Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Snap: Robert McIver's "Jesus, Memory, and the Synoptic Gospels"

I checked this one out to see if there was anything relavant to the studies I did on oral tradition in Trusting the New Testament, and found some things of note though not directly related. McIver takes a much closer look than anyone I have seen so far as the details of modern memory studies, such as those Skeptics frequently appeal to by Elizabeth Loftus. I would have liked to have seen McIver do more to relate these studies specifically to the Biblical world, as in some chapters on the subject of modern memory study, there doesn't seem to be any such connection made. Alternatively, I could say that there is no real connection in some cases, given the difference in nature between the two settings.

The second half of the book goes into the practice of memory and oral transmission in the NT world, and here, there is some overlap with my own work in TNT, though not as much detail on most points, and more detail on other points.

Some new and unique observations for my purposes:

One modern memory expert has indicated that memory is best at recalling a "what" and most vague in recalling a "when" -- the time factors involved in a memory. McIver relates this to the vagueness of time markers in the Gospel records, and while I suspect this may have some bearing, it is also related to the fact that ancient people simply had no accurate means to measure and mark time, unless they happened to be wealthy enough to afford certain devices (or, like scholars supported by the state, were given the tools for such marking).

Critics like Nineham assume that the "pericope" Gospel forms point to community development of stories. In reality, they are characteristic of ancient eyewitness recollection and episodic memory.

McIver also suggests that memory error is behind such things as "one or two demoniacs". I would have liked to have seen some consideration for the possibility that such differences are intentional structural forms, designed to assist memory (see link below).

A final appendix in which McIver considers ancient lifespans in order to determine how many potential eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry would be still be alive at certain dates in particularly useful contribution.

Overall, this is a fairly good resource which is worthy of recommendation.


I restart USDA work this week, and the Ticker will return Friday.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Honor and Shame, Part 3

Continued from last time.


Last time we started investigating just how a person of a collectivist society accrues honor and shame and today we'll pick up where we left off and also examine the role woman played in this social game.

To sum up where the last blog post ended, the main way a person added to his acquired honor was by engaging in an intense and entertaining technique known to anthropologists and sociologists as challenge and response (also known as riposte). There are a few things to understand about this game - 1) it can only take place among social equals, 2) it occurs in public, 3) it requires a perception of a challenge by the opposing party, 4) it requires that the observing audience realizes who won and lost in order for one party or the other to gain a new grant of honor, 5) only males can engage in it and, 6) if one of the parties loses their temper and gets violent, they lose. Furthermore, riposte isn't necessarily negative. Friends can also engage in this game by exchanging compliments or gifts (this topic will be explored in much greater detail when and if I ever get around to making a series on patronage).

Aside from riposte, there are a few other ways for a person to accrue honor or shame. To put it simply, if a person fulfills their given social role to an extent that the society approves of, then they are considered honorable. This social role can be broken down into three components: authority, respect, and gender status. Bruce Malina instructs us that "authority" refers to "the ability to control the behavior of others" and "It should not be confused with physical force.". Furthermore, respect means "the attitude one must have and the behavior one is expected to follow relative to those who control one's existence." Finally, gender status "refers to the set of obligations and entitlements - what you ought to do and what other ought to do to or for you - that derive from symbolic gender differentiation." In other words, if you are a male, do you adequately fulfill your manly social duties? If you are a female, do you display attitudes expected of woman?1

Let's take a closer look at the first category of "authority". Imagine that you are a father in ancient Judea and you have a few children (preferably males, you see). To be honored in your society and to be respected amongst other fathers within your social circle, your children must themselves act honorably. If you give an order to one of your sons and he disobeys, the son's rebellion would heap upon you shame and your "peers would ridicule [you], thereby acknowledging [your] lack of honor as a father."2 Think back to the story given by Jesus in the 21st chapter of Matthew:

"'What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?' 'The first,' they answered. Jesus said to them, 'I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.'" ---Matthew 21:28-31

Now, imagine that you had a friend who was a teacher who had a sizable following of disciples. However, one day your friend took his students into a public space and taught a controversial message. To your horror, his crowd of followers dispersed one by one, muttering under their breath how foolish his former teacher is. Presently, your friend is left all alone and bears the scorn and mockery of the other people who saw him disgraced. Your teaching friend was disgraced and shamed because he had no authority. Malina says, "disagreement means people do not acknowledge his teaching influence." A teacher with no teaching influence is no teacher at all and thus deserves no honor as one. In fact, the only thing he acquires is shame among his peers.3 Skeptics sometimes like to argue that the Bible is full of made up stories in order to push an agenda; but it's hard to imagine what positive agenda John had when he wrote about the following story:

Many of [Jesus'] disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that you betray him. And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." ---John 6:60-69

Furthermore, even the closest of Jesus' inner circle deserted him in the Garden of Gethsemane during his arrest and almost all were gone at the foot of the cross. Some teacher indeed!4 The fact that the Scriptures keep these incredibly embarrassing and shameful stories intact testifies to their veracity. They could have done nothing but harm to the movement.

Now let's move on to "respect". In short, a person's acquired honor rating was partially contingent on how well he honored those who were honorable, especially those of higher social status, such as wealthy patrons, the chief priests, and (above all) God. Malina explains that "it is up to upright citizens to defend the honor of their social superiors, and God is the most lofty of all social superiors." Therefore, for instance, if an honorable individual witnesses someone blaspheming God, it was their social duty to defend Him.5 Think back to the story of David and Goliath:

Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

...David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”...David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

But David said to Saul, "... Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” ---1st Samuel 17:1-37
David gained massive amounts of honor for defending the name of king, country, and supremely for God whom the Philistine blasphemed. Finally, we should note that Paul reminds us to render honor to whom honor is due in the congregation of the church.

The last element that we'll look at tonight is a person's fulfillment of their gender status. David deSilva elucidates in Honor, Patronage, Kinship, & Purity that "In the ancient world, as in many traditional cultures today, woman and men have different arenas for the preservation and acquisition of honor, and different stands for honorable activity." The world of the Mediterranean was (and is) divided into two spheres - the male spaces, and the female spaces. Men, says deSilva, occupy the public space. They are the public face of their in-group whose honor they must defend and it is men who engage in riposte. Woman, on the other hand, play a very interesting role indeed. Somewhat paradoxically, a woman's honor was referred to as shame. Shame in this sense doesn't mean gaining shame but having such a finely-tuned sense of her honor that she had shame. I'm sure at one point or other, we have heard or ourselves have said, "How disgraceful! Doesn't this person have any shame?" By "shame" in this context, we really mean modesty - a virtue that a woman was expected to exhibit and was in fact her honor.

Woman occupy the private space, especially the interior of the home. "A woman," said Plutarch in his very politically incorrect Advice on Marriage, "should be seen when she is with her husband, but stay hidden at home when he is away." Plutarch and his contemporaries also believed that a woman should only be heard by her husband and should speak through her husband to others outside of the kinship in-group. Furthermore, a woman who has shame (read: modesty) knows her husband, and only her husband, sexually. A "loose woman" who enters the male arena, speaks to males she isn't married with, and lies with other men loses her group respect and, in fact, brings shame on the male she is "embedded" with.6

The last point we'll look at here is the concept of a woman being "embedded" into some male. Under this cultural paradigm, a female from birth until death is embedded into the honor rating of a male. This means that any action she takes, honorably or dishonorably, primarily reflects upon her male guardian - and only secondarily upon herself. While a virgin, a lady is embedded into her father. When she is married off, her father relinquishes all control of her and she becomes embedded into her new husband who then accepts the responsibility of protecting her sexual purity and social timidity.7

Much more can be said about this topic, but for now we'll wrap things up. Next time we'll look at the vocabulary used by the ancients when they speak about honor and shame and sometime in the future, we'll connect all of the concepts we looked at with the New Testament and explore the role that honor and shame played for the early Christian church and the role is still plays today.

  1. Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, 3rd ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 29-30.
  2. Ibid., 30-31.
  3. Bruce J. Malina, Windows On the World of Jesus: Time Travel to Ancient Judea (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 17.
  4. NOTE: Jesus is, however, vindicated by none other than Yahweh Himself when He was raised from the dead. Any apparent honor lost and shame gained were rendered null and void - in fact, Jesus' honor rating shot through the atmosphere and pierced the highest heavens!
  5. Ibid., 15.
  6. David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2000), 33-35.
  7. Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, 33.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Honor and Shame, Part 2

Continued from last entry.


