Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Snap: Jeffrey Burton Russell's "Exposing Myths About Christianity"

Exposing Myths About Christianity is a collection of 145 entries providing short discussions about "myths" -- on the average, I'd say a page each. The topics include theological, historical, exegetical, philosophical, and science issues. I can't quite recommend this book or disrecommend it; it's the sort of project I'd like to see more of, but would also like to see done better. 

Russell is a professor of history, and so it is not surprising that he is at his best overall when discussing historical matters. His treatment of matters like the Inquisition, and Hitler being a Christian, have the best quality in the book; they are not of course depth discussions, but they hit on enough major points to give doubters pause. The range and variety of myths touched on is also impressive.

In contrast, in other subject matters, Russell is not that strong: He too easily takes the route of "yes, Christians have a lot of opinions on this" as a response, and in other issues seems too ready to move to compromising positions designed to appease a doubtful readership (e.g., it is "conceivable" that Biblical teachings about homosexuality were made without concern for the possibility of "committed relationships"). And my creationist friends will not be happy with Russell's take on theistic evolution.

I am also not particularly enamored of Russell's writing style. He has a remarkable ability to make even the shortest entries seem interminable. Admittedly, this may not be a fault in a work that seems to be designed as a ready reference rather than a read-through narrative.

So, I can't say this one will be of much value to the reader already familiar with depth material on these subjects, as many readers here will be. It  may have some value for the uninitiated.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Snap: William Lobdell's "Losing My Religion"

From the April 2009 E-Block. The Ticker will be off until Wednesday. 

I suppose I could view this book by religion reporter William Lobdell as advertisement for better education in the church. It is that, but it also serves as a reminder of how Western Christianity has failed because it has put emotion so far ahead of using one's intellect, and because it has made the personal testimony, rather than the historic fact of the Resurrection, the central proof of Christian truth. 

One will not find in Lobdell any systematic argument against Christianity. One will also barely find any indication that Lobdell is aware that the basis for Christianity is the historic rising of a man from the dead. His understanding of Christian beliefs is primitive to the point of embarrassment; the Bible's contents are broadly dismissed with stereotyped phrases (eg, "contradictions, bizarre laws, and hard-to-believe anecdotes" [49]) and arguments by outrage, a "gumball machine" understanding of prayer [207] and an emotionalized version of the "problem of evil" closes out the roster of Lobdell's intellectual objections. (But this is hardly surprising, since he uses sources like the "Why Does God Hate Amputeees" website! [209]) 

In the final analysis, though, what Lobdell says turned him from faith was bad behavior by Christians: In particular, the Catholic pedophile-priest scandals (a self-described "body blow" [119] to his faith), though he also reserves some distaste for Protestant nega-stars like Benny Hinn, the Crouches, and Robert Schuller. As he sums it up: "It's hard to believe in God when it's impossible to tell the difference between His people and atheists." [271] This is his prime argument against Christianity, and he wields the bat of it time and time again.

It is not normally my practice to make an issue of a person as a person when critiquing their material, but with Lobdell, it is impossible to not do so, as he not so much wears his heart on his sleeve as wears a T-shirt with a full cardiac profile. Lobdell acknowledges worrying about embarrassing himself by raising his hand to indicate that he wished to make a Christian commitment, and that he might become "Jesus Freak" or end up devoting his life to self-sacrificial service. [21] He admits that he "repeatedly fell short" [32] of his goal to set a Christian example and cherry-picked Biblical passages to get the message he wanted out of the text [50]. He describes himself as so beset by anxieties that he bites his fingernails until they bleed [56] and has a stomach that can "churn up at a moment's notice." "I have anxiety nightmares more nights than not," he tells us. He hopped all over the denominational spectrum, sampling Presbyterianism and evangelicalism and ending up in Catholicism, and says that the idea of hell was one of his primary motivations for keeping faith [169]. 

Inevitably, it is hard to not reach a conclusion that Lobdell was a victim of his own personal guilt -- of not living up to the hard standard he demanded of others; of being tormented by those who did live selfless Christian lives, whose example he could not follow as he instead followed what he (rightly) calls "Christianity Lite" [77]; of his frustration at not being able to reduce Benny Hinn's influence via his journalistic expose' [187]. His incessant focus on Christian bad behavior has too much of a scent of sour grapes. It is not a logical argument; at most, it can only prove that there are many false followers of the faith, not that the faith itself is in error. Jesus did not fail to rise from the dead because Robert Tilton ripped people off, any more than Lobdell's book is rendered closer to false just because he bites his fingernails.

