corinth" (strange -- Paul uses the same locational greeting for both; is that a sign of forgery?)
    Gal: "to the churches [of] [the -- 3588] Galatia"
    Phil: "to all the saints in Christ Jesus being in (1722) Philippi"

    In this, Galatians is unique, but is closer to the greetings of 1-2 Thes than the four other epistles Ehrman counts as genuine (1-2 Ths lack "the" -- #3588). 

    Why the variance? Does it really matter? No. As it is, we have such a small sample size for Paul's writings (whether we accept just the 7 Ehrman regards as genuine, or all 13) that it is ridiculous to draw any conclusions based on this, especially since a church would obviously be both "in" and "of" a city. Obviously, Paul is able to use the same locational greeting for two epistles to the same city (Corinth). So, Ehrman's argument is merely egregious nitpicking.

    Unique Words and Phrases. Next, Ehrman cites a series of phrases unique to 1-2 Thes. I'll note again for the record that this disappears as a problem if Silas or Timothy did the writing, but even allowing for Paul to do so doesn't serve Ehrman's purposes.

    Let's first give some examples from those offered by Ehrman:

    work of faith (1Thes 1:3, 2 Thes 1:11)
    which know not God (1 Thes 4:5, 2 Thes 1:8)
    direct (1 Thes 3:11, 2 Thes 3:5)

    The answer to all of those Ehrman gives is, quite frankly, "So what!" Statistically, even all of Ehrman's examples together result in something of virtually no statistical significance. Moreover, the same routine can be played with 1 and 2 Corinthians, which Ehrman takes as Pauline:

    divided (Gk: merizo) (1 Cor 1:13, 7:17, 34; 2 Cor. 13). It is also found in Rom 12:3, but one of Ehrman's examples from Thes is also found in Phil 4:3, so he's clearly allowing himself some leeway.

    wisdom Found numerous times in 1 Cor and 2 Cor 1:12. It is found plenty of times in Ephesians and Colossians, but since Ehrman rejects those as non-Pauline, by his own logic, this one must count.

    mighty/strong Found a few times in 1 Cor, and in 2 Cor 10:10; otherwise not in the Pauline corpus.

    testimony 1 Cor 1:6, 2:1; 2 Cor 2:12 -- also found in 2 Thes and the Pastorals, but since Ehrman does not regard those as genuine, they do not count.

    trembling 1 Cor 2:3, 2 Cor 7:15; also found in Ephesians, which does not count, and once in Philippians, which is allowed by Ehrman's method.

    That is just the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, and I selected likely words at random. Now, Ehrman claims there is no such phenomenon as this in 1 and 2 Corinthians, but he overstates his case in summary, claiming there are examples of "sequences of nine, ten or more words." The only example he gives of that length comes from the introduction and closings, which, as stated, is a special case; nearly all of his examples consist of one or two words. However, this is very easy to explain even so as it simply proves the person who forged 2 Corinthians was not as skilled as the one who forged 2 Thessalonians.

    So, in the end, "So what" is all the answer needed; however, we can take that further by exposing the bankruptcy of Ehrman's methodology with some questions and points.
  • What if these words or phrases, like "work of faith" was simply language adopted or specially used by the Thessalonian church, part of its unique in-group language?
  • How can these usages be deemed significant unless it is shown that these words and phrases ought to have been used in other places in Paul’s writing as well?
  • Ehrman's greatest difficulty, however, is a lack of imagination. He asks if it is "likely that Paul remembered to the very word what he said at times in his earlier letter," including what Ehrman takes to be "off-the-cuff comments and expressions." The answer to that, despite what Ehrman thinks, is that yes, it is very likely Paul (or any author) remembered such things, and this would be the case even if Paul had not made a copy for his own records and reference. As an ancient writer in an aural society, Paul would have carefully crafted his work for aural presentation, such that it amounted to him rehearsing a speech. I myself find that I can remember substantial portions of speeches and talks I have rehearsed, certainly more than sufficiently to recall unique words and phrases.
    Ehrman neglects the simple point that in an oral-based society, the function of memory was critical, and it would have been no chore at all for the author (Paul or whoever) to bring to their recollection certain words and phrases from their prior epistle. Indeed, the examples Ehrman gives are in accord with the literary practice of mimesis (e.g., Tacitus using the same word (trunci) in different accounts, once to refer to the trunks of bodies, the other to refer to the trunks of trees). The practice of mimesis required authors to recover -- by memory -- words and phrases from older works and reuse them in new and creative ways. 