So far we've taken a quick look on the most basic questions of honor and shame - what is it and why is it important? This time we'll investigate how one could gain or lose honor in their collectivistic society.

A person's honor rating can be subdivided into two basic categories: ascribed and acquired honor. According to Norwegian New Testament scholar, Halvor Moxnes, "ascribed honor is inherited from the family at birth. Each child takes on the general honor status that the family possesses in the eyes of the larger group, and therefore ascribed honor comes directly from family membership." This automatic grant of honor inherited at birth can not be added to or diminished, despite future actions of the person him or herself, unless the person gets adopted into a higher family. Acquired honor, on the other hand, "by its very nature...may be gained or lost in the perpetual struggle for public recognition.1,2 Let's take a closer look at these two categories.

Ascribed Honor

It makes sense that in a collectivist society (see previous blog entry), an individual of any given in-group should possess the same social standing of the whole. Individualism and a "Me, Myself, and I" mindset is completely foreign to such a person. Therefore, citizens of the Mediterranean and the Ancient Near East, such as those found in the Bible, viewed the world through stereotypical lenses. For instance:

"Behold, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you: 'Like mother, like daughter.'" ---Ezekiel 16:44
"All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. ---Matthew 11:273
"No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD. ---Deuteronomy 23:2
"But you, draw near, sons of the sorceress, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman. " ---Isaiah 57:3
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" ---Matthew 23:33

It gets even more interesting with the following:

"One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies." ---Titus 1:12

This "prophet" that Paul referred to was none other than Epimenides, himself a Cretan!, when he said, "They fashioned a tomb for thee / O holy and high one / The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies! / But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, / For in thee we live and move and have our being."4

The ancient world certainly wasn't politically correct, but they truly believed the blood of your family determined your worth. Bruce Malina says, "being born into an honorable family makes one honorable since the family is the repository of the honor of past illustrious ancestors and their accumulated acquired honor."5 Indeed, Ben Sira 3:11 attests to this when it says, "For the glory of a man is from the honour of his father; and a mother in dishonour is a reproach to the children."

With this in mind, if a person tried to discredit another, they often brought their enemy's lineage into question. Notice how Jesus called the Pharisees a "brood of vipers" (Richard Rohrbaugh says a more correct translation is "you snake bastards!" Not only were the Pharisees the offspring of hated serpents, they were illegitimate sons of hated serpents! 6)

In closing, Halvor Moxnes lists the following common elements of ascribed honor:

  1. The central unit of social organization is the family, and beyond that the lineage or clan. The consequences of this central position of the family are important. A person is never regarded as an isolated individual, buy always as part of a group, responsible for the honor of the group and also protected by it. Because honor always derives from the group, an individual's conduct also reflects back on the group and its honor.
  2. Since honor is linked to the family and depends heavily on the way it defends its honor status, the result is an exclusive loyalty toward the family. Thus honor values are exclusive and particularist and stand in sharp contrast to the universal and inclusive view of the West. Moreover, the history of the family becomes all-important.
  3. The family plays a central role in the agonistic character of honor societies. Family honor is on the line in the continual game of challenge and riposte, be it expressed in words, gestures, acts, or ultimately in feuds between families.
  4. Even if a family or a clan presents a common front toward outsiders, there may be conflicts and tensions within the group. There can be large differences between individual lineages in terms of wealth and status, hence some members of a family can become clients of other more honorable and wealthy ones. There can be fierce competitions between them for the kind of public honors and positions that can become hereditary within the lineage.7

Acquired Honor

"Acquired honor," according to Bruce Malina, "is the socially recognized claim to worth that a person acquires by excelling over others in the social interaction that we shall call challenge and response."8 Challenge and response is also called riposte, conjuring images of fencers delivering and parrying blows. This social game, which takes place almost always between people of different in-groups regardless of the apparent innocence of an encounter, occurs through antiquity to our present day in cultures that anthropologists term agonistic (from the Greek word for "contest")9

Riposte, says Malina, occurs in three phases. I shall demonstrate this by using a story from the Bible, found in the fourth chapter of Luke:

Luk 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
Luk 4:17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
Luk 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
Luk 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Luk 4:20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
Luk 4:21 And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Luk 4:22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"
Luk 4:23 And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well."
Luk 4:24 And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.
Luk 4:25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,
Luk 4:26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.
Luk 4:27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."
Luk 4:28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.
Luk 4:29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.
Luk 4:30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
As a preliminary note, Jesus just did a very honorable thing by reciting from memory the scriptures of Isaiah. The crowd was astonished and was granting Jesus a new grant of honor (a pious Jew, after all, is an honorable Jew). But somebody had to drop a turd in the middle of it all, which brings us to the first phase of riposte.

The first phase is "the challenge in terms of some action (word, deed, or both) on the part of the challenger"10. In this case, a subset of the group tried to deny Jesus His duly acquired honor by bringing His lineage into question ("Is not this Joseph's son?"). This group thought Jesus was being uppity and trying to rise above the status of a carpenter's son by claiming honor due to an expounder of the Law and the Prophets.

The second phase is "the perception of the message by both the individual to whom it is directed and the public at large."10 This is important because one of the favorite techniques an agonistic challenger will try to use is to insult his opponent so subtlety that they don't even recognize they're being insulted --- and thereby lose the honor challenge. Jesus, however, picks up on this slight and retorts. And He doesn't simply repay insult for insult - Jesus ups the ante by firing back two salvos. Which brings us to the third phase of a riposte encounter - "the reaction of the receiving individual and the evaluation of the reaction on the part of the public."10

Jesus' response was to say that a prophet often isn't recognized by his own countrymen; but God still honors the prophet and blesses those that receive him, even if that person should be an outsider, such as the widow and the Syrian. In other words, Jesus blasted His opposition by saying God will still will work through Him and if Jews won't accept His status, so what? God will then give to an outsider that which should have been received by one of His' chosen people - a scathing remark to a group who believed in the holiness of their race as opposed to that of the Gentiles.11

By resorting to violence, Jesus' opposition loses this honor challenge (challenge and response is a game of wit. When brawn tries to substitute for a deficient wit, the one who throws the first punch loses).

This entry has gone a bit long so I'll cut if off for now. Next time we'll go a bit deeper into ascribed and acquired honor, including the roles woman play in this social game.

  1. Halvor Moxnes and Richard Rohrbaugh, ed., The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation, (Massachusetts: Baker Academic, 1996), 20.
  2. David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2000), 28.
  3. Bruce Malina notes that this verse amounts to "like father, like son". Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, 3rd ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 32.
  4. Epimenides, Cretica.
  5. Bruce Malina, 32.
  6. Richard Rohrbaugh, Honor and Shame: Core Values in the Biblical World. NOTE: This is a DVD recording of a lecture given by Dr. Rohrbaugh, previously acquired by the Biblical Archaeological Society; but has since been removed from the store.
  7. Halvor Moxnes and Richard Rohrbaugh, 28.
  8. Bruce Malina, 33.
  9. David deSilva, 29.
  10. Bruce Malina, 33.
  11. These insights came from Richard Rohrbaugh's lecture, Honor and Shame: Core Values in the Biblical World.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Honor and Shame, Part 1

This week I have to work on tax receipts, and as readers know, I also like to showcase reader writing when I can. So I'm pleased to provide this entry by "Manwe Sulimo" which, while it may not be new to many readers, does an excellent job of summing up the essentials.


When it comes to understanding how almost 100% of the ancient world and 70% of the present population
1 think, and value, and view the world, one of the most integral and core values to start investigating is the concept of honor and shame. Honor and shame are so interwoven into the fabric of most of the world's cultures, including those shown in the Bible, that to stay ignorant of or simply to ignore it would be a fatal detriment to one's understanding of Scripture.

Honor was so important that Greek historian and philosopher, Xenophon, in his work Hiero made it the sole distinction between humanity and the lower animals, and between a man and a mere human being2:

Yes, Hiero, and herein precisely lies the difference between a man and other animals, in this outstretching after honour. Since, it would seem, all living creatures alike take pleasure in meats and drinks, in sleep and sexual joys. Only the love of honour is implanted neither in unreasoning brutes nor universally in man. But they in whose hearts the passion for honour and fair fame has fallen like a seed, these unmistakably are separated most widely from the brutes. These may claim to be called men, not human beings merely.