Lobdell's centerpiece argument against the faith is thus not an impressive one, and indeed, falls back on his own shoulders. If bad behavior by a a Hinn or by a molester-priest is evidence against Christianity, then Lobdell should consistently see the selfless behavior of other Christians whose stories he recounts as proof for the faith. He laments (rightly so) the fact that 4 percent of Catholic priests have been accused of child molestation; [139] but fails to turn that around and recognize that this means 96 percent of those priests have not been so accused. Why is this therefore not a judgment "for"? When, in response to his announced apostasy, he received an outpouring of loving, concerned communications from Christians, he chalked it up to "humanity" [268] rather than Christianity. Why is this so? Lobdell's argument is one of convenience and how he feels at the moment -- and most tellingly, he is aware that this argument is fallacious, but uses it anyway. In a guest post on John Loftus' blog, Lobdell "answered" the charge that he was confusing the sinfulness of man with God's perfection by saying: 

This is condescending. In Christian theology, I understand the difference between God and fallen man. And I know that means Christian institutions, run by humans, won’t be perfect. But the argument falls apart on several levels. First, despite man’s fallen nature, Christian institutions should behave in a manner morally superior than their secular counterparts. I didn’t see much difference. But that not even where I lost my faith. That fact only caused me to start questioning other aspects of Christianity: why Christians behave basically the same as atheists in terms of morals and ethics; why no studies show that prayer works; why God gets credit for answered prayers and no blame to tragedies; and why the Bible is filled with a litany of bizarre punishments (death for working on the Sabbath, for one), a wrathful God who wipes out whole populations; why Christianity would be the one true faith out of the 1,000 of religions past and present; how God could be both merciful and just (the notions are contradictory); and even why Jesus didn’t speak out against slavery (in fact, he only says they should be beaten less). Eventually, my faith collapsed under the weight of all the evidence against it. I’d say as a Christian, I had mistaken a man-made creation for one developed by a loving God.
This is, however, in stark contradiction to the heavy emphasis in Lobdell's book on the "bad behavior" of Christians he encountered. His "first" point, also, is not an answer, but merely a re-affirmation of the defeated premise -- so that Lobdell is essentially admitting that the "condescending" critique is on target, and it does not matter to him that it is.

Of the rest, little more needs to be said; that Lobdell raises the "Jesus said nothing about slavery" argument (not even aware that the Jewish residents of Palestine -- Jesus' audience -- held no slaves to begin with!), and somehow gets instructions for treating slaves out of Luke 12:48 (the word used, while it can mean slaves, refers broadly to anyone who serves another person in any capacity), speaks to Lobdell's objections as far from intellectual -- or, if they are intended to be intellectual, failing in that effort.

In the final analysis, Losing My Religion is little more than an "anti-testimony" -- and to that extent, has as much apologetic value for Lobdell's worldview as a personal testimony does for the Christian worldview....meaning, in other words, none.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Douglas del Tondo's JWO, Part 3

I understand Geisler has now enlisted Sproul in his crusade,but has said nothing new in the process. I'll check that for Friday's entry. For now, let's close out this series.