    Given that 1 Thes is exceedingly short by any standard, the real question is, how can Ehrman NOT think that Paul could remember such things? It is, actually, because Ehrman erroneously regards the composition as being "off the cuff", which is not an adequate description of the composition of ancient literature.

    Other correspondences cited by Ehrman are even weaker. He notes that both 1 and 2 Thes have sections on eschatology, but this is rather obviously because 2 Thes is a response to an eschatological crisis, no doubt related to issues Paul raised in 1 Thes! Both, he says, warn against idleness, but why does this not mean that idleness was a problem particularly for the Thessalonian church? It is said that only 1 and 2 Thes have two "thanksgivings" each, one at the start, and one in the body of the letter. However, in both cases, the one in the body amounts to a single verse -- and you can find Paul stopping to give thanks in the body of an epistle in Rom 7:25, 1 Cor 14;18, and Eph 5:20, and at the end at Rom 16:4.

    Syntax. Ehrman's next section becomes rather technical as he relies on obscure statistical claims made by Darryl Schmidt. Though it seems too simple, these may be dismissed at once as reliant on an inadequate sample size. 1 and 2 Thes, even together, fall short of the required 10,000 words demanded by Yule in order to provide a sufficient sample size.

    Beyond that, Ehrman gives away the store unwittingly with concessions tucked in where they will be least noticed. He admits that someone who is a trained rhetorician can more carefully craft a style consciously unlike what they do in other productions, but when Ehrman says, "no one can plausibly claim" that Paul was capable of such things, he does so with substantial disregard for the detailed evidence indicating Paul's skill as a rhetoric (…later, he says, "Paul was no professional rhetorician" [173], and while that is likely true, no one claims that anyway; it is claimed Paul was a proficient and competent rhetorician -- so that once again, reverting to a fundamentalist mentality, Ehrman errs with an "all or nothing" approach).

    Ehrman also notes that 2 Thes has a greater complexity of embedded clauses than any other Pauline letter, but he also admits that "it is not nearly as complex as that found in numerous other authors."

    The problem of such arguments remains the same: To dictate what an author's "style" is, one must draw a line around what is known to be that author's works. I have had a substantial literary output over the years, including literally thousands of articles. If you choose just 30 of those, you are very likely to reach certain decisions about my "style" that will automatically exclude other articles that really are mine. I also write with a consciously different style depending on who or what it is for. My articles for the Christian Research Journal are composed in one way, because I am familiar with certain preferences of the editors. One example is that CRJ editors prefer "he or she" references, whereas I am personally indifferent to such things and will use "they" or "he" in my own writing. And again, my style for the Forge blog is entirely different than what I use for my serious books like Defending the Resurrection.

    In the end, it speaks for itself that Ehrman must admit that style arguments are "constantly challenged on grounds related both to the statistics and the models," and so must be taken "in tandem" with his arguments about words and phrases. Once that admission is made, the jig, so to speak, is up. Unless a technique like Schmidt's is demonstrated on several "controls" it is essentially worthless. But let us show this further by looking at what Ehrman lists as prime examples.

    Concerning 2 Thes 1:3-12, Ehrman writes that it is "often pointed to as a long and complex sentence." He admits there are other sentences in Paul nearly as long (2 Cor 6:3-10, 11:24-31), but dismisses this because "these letters do not match the complexity of the sentences in 2 Thessalonians." He says:

    [Schmidt] takes the longest sentence in the opening thanksgiving section of each of the Pauline letters and measures how many embedded clauses there are and how many layers of embeddedness. The results are quite telling: in Romans there are five embedded clauses at three levels; 1 Corinthians: six clauses at four layers...

    Ehrman goes on up the scale, and ends by saying, "2 Thessalonians: a whopping twenty-two clauses to fifteen levels of embeddedness."

    Problems? There are more than a few. For one thing, it is an artificiality for Schmidt to restrict the sample to "opening thanksgiving sections." ALL of Paul's writings, not just thanksgiving sections, should be included.