David deSilva, a professor of the New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary, lists several other examples of the value of honor as seen through ancient eyes. Firstly, Seneca, a Roman statesmen and philosopher, affirmed honor as a core value when he wrote, "The one firm conviction from which we move to the proof of other points is this: that which is honorable is held dear for no other reason than because it is honorable." Aristotle in Nichomachaen Ethics
believed there were two reasons why a person would choose to undertake an action: either for honor or for pleasure. Isocrates taught his students to pursue honor even over one's personal safety.3

Examples of honor and shame within the Bible will be explored at a later time. The ubiquitous nature, however, of honor and shame remains uncontested by any scholar in the field. So what is honor? What is shame? Why is it so important to most people that has ever lived?

The general idea behind honor isn't so hard to understand. In a nutshell, honor is "basically a claim to worth that is socially acknowledged."4 There is no convenient analog to honor in our own culture, however we might think of honor as "social credit", just as we might have a line of credit with a banking institution. This claim of worth (or, if you will, reputation) determines how well society at large values a person's contribution towards the greater good and consequently determines the role a person plays in it, be it a farmer or a member of the nobility. The antonym of honor is "shame", which means a lowering of a person's worth or reputation as acknowledged by society. You must notice the later part of this sentence - as acknowledged by society. This is crucial for one can not legitimately make a claim of honor that his or her society does not recognize and doing so would, in fact, accrue shame upon an individual. In other words, no peasant can claim to have the worth of a king and enjoy the benefits of it, nor can a person be falsely modest and claim to be of lower worth (not that the latter would have occurred frequently....).

So why does honor play such a large role in these cultures? It's because these cultures are what anthropologist term a collectivist society. In the western world, such as America, most culture's are individualistic - meaning, as Daniel Bell puts it, "the fundamental assumption of modernity, the thread that has run through Western civilization since the sixteenth century, is that the social unit of society is not the group, the guild, the tribe, or the city, but the person."5. This runs counter to a collectivist society wherein a person always strives to achieve what is best for his or her in-group (more on that later) or society as a whole. This means that an individuals personal desires get subordinated to that of the collective group. As Malina puts it, "In collectivist cultures most people's social behavior is largely determined by group goals that require the pursuit of achievements that improve the position of the group. The defining attributes of collectivistic cultures are family integrity, solidarity, and keeping the primary in-group in 'good health'."6

In the ancient world, civilizations were always on the brink of collapse and chaos. Scarcity of resources meant that a society could afford no dead-weight. Everybody must play their part to ensure their mutual survival or they would simply die. This might be hard to understand to an American living with a fully-stocked grocery section of a Wal-mart and an up-to-date hospital staffed with knowledgeable doctors and nurses down the street; but the fact of the matter is that the ancient world was tough to live in. The average life expectancy was only around 35 years! Therefore, naturally, groups came to value people who contributed to society in a positive way and thereby gave birth to honor as a core value.7

Next time, we'll dive deeper into understanding honor and shame and explore how one can accrue honor or shame. Later, we'll investigate what's considered honorable given a person's status in life (male and female, young and old, wealthy, and so on) and the role honor and shame plays in the Bible.


  1. Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, ed., The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation, (Massachusetts: Baker Academic, 1996), 44, 46. NOTE: We would do well to remember this lest we think the concept odd or quaint. The fact is, us Westerners are the oddballs to the majority of the world and they view us as strange. And, to a certain extent, we are inferior for our lack of a honor-shame paradigm.
  2. Xenophon, Hiero.
  3. David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2000), 23-24
  4. Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, 3rd ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 29.
  5. Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. (New York: Basic Books, 1976). 16.
  6. Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh. 47.
  7. David deSilva. 35.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Snap: Deepak Chopra's The Third Jesus

From the December 2008 E-Block.


Up until now, I have read nothing by Deepak Chopra, and now having done so, it is fair to say that I have still read....nothing.

Sadly, words like "appalled" come at once to mind when reading Chopra's latest effort, The Third Jesus. Appalled, why? In part, because of the exceptionally poor scholarship; also in part because of Chopra's clearly tendentious, revisionist readings of the New Testament (of which, more below). But also because Chopra's books, best-sellers that they are, act as brokerages for him to place his ideas into the hands, heads and hearts of those who will know no better.

I will need to offer examples of what I have charged; I will only provide five of each as demonstrations, though these could be multiplied.

Poor scholarship: Chopra's task is twofold. The first task is to dispense with the Jesus of the "fundamentalists," and he does so with a host of arguments of the sort that have been repeatedly addressed and refuted, by Tekton or by others.

1. Chopra claims that "afterlife wasn't part of" the religion of Judaism at the time of Jesus, "much less a Heaven where rewards are meted out to the righteous." [36] This is false; by Jesus' time, there was a well-established, detailed idea of an afterlife; a Heaven-like existence in a place called Paradise (or Abraham's bosom), as well as an idea of hell, and rewards in accord with one's performance in life.

2. A host of bad arguments is collected on pages 132-4 in summary form, claiming such things as the anonymity of the gospels. Despite the process and scholarship of textual criticism, "[t]here is no agreed method for sorting out when a verse entered the gospels or what the original wording might have been." Much is made of that Jesus does not smile or laugh; and the gospels, though in the genre of ancient biography, are said to have "nothing close to a full biography."

3. I cannot pass up these, though they are trivial: Chopra names Leviticus as the OT book that had over 600 rules for living [17]; in fact, the 613 laws can be derived from all through the Pentateuch. He also erroneously places 4 Maccabees and Sirach in the Old Testament [37-8]. Trivial though these are, they reflect a stunning unfamiliarity with the concepts Chopra is so confidently critiquing -- it is as bad as spelling the title of Revelation with an S on the end, as Bill Maher did.

4. Chopra gives credence to heretical documents like the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Thomas, which he wrongly claims "came closest, perhaps, to being included in the canon of the New Testament" (actually, it was never even considered), can "lay claim to as much authenticity as various versions of the four gospels," [33], and was "written around the same time as the gospels." [72]

5. Incorrect definitions of the key Biblical concepts of love and faith.The latter is especially decontextualized, as Chopra plainly says that faith is "[not] about passing a loyalty test to prove that you are a devout follower," [61] which is exactly what "faith" (pistis) implies.

In past times, I would have responded to each of these sorts of mistakes in the book with links like these; to do so now would merely be redundant. There was nothing new in Chopra's rebuttals to speak of.

Revisionist readings: Chopra's second task is to replace the Jesus of "fundamentalism" with what can fairly be called the Jesus of Deepak. The bulk of The Third Jesus consists of revisionist readings and commentary about various of Jesus' sayings, in which Chopra gratuitously reads into the words of Jesus all manner of Eastern thought. Chopra believes that the Jesus of Christianity is "built up over thousands of years by theologians and other scholars" [9] and that the early church as well as the Gospel writers distorted Jesus' original message...which was (coincidentally) originally more like, er, what Chopra himself believes:

1. Jesus' statement, "I and the Father are One," is made a sign that Jesus had "achieved God-consciousness" [4], which is also the path by which Jesus intended to save the world [10].

2. Jesus' teaching to "turn the other cheek" is read as ahisma, the doctrine of non-violence advocated by Gandhi [14]. But ahisma is connected to karma -- which Chopra also reads into Jesus' "reap what you sow" saying [50] -- and both in turn are connected to the cycle of reincarnation in Hinduism, which are concepts completely foreign to Judaism and would never have entered the mind of Jesus or his audience. On the contrary, "turn the other cheek" as a response to a personal insult (not physical violence, as Chopra reads it) meant not defending your personal honor and thereby starting a feud. (It also did not exclude others defending your honor for you!)

3. When Jesus said that the kingdom of God was within us, he "meant everyone" and that it was a "shift in consciousness." [40] (See more on this here; the rendering of the verse as saying the Kingdom is among you better catches the concept.)

4. Jesus' comment about "the deceitfulness of riches" (Matt. 13:22) is taken in support of the notion that "the world itself is an illusion." [113]

5. John 20:29 is being violated by those who seek "evidence for Jesus' existence" in things like written records, who by this verse ought to be looking for Jesus "within" themselves instead.