 For our last portion of a depth review of Douglas del Tondo's (DDT hereafter) Jesus' Words Only, we will have much less to say. In this last section we have divided out, most of the content is:
  • DDT repeating earlier assertions
  • issuing warnings about not following his teachings
  • issuing warnings about not placing Paul over Jesus
  • claiming that early church writers argued against Paul (while not mentioning him by name) because they argued against the views DDT wrongly ascribes to him
  • laying out the supposed benefits of a "Jesus' Words Only" view
  • criticizing dispensationalism and Calvinist predestination, views I do not hold and I do not find in a contextual reading of Paul
  • criticizing the heretical second-century Marcionites, as supposed heirs of Paul's true legacy
As such, we will have comparatively little more by way of reply. Indeed, our remaining comments amount to four points.
  • DDT makes much of Romans 10:9 [374] to the extent that he believes Paul's use of an aorist tense indicates "a faith that saves is a single step." A correct, contextual understanding of faith shows this to be a misplaced sentiment; the semantic baggage of "faith" by itself implies a process that by nature extends over time. Thus as well, much of DDT's later objections to other passages translated, as he supposes, to wrongly reflect faith as a one-time event, are completely misplaced. Even so, DDT is compelled to face a question elsewhere asked often of the necessity of baptism: Will someone like the thief on the cross be saved, having done no works? An answer rooted in Semitic anthropology answers in the affirmative, seeing works as a result, not a requirement, of faith.
    DDT answers this question not in an honest, satisfactory way, but by essentially moving the goalposts. In order to maintain what amounts to a salvation-by-works stance, he argues that the work that saved the thief was his verbal confession on the cross [450]. But this only removes the absurdity a step further. Just as it may be asked if someone will not be saved if they are shot dead while walking to the baptismal pool (even after making a decision of faith), we may ask DDT if the thief on the cross would have been condemned had a Roman soldier slipped a spear into him between the time he made an epistemic decision of faith and the time he formed the words that enunciated that faith.
  • A very clear case of dishonesty emerges as DDT quotes John Walvoord's Matthew commentary [378]. DDT uses ellipses and shortcuts to misrepresent Walvoord; we will give one example. In the last sentence of the quote, DDT has it as referring to the Sermon on the Mount thusly:
    "[The Sermon involves] unimportant truth."
    Is this reflective of what Walvoord says? Not in the least! Here is the full quote of the sentence in question:
    On the other hand, the Sermon on the Mount is clearly intended to be a definitive statement of Christ's teaching and should not be pushed aside lightly by unnecessary stricture which would relgate it to unimportant truth.
    There is no charitable way to say it: DDT has outrightly lied about Walvoord's words.
  • DDT seeks reason why Paul, he supposes, does not quote or use the words of Jesus or mention any of his doctrines [491]; he supposes it was because the Gospels were written to correct Paul's view and of course, because Paul was contrary to Jesus. This is rather imaginative, and begs the question of disagreement between the two; but more ironically, reflects as well the objections of Earl Doherty, who argued that Paul's alleged non-use of Jesus' words reflected Jesus not even existing on earth.
  • DDT also commits the same error as atheists in misinterpreting Luke 14:26. [414] This, in service of the idea that Luke is an inferior account to the others.
Thus we close commentary on DDT's 500+ pages of misguided eisegesis of Paul. We may now close this series with a few observations.
Members of what I have called the "Paul Fan Club" (facetiously) are little different than Skeptics who read the text using their own understanding as the standard by which the text is to be understood. This is not surprising, given that any error inevitably boils down to imposing an alien context. 

It is not often, however, that I find one who has gone out of his way, as much as DDT has, to avoid reading Paul in his native context. He has avoided scholarly commentators and works on Paul, preferring sermons from minor pastors and aged commentaries. He has badly misrepresented many writers and their intentions. He offers a number of self-cotradictory positions, and forces the least charitable possible reading onto Pauline texts. He has selectively used Scripture for his own purposes, arbitrarily severing whatever texts he needs to sever in order to arrive at his desired conclusion, and has done the same with scholarship as a whole. 

The result: A pedantic, self-righteous legalism -- which apparently sees no fault in doing anything, even that which is immoral, to promote itself.
It is ironic indeed that Paul the former Pharisee is so derided, for the reputed sake of Jesus, by one who embodies the very principles espoused by the Pharisees who attacked Jesus.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Douglas del Tondo's "Jesus' Words Only" Part 2

No activity on the Geisler front this weekend, so we can now get to Part 2 of this series, from the June 2009 E-Block.


Douglas del Tondo (DDT hereafter) is, as we noted in Part 1, a painful read; his prose is fractured and lecturing, such so that you can see him shaking his finger from the pages. His errors make mattters worse; a major misconception is made or repeated every five pages or so, and when all tangled together, make for a most unpleasant experience. So it is that in Part 2, we will cover pages 181-366, and leave the rest (up to 500+ pages) to part 3.
We note again for the record that DDT ignores most modern scholarship on Paul, preferring (yet again) to reach back into the works of "dead white authors" like Luther and Calvin and local pastors with no serious credentials. We will see a very curious exception occur, however -- one which is quite damning in terms of DDT's honesty as a commentator.