    Second, there is an artificiality in defining 2 Thes 1:3-12 as a "thanksgiving section." Only v. 3 and perhaps 4 are actually a "thanks" -- the rest is praise, prayer and exhortation for the Thessalonians. From a rhetorical perspective, though, this opening fits the model of an exordium -- where the author/speaker worked to establish their credibility with their audience. Given the nature of the difficulty in 2 Thessalonians -- an eschatological crisis causing some to abandon their livelihoods, and in which Paul finds it necessary to correct the Thessalonians on a teaching which he thought was settled -- an extended exordium is hardly surprising.

    Third, though it is a point he has used himself in other contexts, Ehrman is forgetting something when he speaks of this passage in terms of a "long and complex sentence"; namely, that there is no punctuation in NT Greek, so that translators are using their own discretion in deciding where to parse sentences.
    In an article, "2 Thessalonians 1:3-10: A Study in Sentence Structure," Duane Dunham notes that translations show considerable variance in dividing this section (which here, excludes 11-12, which Ehrman includes). The KJV and ASV have one long sentence. The RSV and NASB have four. The NIV has 8. The largest number of sentences, from the TEV, is nine. For Ehrman to write of the "complexity of the sentences" as though it were a settled issue, and for Schmidt to base a study on the "longest sentence" in an opening thanksgiving, is to stack the deck for the case before ever actually making it.

    For further confirmation, I checked with Dr. Ron Fay, an expert in Koine Greek who also has a math degree, and who therefore is specially qualified to assess arguments like Schmidt's. The kindest thing Fay found to say was that the thesis was "pure balderdash." In addition to confirming my point about inadequate sample size, and that the whole case requires assumptions that certain letters like Ephesians are non-Pauline, Fay added that 1) "the longest sentence tells you nothing about the author or the style, it tells you about those to whom he is writing," and "the Thanksgiving sections are, for all intents and purposes, meaningless in the greater schema of the letters other than to introduce certain topics."

    Colossians and Ephesians

    Since I regard these two epistles as the product of Timothy, writing for Paul while he is indisposed in prison, much of what Ehrman says of these is readily dismissible. Ehrman does not even consider the thought of Timothy as a freelance scribe, and as we will see later, he dismisses such ideas as quickly as possible again on still inadequate grounds.

    He considers style the most decisive evidence against Colossians. If Timothy was the author, this argument becomes immediately moot. That said, I am little impressed by Ehrman's appeal to the supposedly "unanswerable" style analysis of Bujard, which by his description is again little more than a case of arbitrarily drawing a line and overstating the significance of a statistic. For example, Bujard decided it would be a good idea to count the number of "consecutive conjunctions" in Paul's letters, and came up with these totals:
  • Galatians: 16
  • Philippians: 10
  • 1 Thessalonians: 12
  • Colossians: 6
    Considering the relative length of each of these (i.e., Galatians is just over a third longer than Colossians, and that includes a whole lot of greetings at the end of Colossians!), this statistic is already meaningless and would be so even if the letters were the same length. I'll also add that Witherington, in his commentary on Colossians, criticizes Bujard for failing to take rhetorical issues into account. Witherington says: "the great majority of distinctive traits Bujard finds in Colossians are normal traits of Greek in the Asiatic rhetorical style."

    In terms of non-style issues, Ehrman next moves to issues of Colossians' theology, and returns to the usual habit of critical scholars, making mountains out of molehills:
  • Col 1:13, "He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son His love," is made out to be significant because it is in an aorist tense, though Ehrman does not explain why this is a problem, he merely asks rhetorically: "Already?...Is this Paul?" without explaining why it cannot be. I can only assume that Ehrman is assigning some kind of obscure theological reading to the passage, since I regard this as something indeed "already" done, in the process of transfer into the new covenant. Perhaps Ehrman has a dispensational reading of "kingdom."
  • 2:12-13 and 3:1 are regarded as "striking" because it is "insisting that believers have already experienced a kind of spiritual resurrection" (i.e., “Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead" 2:12), which puts it at odds with other places where we have not been raised yet.
    Here again, I can only suppose that Ehrman's past fundamentalism is affecting him as he apparently can only envision these as literal promises, and so must explain away the resurrection as "spiritual" (which is not at all hinted at in the text). There is no such thing as a "spiritual" rising -- at best this might refer to some sort of collective "awakening" from the past life of sin, if it is to be taken literally, but that would resolve the alleged problem Ehrman finds. Indeed, if we take this as a "spiritual" event, then it is not at odds with Paul at all, for the passages Ehrman cites (e.g., Rom 6:1-6) refer only to a physical resurrection. So, by referring to this as a "spiritual" raising, Ehrman unwittingly solves his own manufactured problem.