Needless to say, none of these interpretations will in any way pass muster as properly contextualized understandings of Jesus' words. It is not enough for Chopra to dismiss objections by claiming such things as that "it is only provincialism that divides spirituality East and West." [20] A statement like this reflects an appalling assessment of the nature of spirituality in Palestinian Judaism of the first century. Concepts like karma and "God-consciousness" were simply unknown -- period.

Not that Chopra is likely concerned with this. It seems clear that Chopra -- in much the same manner as Wayne Dyer or Joel Osteen -- has invented a system of epistemic non-disconfirmation for himself in which it will not be possible to convince him of the problems with his thesis. Some time ago, Chopra briefly debated apologist Greg Koukl on Lee Strobel's Faith Under Fire, and the results were rather predictable, as Chopra was patently unable to defend his views. But even among his own, Chopra is unconcerned, even as Dyer is, to face up to his inconsistencies. He as much as acknowledges this in the book when retelling an account of turning away a woman at a book signing who asked for a three-hour appointment with him [13]. The woman responded to Chopra's rejection with a retort that he had said that anything was possible; and so, "If that's true, you should be able to see me." Chopra goes on to discuss his own attitude towards the woman, but fails to address the far more important problem of his indefensible worldview. If this sort of thing does not disturb Chopra, then it is little wonder that he is not disturbed by the supposition that he is arbitrarily remaking Jesus in his own image, apart from a scholarly consensus -- even as he appeals to the findings of scholarship (albeit dated and refuted) to deconstruct the "fundamentalist" Jesus.

What then to say of The Third Jesus in summary? It is, again, tragic that this sort of material is being offered in what has already been a best-seller -- as of this typing, ranked #1525 in sales on Amazon Books, even ten months after its release. Chopra's call for a release to "God consciousness" should be taken by Christians as yet another a call to a "consciousness" of what is being presented to our friends and relatives about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is even more tragic that all that Chopra has to say can be so readily refuted -- and that we are apparently not doing enough about it. Many Christians can do no more than Chopra did -- which is read the Bible in English and say what they think it means -- and while Chopra's reading is inevitably a far more decontextualized one than even that produced by an average Christian today, there are few who could sufficiently defend the premise that that is the case.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Geisler 2: The Rise of the Ehrmanator...and More on Defending Inerrancy and ICBI

Today I've released a third video on TektonTV related to Norman Geisler, but this one's not related specifically to the Licona debacle. It does, however, go back to an issue that Geisler himself has compared to the Licona situation, and in which the historical roots of that interaction reside.

For this one, I've reached back to the early 80s and the interactions with Robert Gundry. Like Licona, Gundry suggested that parts of Matthew were not meant to be taken as history; though where Licona suggested that an isolated passage be read as apocalyptic, Gundry suggested that rather more narrative portions (like the magi) be taken as midrash. Like Licona, Gundry was accused by Geisler of violating inerrancy, and like Licona, some scholars came to Gundry's defense on this point, and Geisler himself failed to grasp the very simple point that you can't dehistoricize a text not meant to be taken as historical.

For the vid I adopted as my parody theme the Terminator cycle of stories; most of the vid is set in a post-apocalyptic world where Geisler's stances (and that of others like him) have allowed fundamentalist atheists to gain power. Gundry makes an appearance, as does Bart Ehrman (as "the Ehrmanator," reprogrammed and sent back in time to rescue Geisler from assassination). The bulk of the vid in that setting is devoted to a dialogue between Geisler and a character I use to represent my point of view in my vids; many of Geisler's lines and arguments, and the single line by Gundry, come directly from the 1983 exchange between them in JETS.

I won't give away more than that, save to say that the critical narrative turn rests on the very issue of "author intention" that was a hinge point (one of several, but in my mind, one of the most important) for the discussion between Geisler and Gundry. (On that, see prior Ticker post linked below.) Geisler's arguments in this regard, I found to be exceptionally outlandish, and the vid illustrates the predicament one can get into when one denies that intention of the author should be considered when interpreting a text.

It's on this occasion as well that it is also appropriate to say a few words about Chapter 7 of Defending Inerrancy, on Kevin Vanhoozer. Before DI, I had not heard of Vanhoozer, and I freely admit that much of what DI ascribes to him involves matters of semantic and literary theory I don't get into. However, of significance for today is that in this chapter, Geisler and Roach use some of the very same arguments Geisler used against Gundry -- at some points, word for word.

How odd that in nearly 30 years, and even after Gundry's pointed critique, and surely many others, Geisler has still not changed his arguments. Beyond that, here are some other problems with Ch 7.

Vanhoozer is criticized for making what DI calls "up front genre decisions" about the Biblical text. (See more about "up front" below.) Here we see the basis for Geisler's resistance to Licona's classification of the Gospels as Greco-Roman bioi -- as well as some of the most patently obscurantist argumentation to be found in DI. Such decisions are called "misdirected and dangerous" (!) for it may lead to "the denial of the historicity of long-held historical sections of Scripture..." That these "long-held" views might be in error is apparently not considered an option; once again, Great Men Have Spoken, and their word too is inerrant and infallible.

Sadly, rational argumentation against such decisions is sorely lacking from Geisler and Roach. Their first point is a non-starter, saying that just because one myth or legend from antiquity contains "unusual feats," this does not mean a Biblical story with unusual feats is also a myth of legend. This is true, but it is also beside the point, and reflects a highly simplistic and simplified version of what Licona, for example, has argued. No one is making genre decisions on the mere basis of the reporting of "unusual feats," least of all Licona, who (Geisler seems to fail to notice) is arguing for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (an unusual feat). DI beats this drum further in the chapter, but it is not on the mere basis of reportage of miracles that the Gospels are classified as Greco-Roman biography -- indeed, that is not even on the genre radar of scholars like Burridge and Talbert.

The second argument designates as "question-begging" the idea that one can make genre decisions based on comparison to extrabiblical material. In other words, scholars like Burridge and Talbert, when they provide detailed expositions indicating strong correspondence between the Gospels and ancient biographies, are merely question-begging. This is problematic, we are told, because it "does not allow for the possibility that the Bible may offer a new genre of its own that does not fit any of these categories, for example, redemptive history or (in the New Testament) Gospel history."

Uh...what was that about begging the question?

Words like “absurd” one might suppose to not be appropriate when addressing someone like Geisler, but there are frankly no better words for such a nonsensical argument. (See more on this in link below.)

In a nutshell, genres like "redemptive history" or "Gospel history" are simply manufactured categories Geisler invents to save his views. They, and his suggestion of some new and unknown category, and merely contrivances, and have no basis in fact whatsoever.

It's worth stopping here for a "by the way". In the 1981 volume Inerrancy, of which Geisler was the editor, Walter Kaiser issued a strong warning against the notion that Biblical words might take on new and different meanings unknown to the language as it was used in the first century. Kaiser's warning is a well founded one; yet Geisler's special plea for a potential "new genre" contains an opposing sentiment. This makes it all the more clear that Geisler's plea is simply made up to suit the corner he is backed into. Compare the words of Kaiser and those of Geisler:

While one may be talking about genre and the other about language, the principle remains the same, and it is hard to see how Geisler’s special plea does not open the door Kaiser warns against.

To make matters worse, DI goes on to confuse the issue by giving as an alleged analogy the way liberal scholars have denied Paul the Pastoral epistles based on "style and vocabulary." What this is supposed to have to do with matters of genre is not explained. At the same time, the middle ground of Paul as authority and Luke as author of the Pastorals isn't considered in the mix. Genre and vocabulary/writing style are two entirely different discussions, and it is exemplary of Geisler's lack of serious scholarship in this area that he thinks he has made an appropriate analogy.

The third reason given is quite nearly incoherent, arguing that an up- front genre decision in some way constitutes a rejection of the historical-grammatical method, inasmuch as the critic is thereby "legislating the meaning of the text rather than listening to it." This is reflective as well of Geisler's contrived arguments against author intention against Gundry; it does not occur to him that in selecting genre that is clearly that of e.g., Greco-Roman biography, the author was saying something to which we should listen. However, Geisler once again handily contrives the excuse that "Gospel literature may become a genre category of its own" to forestall any objections. (He does this specifically to counter the straw man noted above, regarding working of miracles as a genre signal, which again, doesn't properly represent anything anyone is actually arguing.)