DDT proceeds with a contention that Revelation is intended as Jesus' rebuttal to Paul. Little needs be said here, as his case proceeds with a false reading of Paul from the start [182]: "Faith" in Paul he assumes merely means belief or "mental assent" [186] or (as he puts it) "works are not your personal responsibility and now you can lean back and relax" but as we have noted previously (and in detail here such an understanding of "faith" simply did not exist. Faith meant loyalty, and loyalty produced actions. Paul could hardly teach a concept that did not yet exist, of a faith that excluded works, and DDT can hardly deny that Jesus demanded loyalty from those who would follow him and follow his commands.
DDT also notes that "grace" is only mentioned twice in Revelation, and supposes this to be some specific aspect of Paul's teachings. But it is not: Grace simply meant favor (Handbook of Biblical Social Values, 89) and again, DDT would hardly deny that Jesus showed various persons favor. DDT creates a false dichotomy between the teachings of Paul and Jesus based on anachronistic definitions of critical words.

DDT provides a curious and somewhat midrashic reading of the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25) that also need not detain us long. The point of the parable is readiness for the parousia; deriving lessons beyond that is an exercise in creativity, and indeed, DDT gets exercise making all sorts of unjustifiable matches. The oil in the virgins' lamps is the Holy Spirit, he says, because "Oil in Scripture typically represents the Holy Spirit." [190]
Oh really? No, not quite. That is the case perhaps when oil is used for anointing, but there is no representation there for oil used for burning. But really, even if DDT is correct in this forced allegorization, his use of it is based on the same misreading of Paul as teaching a works-free gospel. (It is also worth noting, though, that DDT mischaracterizes other commentators as saying that the parable has no parabolic meaning [192]; when in fact what is normally said is that it has meaning with reference to readiness, as opposed to salvation.)
DDT also misuses Matthew 25:31-46 the same way others do 198-201], an issue we have addressed here. It may also be noted that DDT falls into supposing that simply because the condemned address Jesus as "Lord," this means that they must have been Christians [200]. Not at all: "Lord" was also an honorific title applied to any person in a superior position (much like "sir" today); and if nothing else, one may also point out that the condemned would just as well be using a divine address in a desperate, ingratiating manner.

DDT returns to the question of the Ephesus church in Revelation; we noted in Part 1 that it seemed odd that Ephesus was commended even though it welcomed Paul. DDT's creative answer to this is that the Ephesian church put Paul on trial for heresy and kicked him out, and this is what Revelation praises them for.
The case, needless to say, is not promising. DDT begins by supposing that Paul was tried for falsely claiming to be an apostle. But his entire case here commits a classic confusion which he is at pains to avoid clearing up. "Apostle" is not simply a titular word; it simply means one who is sent. DDT even admits that such a distinction exists, and admits that Paul was an "apostle" (little a, after his example) in a real sense, because he was "sent" by the Antioch church to do missions. [219] But to find Paul guilty of a "self-serving" crime, DDT must assume that anywhere Paul calls himself an "apostle" he meant it in the titular sense (with a capital A). But there is no sign of this anywhere, and DDT provides no evidence to show that Paul thought of himself as an apostle in this titular sense. Indeed, Paul identifies the Twelve as a distinct group of which he is not a part (1 Cor. 15).
And this, by the way, is one of those curious exceptions for DDT when it comes to scholars. He quotes Witherington (even though he is not in the bibliography) as saying Paul was an apostle with a lower case A. But he seems to not want to quote anything Witherington says (at least so far) that would contradict his thesis that Paul was a heretic.
So what of a trial of Paul? DDT is first compelled to read this out of non-specific statements in 2 Timothy (that Paul issued a "defense" and that "all forsook him") [222]. The problem: Paul's "defense" is apparently related to something having to do with Alexander, who is identified in 1 Timothy as one who blasphemed (1:20). There is thus nothing to show that Paul's "defense" had anything to do with questions of his own status or beliefs.
Most scholars think Paul's "defense" here, if anything, relates to his trial before Roman authorites; if that is the case, then Alexander may have turned "state's evidence" on Paul as revenge for Paul's earlier condemnation of Alexander. Paul is, after all, in jail while writing 2 Timothy (2 Tim. 1:8), so it makes the most sense that his "defense" means his civil trial -- not one before the Ephesian church.
DDT, thus, can find no clear reference to an Ephesian trial of Paul; he must instead read between the lines and insist that the white space is a coded message, thus:
  • He also tries to find such a trial indicated in Acts 19:9, where it notes that some were "hardened" against Paul's message. DDT has a serious problem here, though, inasmuch as he has to admit that the Ephesian leadership was behind Paul; so he must resort to the contrivance that "some influential members" [223] put him on trial and Luke is presenting a "muted" account of it as a friend of Paul. What DDT misses is that these "hardened" people were members of the Jewish synagogue at Ephesus (Acts 19:8) -- not the Christian fellowship there.
  • DDT strains to find a trial for heresy in 2 Cor. 1:8-9, where Paul speaks of "affliction" and a figurative death sentence that befell him in Asia (where Ephesus is...along with hundreds of other cities and towns), some reference to a heresy trial in Ephesus.
  • Acts 21:28 is cited as "Jews from Asia" who "appeal to James for help" and DDT supposes that these Jews "were likely followers of Jesus." [232] Really? They were appealing to James for help?
    Acts 21:27-8 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all [men] every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.
    Perhaps James changed his name to "Men of Israel" while no one was looking? And perhaps James had good hearing, since this happened in the public setting of the Temple. We have to wonder. DDT goes on to say that "James then takes their side in conversations with Paul" which seems an odd feat given that James is last mentioned in Acts ten verses prior to this incident.