    Ehrman also claims that the view he sees espoused here in Colossians reflects "the view Paul argues against in Corinth." It does? How so? The Corinthians had people arguing that there was no resurrection, and by Ehrman's reading, the Colossians have people who are arguing for a second one, before the one at the end of the age!

    On the other hand, that these might be proleptic promises of the future physical resurrection does not at all occur to Ehrman. Such language us also found in Paul elsewhere (Rom. 6:13, 2 Cor. 4:10-11, Gal. 2:19-20), passages which speak of the believer as already in possession of the redemptive life. 

    Additionally, Ehrman is oblivious to the point of why the language is used this way in Colossians: The authors are answering a heresy which declares that the believer is not complete unless they follow certain legalist prescriptions. Hence it is proper for Paul or Timothy to frame the matter as though believers were already in possession of the qualities of Christian life.

  • Ehrman says that Colossians understands "redemption" as the "forgiveness of sins" (1:14), which is not found anywhere else in Paul's letter. This is another "so what" matter, but it doesn't matter anyway. Whether Paul says such a thing elsewhere or not, it accurately describes a transaction of the Christian covenant under the patronage contract offered by God via Jesus as broker. Since Paul describes such a covenant in his letter as well, he thereby implicitly includes this concept.

  • Ehrman also makes light of the hapax legomena (in Colossians and Ephesians only) charizomai. Of course, such arguments mean nothing even if Timothy is not the scribe, not only because hapax legomena can be found in Pauline letters Ehrman takes as genuine, but because the word is derived from charis (grace), a word Paul uses enough times to choke a horse.
  • Ehrman regards Col 1:24, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body – for the sake of his body, the church – what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ," a "shocking image for Paul; were Christ's sufferings in some way inadequate and needed to be completed?" Ehrman is evidently unfamiliar with the principles of a collectivist society. Of course Christ's sufferings are not completed, as long as his collective body is still suffering. The verse itself explicitly refers to "his body" as a referent, so clearly, Ehrman only finds this a "shocking image" because he reads it like a modern individualist.
  • Despite earlier disclaiming such arguments as weak, Ehrman declares it odd that in Colossians, the author goes after issues of Jewish legalism with terms like "sabbath" and "festivals" and "regulations", rather than words like "law" or "commandment". It perhaps does not occur to Ehrman that this is because it was specifically observation of the sabbath and festivals that was a chief concern of the Colossian heresy -- which is very odd indeed, since Ehrman argues that the oddity is that the author "is dealing precisely with the issues of relevance to the terminology, but he does not use it."
  • Col 3:18-4:1 is declared "non-Pauline" -- and it most likely is, for it most likely represents a sort of community-wide code that was not authored or originated by Paul himself. After all, we see similar admonitions in 1 Peter 3, and these are values that would be the property of the in-group as a whole, not just Paul or Peter. For some reason, Ehrman cannot even conceive of Paul (or any author) quoting or alluding to prior works. Ehrman also declares the recitation of the "family values" in the passage odd in light of Paul's preference for a life of celibacy for himself (1 Cor 7). In this, Ehrman misses two points. One, demonstrated by Winter, is that the recommendation of Paul in 1 Cor 7 is made under the contingency of a famine in the area of Corinth. The other is that based on his argument, no one who is single could be trained and employed as a marriage counselor. Once again, it appears that Ehrman's fundamentalist mindset is coloring his arguments.
    We now move onto Ephesians, and here again, I had argued in TNT that Timothy was the scribe for Paul, so that stylistic differences would be expected. Ehrman spends some time arguing that because of the obvious relationship to Colossians -- which he thinks is forged -- this must also mean Ephesians is forged. Further, he advances in brief some of the same arguments used against Colossians (e.g., eschatology), as is appropriate given the similarity of content, but still no better justified.