I need to break here and segue into some comments on Ch 15, regarding what Geisler apparently means by an "up front" genre decision. From his comments, and those derived from Thomas Howe, it appears that he means that scholars like Vanhoozer are somehow deciding on the genre of a text before assigning its contents any meaning whatsoever. I somehow doubt that this is the actual procedure being employed, and suppose rather that this is yet another case of Geisler either misunderstanding what is going on, or else painting the matter in black and white terms that are not justified by the actual practices. The scholars I have observed are doing exactly what DI allows, which is using genre to arrive at decisions about significance, not "basic meaning" of a text. That Geisler does not indeed understand what is going on is indicated by his inclusion of Licona as an example of the process being done incorrectly.

Thereafter, we see partial repeats of Geisler's arguments against Gundry, which are addressed by the vid. This time though, rather than appeal to Exodus 23:19 at first -- he does so later in Ch 15 -- Geisler offers a new analogy, but one with no more merit:

If a person says to another, "Here is one thousand dollars I am giving to you," it is perfectly clear what those words mean apart from knowing the purpose of the giver. If he later learns that the giver was trying to buy his support for a cause he did not believe in, then he understands the purpose (significance) of the words, but they do not get any new meaning. The meaning remains the same.

There are a couple of obvious problems here. One is that Geisler has carefully cherry-picked or constructed the simplest phrase possible to support his contentions; a more complex phrase in length or content (as the vid shows) would not serve him. The second problem is that despite his argument, in semantics as well as normal discourse, purpose is considered essential to completely determining meaning. Without it, the "thousand dollars" statement is void of critical information which would be of concern to the one receiving the money. In the real world, no one simply walks up to someone else and says, "here is one thousand dollars I am giving to you," hands over the money, and walks off never to be seen again. That and only that is the sort of situation in which Geisler's strict sort of parsing would possibly have any relevance. In the real world, however, people give such sums for a purpose, and that purpose is critical to interpreting the statement and deciding meaning -- and what we are to do about it.

In Ch. 15, DI reiterates this distinction between "meaning" and "purpose," using a new sentence, "come over to my house." But not only is this again a cherry-picked example, it is also, as with the money offer, subject to limitation in use: In the real world, conversation and interaction is not restricted to limited-expression one-liners like that one. No one considers such an invitation without consideration of purpose -- whether based on past considerations (such as the inviter being a good friend with whom one has dined in the past) or present ones (the inviter is dressed shabbily, seems to be high on drugs, and is carrying pornographic magazines) which indicate purpose.

Here as well, Geisler again appeals to Ex. 23:19, as he did with Gundry, as well as repeating some of his arguments about not looking beyond a text for meaning. In our prior post, and in the vid, we point out the serious contextual flaws in his argument. One point we might add is that Geisler overstates the point when he says, "if purpose determines meaning, then no one would know what the meaning is." In typical black and white fashion, Geisler chooses to falsely characterize the argument as being that purpose exhaustively determines meaning, which is not what anyone is arguing in the first place. Rather, it is argued that knowing purpose completes our grasp of meaning; bare words do not (as the money and invitation examples indicate).

One final note for today. I have repeatedly wondered here about the role of the 300 or so ICBI members (he says “scholars”) Geisler appeals to, noting that two have openly disagreed with Geisler regarding the Licona issue, many are dead, many are not scholars, and one is even now apostate. This has always made it questionable just how powerful Geisler’s appeal to this body of 300+ is. Over the past several days I have made contact with several of the 300+ of that body and inquired about the exact role they played as members of that body. The answer almost to a person has been that they played no role whatsoever in the formulation, composition, and construction of the statements on inerrancy – this was solely the domain of those who were noted as framers. Only one of the 300 I spoke to indicated that they played any greater role – in which they were able, behind the scenes, to give some personal feedback to one of the framers.

Thus it is that Geisler’s repeated appeals to these 300+ “scholars” is shown at last to be, in every way, without merit in terms of how he uses them to subvert Licona’s arguments. The 300 were merely little more than a rubber stamp body – not an active partner in the composition and application of the statements.

Enjoy the vid as an enlivened parable about Geisler's past -- and now recent -- follies as an apologist.

re material on Greco-Roman biographies.

a look at the original exchange with Gundry in 1983

Friday, January 13, 2012

December 2011 E-Block

Time for a quick break from the latest debacles to have a look at the newest E-Block -- which I counted as December 2011 because it isn't fair that it was delayed by a kidney stone. :D

The Slave Chains, Part 5 -- We return to this series to a look at another abolitionist piece of the 1800s. This will continue to be relevant as we just saw the release of a new book by Hector Avalos -- the atheist who is still a child evangelist at heart -- apparently claiming that slaveholders really did have the Bible on their side. (I say "apparently" based on comments from those who have read it -- at over $100, I won't be buying it any time soon.) If that is his conclusion, I can see why: As someone who is still actually a fundamentalist, Avalos would share the slaveholders' exegetical assumptions.

Evaluating the Evangelists -- My profile subject this time is Luis Palau. Not a lot of meat on him, but he does make some rather startling historical errors, and he has some questionable associations (like Paul Crouch).

Totally Depraved -- A defense of some of our findings on TULIP. Here I'm answering a critic (whose name will not be used, as a shaming device) who went after my material on total depravity.

Ghosts of End Times Present -- by request, a look at a fellow named Walter Veith. Ever seen those billboards that say not observing a Saturday Sabbath is the mark of the beast? He's one of those guys.

The Puritan Files, Part 1 -- A new series evaluating works of Puritan authors. We start with a by request look at Cotton Mather's essay on war.

The Ticker will return Wednesday after the holiday.

Subscribe to the E-Block.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Defending Inerrancy: Chapter 5 Cave-In

Before beginning on Ch. 5 of DI, it is worth noting that Geisler has lined up a spokesman that is as oblivious as he is as to what Mike Licona was up to. Paige Patterson – whose Neanderthalish views on women could by themselves warrant a few blog entries or cartoon videos (and someday might) – shows the same striking inability to get the point that Geisler has shown, in a comment now quoted on Geisler’s front page:

Let’s be clear. A story, an affirmation, is either true or false, but not both true and false in the same way at the same time. That is a long accepted law of logic, and no amount of fudging can make it change. While I have no reason to question the sincerity of the author and while only God can judge his heart, Southern Baptists paid far too great a price to insist on the truthfulness of God’s Word to now be lured by a fresh emergence of the priesthood of the philosopher, especially when a philosopher raises a question about the truthfulness of Scripture.

There’s more than one obvious problem here. One of them is that Licona is not a “philosopher” but a historian and NT scholar. The second of course is that Patterson is stuck in the same oblivious “true or false” mode that Geisler is, and obviously has no idea what Licona actually argued about Matthew 27. We may suspect that Geisler fed Patterson his version of events, and there can be little doubt that Patterson never read Licona’s book or even the relevant pages (and I have serious doubts, given his reckless scholarship on the role of women, that he would even understand any of it, either).

In light of that, it is rather amusing to see that Geisler, after praising Patterson for his “courage, conviction, and character” (but thankfully, not his intelligence, awareness, and good sense) says that he hopes that “there is a place reserved in Nashville for a bronze statue of him.” To which I can only say that given Patterson’s uncritical evaluation of the situation, if they do erect a bronze statue of him…it appears that they won’t have to cast his head. (See a more detailed analysis by Nick Peters in a link below.)

That done, I will now focus on Chapter 5 of Defending Inerrancy (DI) where Bart Ehrman is addressed, because Ehrman must be regarded as a premier threat to faith today, and thus, if DI's treatment of Ehrman is inadequate, it will reflect poorly on its ability to prepare Christians for what Ehrman has to offer.

In the end, I am compelled to give this chapter a D plus -- and much of what is positive in that comes of places where DI is quoting or using someone else (e.g., Kostenberger and Kruger, who are extensively used in responding to Ehrman's variation on the Bauer hypothesis). In contrast, when they are "on their own," Geisler and Roach are mostly reduced to pullstring canards; e.g., "Ehrman is an antisupernaturalist who doesn't believe in miracles," which are designed to raise red flags among Christian readers who have already made up their mind and believe that Ehrman is little more than a minor distraction on the roadside of their journey to presuppositional, fideistic faith.