Little need detail us in detail for several pages. DDT reiterates his claim that the Law remains valid for all humans forever [235], an issue we discussed in Part 1. An enormous portion that follows is dedicated to the premise that James is a rebuttal to Paul, an issue we have discussed in depth here. Needless to say, DDT does not so much as allude to (much less refute) the answers to this issue, though he has certainly read the works of authors who propose it in general. Indeed, that he did so provides us with yet another example of how DDT abuses his sources, and also has apaprently gotten used to the idea that as a lawyer, he can tell the jury only what he wants them to hear, and they can't check on him.
In a note [248] DDT defends his use of a fringe scholar like Eisenman, admitting that other scholars called him "marginal." He retorts:
Professor Eisenman now has allies willing to defend him, including the renown Christian scholar Ben Witherington III, in The Brother of Jesus, at 89-211.
For those who may not recognize it, The Brother of Jesus is the book co-written by Witherington and Hershel Shanks about the "James ossuary." In it, Witherington says nothing whatsoever to "defend" Eisenman, much less does he spend over 120 pages doing it. The single time Eisenman is mentioned is in a note on page 208, where he is criticized for one of his "major flaws" in using a "midrashic sort of word or name association" to collapse one James into another. Even more damning, in that very range of pages cited by DDT, Witherington provides an answer to those who make what he calls the "historical mistake" [161] of trying to "pit James over against Paul in some radical way, as if Paul's message as he preached it to Gentiles was being corrected by James." Witherington does suppose that James was correcting some abuses or misunderstandings of Paul's message -- but he does not see them at odds, and manages to call DDT's position as "historical mistake"! One must wonder how DDT thought himself able to get away with this misrepresentation.
Just as ably, DDT gives a commentary on James by Stulac [263] the short shrift; Stulac offers a simpler version of our own explanation and Witherington's, which DDT merely dismisses by claiming that Stulac "has ignored Paul's actual teachings" -- that is, Paul's teachings as DDT has badly misinterpreted them. We might at this point address two verses in particular that DDT misuses to turn Paul heretic:
  • DDT says, "Paul makes it clear that if you are saved 'by grace, it is no more by works.' (Romans 11:6)" Let's quote that more broadly, shall we?
    Romans 11:5-6 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then [is it] no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if [it be] of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
    Far from being an instruction concerning individual salvation, Paul is discussing the status of the "remnant" of Israel who would be saved by favor (grace) as opposed to works of the law (which is what "works" Paul refers to in Romans).
  • DDT quotes Romans 4:4-5: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." This he reads as "faith no works" but once again, "works" here is works of the law like circumcision. As it happens, you can see where I corrected a Skeptic who failed to realize this in a colorful TheologyWeb debate here, but here's what I said about Romans 4:4-5: Paul refers to circumcision BEFORE (3:30) as well as AFTER (4:9) that passage. He speaks of "works of the law" in contrast to faith (3:28, etc). This renders his use of "works" in places like 4:2 as an obvious rhetorical shorthand for "works of the law." It is clear that his focus is on "works" associated with the covenant law and not on works in general.

