Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Perrin and Geisler Potpourri

Not, again, that I think low-rent intellectual atheists deserve the attention, but Nick Peters has been finding more and more of them (and others) making hay of what Norman Geisler has unjustly done to Mike Licona. They’re not being kind to Geisler either – I’ve noted them making points of his inconsistency with regards to an old-earth view; but they’re making especially fluffy hay over this being an exercise by Geisler in suppressing freedom of thought, in a way that is tied to ignorance and power plays – which it is.

They’ve also noted that reactions to Licona by those in Geisler’s corner have gone overboard (eg, canceling his appearance at conferences) – which it has. They’ve noted that Licona has done amazing scholarly work on the Resurrection – which he has – and that Geisler is making an issue over a very, very tiny portion of what Licona has written – which he has.

They refer also to a widespread fear of giving such answers in Evangelicalism. I can understand that some might fear loss of a job, loss of fellowship, loss of opportunity, etc if they tell the truth – which has happened to Licona. And is again all the more reason why Tekton is best left not overseen by authoritarian bullies who don’t understand what it does.

That’s all on that subject today; between family medical needs and my own (that kidney stone may not have left after all! – or maybe only part of it did!) I didn’t have a whole lot of open time today. But we’ll close with a book review from the December 2008 E-Block, of Nicholas Perrin’s Thomas: The Other Gospel.


It took the Jesus Seminar to raise a cloud of dust over the Gospel of Thomas; now that the dust has settled, scholars with a more targeted interest are taking over the field, and one of these, Nicholas Perrin, has produced a quite readable and thoughtful volume that presents a somewhat differing paradigm for understanding GThom.

I will lay out my one reservation. Perrin reminds me too much of James Dunn, in terms of being someone who seems too cautious about reaching conclusions and permitting potential exceptions to hang overhead. But this is a methodological issue which should be overlooked. Thomas: The Other Gospel is of tremendous value for its close, detailed arguments and its interaction with several streams of evidence. Prior to this, I accepted the notion that Thomas was a Gnostic product, but I think Perrin makes a good case for GThom being a product of a somewhat mystical sect of Syrian Christianity that was not technically Gnostic (though we can certainly see why Gnostics would appreciate GThom even so).

• In the Introduction, Perrin lays out the foundational information on GThom, such as its discovery at Nag Hammadi, opinions as to its authenticity in the past, and external evidence concerning its date and authenticity.

• The next three chapters are summary reviews of how three scholars regard GThom. Chapter One has to do with Stephen Patterson, and I was pleased to see that Perrin observed some of the same methodological weaknesses in the way Patterson rated GThom that I found some years back.

• Chapter Two takes on Elaine Pagels, and Chapter Three addresses April DeConick. The works of these two on GThom are currently on my reading list for the future, so I cannot speak to Perrin's treatment of them, aside from noting that Perrin and DeConick have been taking jabs at one another in the blogosphere.

• Starting in Chapter Four, Perrin makes his own case for the origin and purpose of GThom. He makes a detailed case, first, for GThom having been originally composed in the Syriac language (which is not particularly controversial). He then argues that GThom shows dependency not on the Synoptic Gospels, but rather the "gospel harmony" of Tatian, the Diatessaron, produced in the middle of the second century. Of course for apologists, this is a critical finding for those who would date GThom earlier than the canonical Gospels or argue that it represents a more authentic record of Jesus.

• Chapter Five adds to the academic dogpile, as Perrin looks closely at GThom 13, in which Thomas is given props while Matthew and Peter are disrespected. Perrin argues that this looks to be a direct slam at the composed Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Once again, the implication for the apologist is obvious; but beyond that, there is yet more fruitful commentary concerning the identity and beliefs of those who created GThom.

• Chapter 6 sums it up and makes connections between the contents of GThom and Hermetic mysticism.

Perrin's tone is that of a scholar, though like Ben Witherington, he's more than capable of the humorous turn of phrase (e.g., referring to people dedicated to poverty as not being "Donald Trump-wanna-bes"). That makes Perrin all the more readable. Highly recommended for those interested in GThom studies.


  1. I think you may be entering "any stick is good enough to beat Geisler with" territory here. You don't give these "low rent intellectual atheists" any credence when they criticize your person and your ministry, so calling attention to their criticisms of Geisler hardly seems very informative.

  2. That is to funny that you mention Ben Witherington! I just ordered What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible. From Amazon just the other day.

    Also, I am definately taking a look at Thomas, the Other Gospel by Nicholas Perrin. My older brother has Elaine Pagels work, so it would make a perfect compliment... (or antagonist I suppose would be better ;P)

  3. @Jeff You're not paying very close attention, are you? I'm not giving them "credence". I'm showing that Geisler's mishandling of the situation has produced these results. If Geisler has handled the matter PROPERLY, by eg, attending the conference Licona mentioned to discuss the issue (rather than refusing to go under the premise that it is being run by foxes), then I have little doubt some atheists would make an issue of it anyway, but if they did, they would not have a good point. As it is, they do: Geisler is foolishly enabling them to HAVE a valid point by his indefensible mishandlings.

    The atheists have no credence -- but thanks to Geisler, their objections here do.

  4. The point also is that the atheists don't really have a dog in this fight. If anything, they should be wanting Mike's book to be shut down so Christians wouldn't read it. Instead, all of them are saying that Mike should not be treated this way and that this is a problem in evangelicalism.