Beyond this, the chapter has a patent slapdash, "oh that's good enough" quality, which makes it clear that little or no serious or original research was done. Badly dated and (these days) seriously questioned pull quotes by authors like Albright, Glueck and Kenyon, made popular by Josh McDowell's Evidence collection, are mixed in with the less common appeals to a few -- very few -- up to date sources like Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. From the way the latter is used, it is doubtful that it was sought out specifically for research; rather, its usage suggests that at some time in the past, one of the authors -- more likely Roach -- happened to read it for other purposes, and came back to it for some pull quotes upon remembering their potential relevance.

The use of sources like Albright and Kenyon, however, is reflective of why authoritarians like Geisler should not be doing apologetics. As with Patterson above, the authoritarian cares little how accurate, up to date, or relevant an authority is. All that matters is that a Great Man Has Spoken. Who dares controvert them? Geisler and Roach grant what is practically Biblical authority to these sources – timelessly inerrant and infallible. It would never occur to them that something like Albright’s quoted conclusion about the dates of the NT has been frequently challenged, and that there are things that need to be answered before it can be supported.

It is also hard to see why a chapter on Ehrman even belongs in a book on the doctrine of inerrancy. To be sure, Ehrman denies inerrancy, but he does so as part of a much broader program of denying Biblical reliability -- and this chapter thus ends up being more about that, than about inerrancy. Since Biblical reliability is a far broader topic, the devotion of a single chapter to Ehrman badly shortchanges and ill-informs the reader, who will need a whole book, not a single chapter, responding to Ehrman.

As it is, the chapter diverts far afield from inerrancy and spends an inordinate amount of time on such matters as Ehrman's deconstructionism. Here the reader gets the impression that one of the authors (here, more likely Geisler) had some pre-fabricated material on deconstruction to use, which they simply edited for use in this chapter. I am not against such usages of one's own material -- I do it myself -- but it is far less appropriate when it is done having stretched the subject matter simply in order to use it.
The level of argumentation seldom passes the level of McDowell, either. Here, for example, is a typical "argument":

"...we have no other contemporary writings from the first century even claiming to come from an apostle or his associate. And the ones we have from close to the end of the first century (like Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Rome) do not contradict the apostolic writings but support them."

And that is all. While, arguably, a much longer examination would reach the same general conclusion, against a foe like Ehrman, this is kindergarten stuff -- Ehrman himself has much more to say in dispute of these conclusions, and so again, the Christian reader is left vastly unprepared.
It would be nice to see developed arguments concerning NT authorship, including epistemic tests for authorship of ancient documents, and a look at the NT books individually. However, DI deems it "sufficient" (!) to provide only two points, one of which is rather useless in context:

1) That many NT books are widely accepted as being by the authors named. This is true, but Ehrman himself would hardly dispute this, and the certainty of Romans being by Paul does nothing to add confidence to the authorship of Ephesians.

Apart from Bauckham, only one other source -- Carson and Moo's New Testament intro -- is recommended; it is pointed out that a handful of people agree to early dates for the NT books (with little to nothing offered in terms of WHY they believe this), and it is declared, "there is sufficient evidence" -- the end. Throughout the chapter, the method is clear: make an authoritarian pronouncement or summary judgment, and provide only token nods to serious scholarship. And why not? Great Men Have Spoken. Shut up, heathen.

It never gets better than this throughout the chapter. The material on textual criticism, for example, looks like someone making a brutally chopped summary of much more detailed findings in Chick tract format. The motto for this review of Ehrman should be: Why bother?

So it is for Chapter 5, and we would also now look at DI's treatment of Robert Gundry, and compare to our previous analyses on the Ticker to see if anything new is provided. It turns out there is little or nothing new. Geisler and Roach offer the usual scare tactics, making light of having asked Gundry whether anyone who signed the ETS statement should be admitted to the ETS -- including, in theory, persons like Origen, Karl Barth, and Mary Baker Eddy. It is said that Gundry gave a "shocking yes" to this query. However, it was not quite that simple. In his "surrejoinder" to Geisler, Gundry's answer was not merely "yes" but all of this:

As can be seen, Geisler and Roach have grossly (and characteristically) vastly oversimplified the answer by reducing it to a mere binary equation. I strongly recommend readers take a good look at Gundry’s full reply, to get an idea just how little honesty Geisler had engaged in confronting him in the 1980s (and now also, as with the example of Patterson above, Licona) – see link below.

Other than this, there is nothing new to observe. DI merely continues to haul out their use of ICBI against what they (mis)understand Gundry to be saying.

And so now we might close out evaluation of DI -- for now -- with a look at some closing words of condescension from Geisler offered as advice to scholars. The absurdity of Geisler presuming to offer such advice is manifest. Geisler is not qualified to assess serious exegetical, interpretive or historical scholarship; neither his training nor his experience gives him any place to address those with better and greater knowledge in these areas. If anything, as we have seen in our look at DI Ch 11, practically everything he touches turns into something embarrassing.

In the epilogue, Geisler advises scholars on how to avoid what he calls "pitfalls" -- wanting to become famous; wanting to be unique; dancing on the edges; seeking respectability; seeking fraternity or unity. Such is Geisler's condescension that he does not even consider it possible that any scholar might hold to some view because that is where the evidence leads them. The advice is also ironic coming from someone who frequently emphasizes (by word and deed) the number of books they have published and how much authority they have; who has sown division so often that it has become their trademark; and who is so concerned with their own "respectability" that they have gone ballistic over being turned into a cartoon character.

DI no doubt hits the mark when criticizing certain people, but these are people who offer a mark the size of Bolivia to a person standing in the middle of that nation with a baseball bat. It is to no credit to Geisler and Roach to get an A on a test of their ability to breathe, blink and sleep. It is in places like Ch. 5 and 11 -- where we have taken a closer look at the contents -- that their inabilities become manifest.

DI will not prepare us for a robust defense of the Christian faith as challenges grow from a range as wide as scholars like Ehrman on one hand and YouTube atheists like NonStampCollector on the other. Rather, DI will only benefit those whose way of faith and life is to withdraw into a turtle shell with their thumbs firmly planted between their lips, repeating to themselves mantras of vain self-assurance.

Nick Peters on Patterson

Gundry's reply to Geisler

Monday, January 9, 2012

Defending Inerrancy: Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

In our next two entries, we will be having a closer look at select portions of Geisler and Roach's Defending Inerrancy (DI) -- particularly Chapter 11 on Darrell Bock and Robert Webb (serious evangelical scholars) and Chapter 5 on Bart Ehrman. We are choosing to evaluate these because they have the most bearing on the practice of apologetics as we believe it should be done. We also consider other chapters of less relevance, and in any event, directed to much easier targets (like Brian McLaren). Today we will look at Chapter 11.

Initially it must be stated that DI’s evaluation of the work of Bock and Webb (BW) fails to account for the nature of their work. The scholars who participated in the project are not all inerrantists, and although DI uses a small amount of qualifying language to indicate that BW are not necessarily behind every point criticized, Geisler and Roach nevertheless fail to give sufficient notice to the depth of variety among contributors to BW’s project.
Beyond this, the method of BW’s work is to purposely not take inerrancy for granted, and so demonstrate that, even under the standard rules of historiography – apart from any considerations such as potential supernatural influence – it is possible to make a case for such things as the reliability of the Gospel tradition. Thus to make an issue of how such an approach allegedly undercuts inerrancy is to miss the point. (Licona’s own approach in his book was similar.)

In summary, however, DI's chapter on BW provides what is truly an embarrassing and obscurantist evaluation in which what Geisler calls "lordship" is set against scholarship. It is here that DI is at its worst, tucking its head deeply between its knees to preserve an anachronistic understanding of inerrancy as though it were a product of modern precision literalism. I can certainly agree that BW provide "difficulties and dangers" for the misguided concept of inerrancy DI promotes; but for more educated and sophisticated Christians, BW are just the opposite -- a help and support. DI's methodology and criticisms are an attempt to protect and preserve a far less mature variation of inerrancy which seeks to insulate the Christian from fact and evidence rather than deal with it head on.