    He reuses the argument we covered in our earlier review of Forged:

    He supposes that Ephesians 2:3 (“Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others”) contradicts Phil 3:4, in which Paul calls himself blameless. I have to wonder if Ehrman is serious here, or whether he is simply too stuck in fundamentalist readings of the text. Surely he cannot think that Paul in 3:4 is declaring himself someone who never, ever, sinned! Indeed, if he wants to get fussy, that would also contradict Rom 3:23, which says “all have sinned.”
    I know of no one who takes Phil 3:6 as indicating Paul was absolutely sinless, though it is coherent as a statement that he was “blameless” in the sense that he observed all the proper strictures of the Temple religious practices.
    He supposes that Ephesians regarded Christians as “saved” now, whereas in his other letters, “ always used to refer to the future.” Ehrman offers no references for this whatsoever, and it takes only a moment to find that he is wrong: Rom 10:9 -- “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Cf also 10:13); 1 Cor 1:18 -- “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”; and 2 Cor 2:15 -- “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish”. All refer to persons “saved” in the present or due to actions in the present. Many referents refer to salvation in a future sense, and that is quite natural since “salvation” involves a process that continues, in practical terms, into the future. In any event, Ehrman is patently in error.

    The Pastorals

    Here again, we side with those who attribute the scribal act of the Pastorals to Luke. Amazingly, one of the leading advocates of this view, Jerome Quinn, is not even referenced regarding this particular argument, even though he is referenced for a minor matter of syntax only.

    Ehrman spends a great deal of time arguing against views that the different Pastorals were authored by different persons, a view which does not concern us. When he does get to issues of relevance to us, there is little new. Ehrman unbelievably thinks it ought to take until the second century for the church to figure out things like selecting a person for an office out of a pool of candidates. Otherwise, there is nothing new here, and not already covered in Trusting the New Testament. Ehrman, indeed, is so far behind on the scholarship that he is still hoisting 1 Tim 2:11-15 as though the author were literally saying women receive salvation via childbirth (as opposed to this being an answer to a quasi-Gnostic cult that said women would lose salvation if they gave birth).


    We close this installment with a look at how Ehrman treats the matter of the use of secretaries, or scribes. In the review of Forged we commented:

    He notes the thesis of Richards (The Secretary in the Letters of Paul) that secretaries were used in a variety of ways, ranging from dictation to full composition. He denies that there is sufficient evidence for the range Richards gives beyond dictation, but does so on embarrassingly inadequate grounds. As it turns out, Ben Witherington and Mike Licona have already done more than enough to answer Ehrman on these points, so I will just provide what they say and add a few comments.

    First of all, as Ben Witherington notes in his critique:

    I need to say from the outset and on first glance that there appears to be a rather large lacunae in the argument of this book, namely the failure to do this study after having studied in depth ancient scribal practices and the roles of scribes in producing ancient documents in ancient Israel. For example, I see no interaction whatsoever in this book with the landmark study of Karel Van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, in which it is demonstrated at length that scribes played a huge role in collecting, editing, and producing ancient documents, and that it was indeed a regular practice to name a scroll after either the originator of the tradition, or the first or a major contributor to the tradition, not after the scribe who actually produced the document, often decades or centuries after the tradition had first been formed.

    This was neither a deceitful practice nor a blatant attempt at forgery, but rather a normal practice in a culture with a deep reverence for ancient traditions which in a largely illiterate society relied on scribes to be the conservators, copiers, preservers and presenters of the tradition, in written form. Inasmuch as the writers of the NT appear to have been almost entirely Jews or God-fearers deeply steeped not only in the OT but in Jewish ways of handling sacred traditions and sacred texts, it is rather surprising that this book does not spend more time actually examining such things. Perhaps in the scholarly monograph that is to follow this popular level book, this rather colossal oversight will be remedied.

    I'll stop there to note that no -- that "rather colossal oversight" is not remedied. Van der Toorn's book remains unknown to Ehrman -- or else purposely ignored by him.

    Indeed, as I wrote concerning Van der Toorn’s book on the Ticker:

    The one major contribution Van der Toorn offers, for my experience, is in Chapter 2 where he discusses the role and nature of authorship in antiquity. I have frequently told critics that the ancient concept of authorship is more like authority than “so and so wrote this” as it is today, and this is exactly what Van der Toorn says and elaborates upon. Here are some critical points:
    “Up until the end of the Middle Ages, readers were more concerned with the authority of books than their authenticity. The author was deemed relevant mainly as a source of authority.”[27]

    “In the Ancient Near East, it was uncommon for an author to sign his or her work.” [231] Hence it is no surprise that we have so many “anonymous” OT books (the Samuels, the Kings, etc.). Even Babylonian and Assyrian texts named not the author of the text, but either the name of the scribe or the name of the owner of the text.

    One point I would derive from this is one I have used often already: When Moses is said to be the authority behind the Pentateuch, it never means that he personally wrote it. Rather, though he may have authored some of the texts, his main role would be that of an authority who stood behind the text and caused it to be made.

    Another concept Van der Toorn introduces is that of honorary authorship. This is a case of a text being ascribed to a patron who ordered the text, as opposed to the scribe who wrote and composed it. Once again, it is in this sense that it ought to be argued that Moses, for example, “authored” the Pentateuch. 

    However, critics continue to work with a modern definition of authorship in their criticisms. He also points out that our concept of authorship is tied to notions of authors as individuals; but because in the ancient world, “an individual is indistinguishable from his or her social role and social status,” [46] authorship is itself an expression of role, and that as mouthpiece and crafter of the values of the community the author represents; so, in that sense, authorship is in a real sense communal.

    This is not to say van derToorn agrees that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. He doesn’t. He thinks it was a fictitious attribution, but I have frequently argued with critics that their criticisms assume a modern definition of “authorship” and that is precisely what van der Toorn debunks. He makes an analogy to the modern practice of those who write copy for advertisements – they never “sign” their work. This is one major exception to our modern tendency to take offense when an author is not credited with the creation of a text, but for ancient people, “an author does not invent his text but merely arranges it…”. [47]

    This is important because Ehrman argues based on alleged lack of evidence. Of course, this is non-argument anyway, since the only evidence he seems to think counts is the sort of explicit comment about scribal contribution which such letters would lack in the first place!

    Now, here are Licona’s comments, to which I, again, will simply add.

    First, Ehrman asserts that there is no evidence of this being done by anyone outside of the ultra-wealthy. He writes, “Virtually all of [the evidence for the use of a secretary beyond taking dictation] comes from authors who were very, very wealthy and powerful and inordinately well educated.” (135-36) Writing a letter in antiquity was a costly enterprise. In the updated and expanded version of Randolph Richards’ doctoral dissertation, he discusses the costs involved. Papyri, labor and courier fees added up quickly. Of course, Cicero, Seneca and the ultra-wealthy could easily afford the costs. But Paul the missionary would not have been so fortunate. Richards estimates that the cost for penning Paul’s letters ranged from $101 in today’s dollars for Philemon to $2,275 for Romans. And that does not include the expenses involved with a courier. Now perhaps you’re thinking, “But Paul tells us he had churches that supported him (Phil 4:10- 18; 2 Cor 11:9). And we know he had co-workers whom he mentioned in his letters. They would naturally have been the couriers and could even have served as his secretaries. So, he wouldn’t have incurred little if any labor costs.” Of course. And what’s to have prevented these coworkers from also providing editorial and compositional services according to their personal abilities? Could the Tertius mentioned in Romans 16:22 have been a professional secretary who had volunteered his services? We will never know. What is clear is the fact that Paul was not a member of the ultra-wealthy does not preclude his use of a secretary for editing and composition.

    Indeed, let me add here that Ehrman’s proposal is a massive non sequitur. How in the world can it be argued that wealth somehow governed one’s use and practice of using a secretary? If a wealthy Roman lost a huge chunk of change speculating, did he use secretaries differently?

    I will stop again, to note that Ehrman repeats the same argument, virtually unchanged, and he repeats all of the same arguments we note further here:

    It is further a non sequitur for Ehrman to point out that Cicero is the only person for whom we have evidence that scribes were used to fully draft letters. He simply raises the bar of evidence to arbitrary heights, demanding that we have something equivalent to Cicero’s own comments in order for the hypothesis to have traction. The very fact that NT writers DID use secretaries, and the fact that they DID have available to them the resources of a wealthier upper class of people, is more than sufficient evidence for a secretary hypothesis to have standing and for the burden to be placed on doubters like Ehrman.