I should point out that I agree with certain conclusions in DI Chapter 11 concerning things like the early dates of the Gospels and their order of composition. But these are matters unique to neither myself, nor DI, and my agreement with these conclusions doesn't mean that DI offers a quality presentation in terms of validating these conclusions. In any event, we will focus on matters of specific concern and disagreement.

Initially, among the professed "dangers" offered by BW are simply that they profess lack of certainty in scholarly findings. In this, they are simply being good academics, as we have noted above; but they are also being bad fundamentalists. For such as Geisler and Roach, to assert such things as that we can't know past events, only narrative accounts, is not a case of admitting genuine epistemic difficulties, but of surrendering blindly confident certainty of the sort that is necessary to preserve an insulated faith hedged about with contrivances and obscurities. As will be seen shortly, the tactic of Geisler and Roach to protect faith is to avoid looking too deeply, rather than confronting honestly.

Particular distrust is expressed in four stages in Gospel composition described by BW:

1) eyewitness observation – a much more critical point for BW, it should be noted, than DI indicates

2) oral transmission, which can involve changes as the story is retold (with a critical point being, what kind of changes, and it what settings – see more below)

3) collection and categorization of oral material

4) Literary composition of Gospels using written and oral material

While I may not agree with BW on every particular, their general outline of stages is both sound and fully in accord with the social, literary, and cultural evidence, as I have confirmed during my studies for the composition of Trusting the New Testament. However, once past 1 above, DI will have little to none of it. Their arguments in this regard, however, are obscurantist to the point of embarrassment.

Luke 1:1-4 does not reflect the four stages noted
. This is a patently misguided argument for more than one reason. The first is that Luke is but one of the four gospels, so Luke 1:1-4 doesn't say anything about how Matthew, Mark and John were compiled. The second is that Luke's prologue does, despite DI, offer a description inclusive of oral material when it speaks of Luke consulting eyewitnesses. The credible historian of Luke's caliber knew that interviewing witnesses was one of their essential tasks, and since nearly all witnesses to Jesus' ministry would be illiterate, it is inevitable that Luke was in some way reliant on oral material for his history. To say otherwise would require inevitable contrivances, such as: Unknown written sources for narrative material unique to Luke; a decision by Luke to forego the normal historical process of interviewing witnesses and sources and choosing solely to rely on written sources; and a further decision by all Gospel authors to completely ignore oral sources -- in complete contradiction to normal practice for their day, and at the expense of 90% of potential sources (e.g., illiterate persons who were eyewitnesses). To simply brashly deny the occurrence of BW's four steps in the composition of the Gospels is an absurdity and a contrivance, and at worst the product of DI's graphocentric prejudices.

Third, as we have noted frequently, the world of the NT was a high context society; it is absurd to suppose that Luke would lay out compositional steps that were essentially the sort taken for granted in a pre-literate society. DI's observation that Luke "does not mention" the four stages is simply irrelevant.

Because NT books claim to be based on eyewitness testimony, there was "not enough time for the oral tradition and changes to occur" that BW argue for.
Again, having studied oral tradition and transmission in depth, and reported the sum of these results in Trusting the New Testament, I can only say that this argument, too, is horribly misguided. Even a few weeks is more than sufficient for such changes to take place in oral communication; indeed, such change could even occur, under specific circumstances, quite quickly and intentionally, as material was structured and modified for memory (as would be necessary in a society where, again, illiteracy was above 90%). Such changes, I must note, would be primarily to format, as opposed to content, so that there can be little to no concern from Geisler and Roach that there is some threat of history being lost or falsified because of artificialities in oral structure. To suggest such a thing, as they do, is merely panic-button polemic designed to frighten the insecure Christian reader -- the spiritual version of political attempts to "frighten Granny" with threats of Medicare being slashed.

Indeed, it should be noted that the inspired Gospel texts themselves clearly evidence such changes accommodating oral/aural sensitivities, in the way they report parallel accounts, sometimes with different ordering of events (e.g., the withering of the fig tree) or differing details (e.g., one blind man or two; one demoniac or two). Of course, as we have noted, those of DI’s persuasion have contrived their own rationalizations for this sort of phenomenon, as we noted years ago in a review of The Jesus Crisis:


You might wonder, of course, how Thomas suggests that we resolve the differences in the Sermon [on the Mount, between Matthew and Luke], and his answer is: By harmonization -- of an extreme, unnecessary sort. Put it this way: Did Jesus say, "Blessed are the poor" or "Blessed are the poor in spirit"? Thomas replies: He said both, and on the same occasion. Matt and Luke just chose to report one or the other: "Most probably Jesus repeated this beatitude in at least two different forms when he preached His Sermon on the Mount/Plain, using the third person once and the second person another time and referring to the Kingdom of God by different titles." Odd here how omission is not a sin; but commission is. I thought it was Matthew's intent to show he was citing a continuous discourse? If that is the case, isn't he "misleading" his readers by not giving a full report and leaving things out?


Natural variations in oral (or literary) expression are a far more valid contextual explanation for phenomena like this than some contrived notion of Jesus mindlessly repeating himself within the same sermon as described by Thomas.

Relatedly, even an eyewitness like John (21:24) would be fully sensitive to the needs of his audience, and particularly the requirements of memory. The original composer of a Gospel -- especially a teacher like Matthew, or even Jesus -- would be among the first to design suitable oral structures, and to make such changes and collections as specified in BW's steps 2 and 3. DI creates an automatic and unjustified tension between reliable eyewitness reporting and oral transmission that simply does not exist, especially when the setting is a didactic one. Oral tradition can be a rather varied process in some settings (e.g., Lord’s singers) but in other cases it can remained closely controlled whole permitting a minimal amount of variation that closely preserves the message (e.g., the rabbinic models offered by Gerhardsson). As I discovered in my own studies, the NT model is closest to the latter.

Paul reports certain isolated aspects of the Gospel story (e.g., titles of deity, Jesus' death on the cross) as though by some association, this means that ALL such details were subject to precision transmission. Geisler and Roach essentially argue that because Paul reports less than 2% of what we find correspondingly in the Gospels, we may assume that the same will hold true for 100%! But the variations in details in the Gospels by itself belies this – contrived explanations like Thomas’ above notwithstanding.

DI disdains any quest to get back to the original words of Jesus (in Aramaic, his native language while on earth) because we have the inspired Bible; therefore, any such search is unnecessary! In other words, we have the inspired words of Jesus in (translated) Greek, so why would we bother to try to figure out what Jesus may have said in Aramaic? Such naivete goes beyond disdain for scholarship and into the realm of willful ignorance and fear. Geisler and Roach disdain what they see as a quest for something "more ultimate" in trying to reach back to the Aramaic. But it is, as they admit, a fact that Jesus would have spoken in Aramaic, so what possible reason could they have for rejecting such a quest? What do they fear will be found by it? Such an attitude reflects an implicit lack of confidence in the inspired Greek text -- an assumption that if we dig too deeply, we might find some problem because of it. But if indeed such problems did exist, what service would we do if we simply ignored them? Do Geisler and Roach think they are doing the frightened Christian reader a service by protecting them from Jesus' original words in Aramaic? Or do they think that serious scholars cannot be trusted to pursue this matter (even though they themselves are by no means competent to make such judgments)? On the other hand, there is a very good reason to seek more about the original words of Jesus, and it is a matter for which inspiration can be of no use to the seeker: Inspired or not, Greek is a human language, as is Aramaic, and there can always be more to learn concerning ancient languages; were it not so, scholars would not still be writing papers about linguistic developments. Thus we can also have more to learn based on what words were chosen under inspiration, and what words were used to translate from Jesus' original words.

And, there is this as well: If Geisler and Roach agree that Matthew wrote an Aramaic (or Hebrew) original, as Papias reports, will they argue that it was any less inspired than his Greek version?
In this, it is clear that Geisler and Roach are not motivated by a quest for truth, but by a quest to preserve a perception of the Bible as a "fax from heaven" (as Geisler reputedly once said). Their goal, again, is to insulate and protect the reader and preserve them in a state of childlike belief -- not educate them, or deepen their faith, or help them understand what they believe better.

It is declared that the seeking after of oral sources in some way "neglects the role of the Holy Spirit..." In this Geisler and Roach simply err in the same way the former fundamentalist preacher Farrell Till does, assuming that the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiration was thoroughly mechanistic -- the "fax from heaven" view. But even so, the approach is too black and white: For DI, either it was a "fax from heaven," or else, the apostles had to "depend on their fallible memories" or those of others. Luke says in his prologue that he consulted eyewitnesses – did he maybe forget to ask the Spirit instead?

This is, first of all, an assessment that vastly underestimates the ability of persons in an oral/aural society to memorize material, especially in a didactic (teaching) setting. (On this, again, I performed extensive research for Trusting the New Testament, including with respect to the methods and forms used to preserve memory.) DI suggests that after 40-50 years, memory would be insufficient to preserve the teachings of Jesus, but this is simply false -- perhaps more a reflection on the fallible (rather, untrained) memory of a modern than a reflection of serious study of oral transmission practices. (Oddly, DI contrarily does admit that ancient memories were indeed better than ours -- which undermines their own argument against BW's arguments!) Beyond this, formal memory studies indicate that something remembered well after only 3-5 years, which is also a significant event, can be retained in memory for decades. My own favorite example of this in my life is my memorization of the Greek alphabet in 7th grade , which I did to get an easy “A”. I still retain that memory decades later.

(I have also been referred to a new book -- Robert McIver’s Memory, Jesus and the Synoptic Gospel – just released in August, which I have ordered and will review further here, that further validates these conclusions.)

Second, it implies that memories must verge on, or even be, perfect in order to satisfy the demands of inspiration. But this is a modern idea as well, as Jocelyn Small notes in Wax Tablets of the Mind:

Exact wording is rarely crucial in oral societies, but often of great importance in literate ones, though this aspect took centuries to develop…Most oral societies are not only uninterested in the detail of the words per se, but even unaware of the unit of the word…for oral cultures it is not the words but the story or the gist that count.

We may suspect that Geisler would no doubt come up with some contrived and quite pious response such as, “the Holy Spirit affected the apostles so that they became concerned with exact wording, unlike everyone else.” To such deus ex machina contrivances, there can be no reply – nor is one really necessary. Again, explanations like the one by Thomas above speak for themselves in terms of their lack of viability. However, a more coherent explanation for this, one in line with what Small reports, has been in apologetics literature for decades (e.g., the essay, “Live, Jive, or Memorex?” in Jesus Under Fire

Third, DI does rightly note that some, like Matthew, might take notes. However, this does not offer a complete picture without the understanding that the oral and the written would continue to interact and shape each other, even after something had been committed to writing. As I noted in TNT:


Henaut and Kelber presuppose a hard distinction between the two mediums in their objections, but, as Halverson observes, “the relationships between literate and non-literate discourse are far too complex to be reduced to a simple dichotomy.” While it is true, for example, that documents can reflect the biases of a literate minority, who would be less tolerant of change, and writing can also be less informative within the context of a primarily oral society, to the extent that no questions can be asked of a text, the characterization presented by Henaut and Kelber is an extreme one, and neglects two important factors.

First, oral tradition continued even after textuality was established. It is doubtful that either Henuat or Kelber would deny this, but they have clearly not appreciated its importance. The oral tradition, even after the advent of the text, would continue to be by far the predominant tradition, and would indeed have to be: With literacy rates of no more than 10% in the NT world, most of the people alive would still receive their information in an oral format. The broad oral environment “guaranteed that the sheer act of committing traditions to writing did not eliminate their continued transmission in non-written form”.

In addition, there simply never was a strict dichotomy between the oral and the written word at this time. As Achtemeier puts it, “[N]o writing occurred that was not vocalized.”Any written document was first dictated – whether to yourself or to someone else. There was also almost never such a thing as a “silent reader” – even persons who were by themselves read aloud. There were certain practical reasons for this: As yet, there were no such things as punctuation or paragraph breaks in written documents. Authors depended on aural cues to alert readers when there was a break in thought. For example, a writer might “use a repeated introductory formula to indicate the beginning of new developments in a series of explanations.”…

Second, textuality and orality actually interacted with one another so that each reinforced the strengths of the other... People of the NT era clearly preferred to receive information via an oral medium, and considered writing to be a supplement. The early church father Papias, for example, said that he preferred the “living and abiding voice” of a personal witness to that of a textual one. Achtemeier notes similar sentiments by the Roman sage Seneca, who said, “The living voice...will help you more than the written word.” The pagan physician Galen similarly commented: “There may well be truth in the saying current among most craftspeople that learning out of a book is not the same thing as nor comparable to learning from the living voice.” And Thomas notes that in the ancient world, there was “considerable debate about the value of books” for teaching purposes: The text might be regarded rather as an aid to memorization of what teachers had already passed on orally.

Gamble sums up the matter nicely:

While many theorists have proposed that there is a great divide between literacy and orality, and that the social, cognitive, linguistic and hermeneutical dynamics of oral and literate cultures are so distinct as to make them mutually exclusive, what we know about the societies of the ancient Mediterranean points in a different direction. There the oral and written modes were certainly not incompatible or mutually exclusive, but co-existed in a complex synergy. This synergy was at work both in the production and in the use of texts.


In support of their mechanistic understanding of inspiration, DI offers the expected candidate, John 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” But this is a highly abusive and misleading appeal. First, nothing about this indicates a remembrance in exact words. Indeed, based on the comment by Small above, the remembrance would be expected to be one of content, not exact words. Second, even if it did indicate exact words, this does not require any expectation that the exact words ought to be preserved as they were, as opposed to being crafted, redacted, or edited for various purposes.

Indeed, if we are to admit (as Geisler and Roach must) that the NT was inspired in Greek, then if they are right about John 14:26 referring to a mechanistic remembrance of Jesus' words, these words will have been in Aramaic -- not Greek! And that means DI absolutely cannot argue that John 14:26 has anything to do with the transmission and composition of the NT text.

Third and finally, the disciples are made this promise only of what Jesus said – not what he did. Thus at most, if Geisler and Roach wish to take this with the far-fetched literalism upon which they insist, the Spirit has offered no guarantees to help the apostles remember things like miraculous healings, or events at the time of the crucifixion. Moreover, not even a literalist as staunch as Geisler would dare to read “all things” without a defining context, as though the Spirit were indeed intended to teach the disciples of ALL things – ranging from Mexican cooking to snail migration habits! And thus as well, “everything” takes on less of an appearance of universality – especially (again) when we consider the Spirit-inspired variation within the Gospel texts showing that the writers (no less the Spirit!) were quite comfortable with such variation. Citing John 14:26 as an easy bypass to such questions will not do the job.

But again, we ask: Even if DI is correct, what exactly are they afraid of? If they are correct, then study of redaction and composition will bear out their observations and prove that the Spirit mechanistically brought remembrances to the Apostles when they composed the NT. And if that does not bear out, then are they saying we should obscure any evidence in this regard, or ignore it? What Geisler and Roach are suggesting is that we either stick our heads in the ground or else rationalize away the evidence.

Further fearmongering is expressed in the notion that if the Gospel material was subject to change during the transmission process, then this could include false information. But aside from the fact that this is merely fearmongering, not rational consideration, it would be held that the control of this process was in the hands of the apostles and their agents -- which makes it much more likely, even apart from any considerations of inspiration, that true and accurate information would be all that would be added or that any summarization would be accurate.

Thus, the fears expressed by Geisler and Roach here are unfounded at best. Moreover, the implication of their warning is that if indeed the evidence shows that some falsehood were imported into the text, we should pretend that this is not so and continue to believe as before! If this is what he believes, it is little wonder Geisler has sought so often in his career to suppress serious scholarship.

In close, DI quotes off portions of ICBI that they feel are contrary to the work of WB. But generally, as with Gundry and Licona, this is simply not the case; it is, rather, only their misinformed understanding of what WB are doing that is at odds with ICBI. The reader would do well to read and juxtapose Articles 13 and 18 in the Statement – frequently quoted in DI –which clearly allow for the kind of study performed by these scholars. Article 13’s denial in particular needs to be read alongside Article 18’s affirmation in the short statement in order to get the full range of what ICBI’s statements are teaching. Geisler's reading of the ICBI statements can be interpreted to under-develop what the statements permit here. If that is so, his critiques based on the statement can be seriously and legitimately challenged, despite his claim to know what the statement means.
I leave aside the rest of the chapter as beyond my interest and scope.

We will return next entry for a look at more of DI's contents.