    Continuing with Licona:

    Second, Ehrman points out that letters in the Greco-Roman world were very short and to the point, whereas the NT letters are lengthy treatises that deal with complex issues (136). Ehrman says this is problematic because the disputed letters of the New Testament such as Ephesians and 1 Peter are “lengthy treatises that deal with large and complex issues in the form of a letter” and are “so much more extensive than typical letters . . . in their theological expositions, ethical exhortations, and quotation of and interpretation of Scripture. These New Testament ‘letters’ are really more like essays put in letter form. So evidence that derives from the brief, stereotyped letters typically found in Greek and Roman circles is not necessarily germane to the ‘letters’ of the early Christians” (136, ital. mine). Indeed. And what is true of Ephesians and 1 Peter is even truer of ALL of Paul’s seven undisputed letters with the exception of Philemon. Ehrman has unwittingly eliminated his own argument against the heavy involvement of secretaries! Ephesians and 1 Peter are quite long when compared with the average length of the letters of Cicero and longer than the average length of the letters of Seneca.
  • Cicero: averaged 295 words per letter, but ranging from 22 to 2,530 words
  • Seneca: averaged 995 words per letter, but ranging from 149 to 4,134
  • Paul: averaged 2,493 words per letter (13 letters), ranging from 335 (Philemon) to 7,111 (Romans)
  • Rom: 7,111; 1 Cor: 6,830; 2 Cor: 4,477; Gal: 2,230; Eph: 2,422; Phil: 1,629; Col: 1,582; 1 Thes: 1,481; 2 Thes: 823; 1 Tim: 1,591; 2 Tim: 1,238; Tit: 659; Philemon: 335
  • Average of Paul’s undisputed letters: 3,442
  • Average of Paul’s disputed letters: 1,386
  • Other NT letters: Hebrews: 4,953; James: 1,742; 1 Peter: 1684; 2 Peter: 1,099; 1 John: 2,141; 2 John: 245; 3 John: 219; Jude: 461 The above figures provide some interesting observations. With the exception of Philemon, the average length of the New Testament letters is much longer than the average length of letters written by others of the period. However, notice the length of the undisputed letters of Paul. They are longer than the disputed letters. Yet no one, including Ehrman, questions whether Paul wrote Romans and 1 Corinthians in spite of the fact that those letters are each around 7,000 words! This reveals that Ehrman’s argument concerning letter length is only a paper tiger.

    Licona further appeals to the common sense notion that it is usual to ask others to review a text that is important. In this case, it is hard to accept that any Christian text would NOT go under review by more than the “authoring” party and for scribes to be asked to review the contents.


    In Ehrman’s third and final argument against the secretary being heavily involved in Paul’s letters he says there’s evidence that brief stereotyped letters like land deeds and sales receipts were created by secretaries. But there is “absolutely no evidence” that such authority was ever provided to a secretary for “composing a long, detailed, finely argued, carefully reasoned, and nuanced letter like 1 Peter or Ephesians” (137). For example, Ehrman contends that 1 Peter was written by a highly educated Greek-speaking Christian who understood how to use Greek rhetorical devices and could cite the Greek Old Testament with flair and nuance. That does not apply to the uneducated, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking fisherman from rural Galilee, and it does not appear to have been produced by a secretary acting on his behalf. (138-39) And it does not seem possible that Peter gave the general gist of what he wanted to say and that a secretary then created the letter for him in his name, since, first the secretary rather than Peter would be the real author of the letter, and second, and even more important, we don’t seem to have any analogy for a procedure like this from the ancient world. (139)

    But recall that Ehrman himself admits that, given the length of the New Testament letters, the Greco-Roman letters are not necessarily germane. Moreover, some analogy exists related to the liberty the historian could take in recreating speeches. The digital recorder was a long time away from being invented when historians attempted to reproduce speeches in antiquity. The historian was to do his best in recalling the content of the speeches from those who had personally witnessed it. However, according to Lucian, a Greek author from the second century who provides the only surviving treatise on the proper conventions of writing history in that era, historians were instructed to use accurate content. However, it was then that the historian could become orator and display his own elegance of words when communicating the content.
    And of course, van den Toorn does provide the needed analogy from the ancient world. Ehrman has failed to unseat the secretary hypothesis on multiple counts.

    And that is all…Ehrman spends all of 4 1/2 pages in FAC on the secretary hypothesis, giving it the same short shrift he did in Forged, and then having the nerve to claim that those who invoke the hypothesis are engaged in "wishful thinking." It is clear, rather, that Ehrman remains unalterably committed to an agenda in which honesty and completeness is not a priority.