DDT next finds disagreement between James and Paul in these passages:
James 1:13-14 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Romans 7:7-11 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Can't see it? Neither can I. Somehow DDT gets out of Paul the message that "law arouses sin." No responsible Pauline scholar could ever read such an interpretation out of Romans 7, but DDT arrives at it by finding one irresponsible commentator who said it (a minor Baptist preacher), and then by the usual means of misinterpretion. Paul is not saying that he went down the Ten Commandments checking them off as he broke one at a time; nor is he saying the law inspired sin in him. Rather, he is pointing to law as something that defines sin. If there is no law, there is no sin; if we don't know the law, we don't know what sin is.Reading this as DDT does, as Paul saying "the Law tempted him to sin" [283] is irresponsible.
Of course, that said, even if DDT is correct, then it needs to be kept in mind that Paul is speaking of one's life (including his own, previously) as a non-believer (see here). That being the case, Paul would only be reflecting by speech in character, then, the erroneous perceptions of a non-believer -- and agreeing thereby with James that blaming the Law for sin is itself erroneous.
We may also note the use of a typical appeal regarding Timothy's circumcision as a sign of Paul's hypocrisy [287]. That too we have answered before:
These few verses offer us a big argument: Is Paul's circumcision of Timothy in line with his gospel of grace? Or was it just an empty gesture invented by Luke? The matter actually goes back a bit further, to the marriage of Timothy's Jewish mother to a Greek father...It is commonly supposed that the circumcision of Tim was a gesture of concession to the Jewish community, Paul's way of "being all things to all men" so that he could save a few. Tim, whose father was Greek (as Luke is at pains to point out), would be considered an offense and an apostate Jew, and so the circumcision was done to facilitate missionary work among the Jews. [Mun.AA, 155] (In fact, the way Luke phrases the matter suggests that Tim's Christian mission was already being affected by this issue.) The key objections, supported by Haenchen, take these aspects. First, it is said: "Circumcision without religious significance would simply have made no sense anywhere in Judaism at the time of Paul and in reality could never be considered." [Haen.AA, 480] Haenchen, however, fails to distinguish between "without religious significance" and "with a different religious significance". Paul objects mightily to those who demand circumcision as a sign of salvation, but he has no beef at all with those who practice it (and the other Jewish laws) as a matter of ancestral tradition. [With.AA, 474; Jns.AA, 289] And this is what the whole deal was about: Showing respect for one's traditions so as not to cause offense among those who still held them in high esteem. Thus, when Haenchen cites various verses showing that "Paul wanted nothing to do with the supplementary circumcision of a Christian" for "it would inevitably awaken the fatal misunderstanding that the true Christian simply must be circumcised," he utterly misses the point. In the wake of the Apostolic decree, there is no way that such a misunderstanding would crop up, except among the terminally stupid - and in fact, that Tim underwent the procedure even though he technically did not have to would be seen as a tribute to his Jewish side of unimaginable proportions. (And it is not as though the matter would be left unexplained by Paul in the first place!)
And amazingly, or maybe not, DDT also appeals to the "Epiminides Paradox" [288]. Of that we said:
What our writer has failed to do is recognize the point of the "paradox". Yes, Epiminides himself was a Cretan, and was regarded as one of "their" prophets (by Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero). But neither Epiminides, nor Paul, intended these words absolutely. The words were written in a fully proverbial sense. What was the point of the words, as once written by Epiminides? The data is not clear, but there seems to be a consensus that it was related to Cretan claims that their island hosted the tomb of Zeus. This was a claim well known of the Cretans (noted by Lucian, among others); the tendency to tell this "tall tale" (and perhaps others like it?) was so characteristic of the natives of this island that the Greeks had a word, kretizein, which referred to the practice of lying or cheating. (The city of Corinth was "honored" in a similarly dubious way, as we might recall!) Now by no means did Epiminides mean these words absolutely. And yet, no one, not even Epiminides, would have denied that the sentiment expressed was indeed "true," for it represented a recognized characteristic of the Cretans at that time. But it is doubtful that one was to understand that ALL Cretans were liars, etc. This is an example of a proverb, a non-absolute truth. (See our essay on this subject.) At the same time, then, it is obvious that Paul did not use these words any differently. He was, after all, writing to Cretans like Titus! And yet, because the opponents referred to in this letter fulfilled Epiminides's description so well (cf. 1:10-11), he was well justified in citing and using (with not a little bit of ironic sarcasm!) the quote by Epiminides and citing as "true" in the very same sense.
DDT claims that "[m]any scholars have poured over this to find an escape, and salvage Paul's inspiration" and "solve this logical impossibility." The idea of a genre of proverb is apparently one of those solutions DDT missed...or does not know how to answer.

DDT goes on to suppose that James' remarks about boasting are aimed at Paul [290f], but as we noted in Part 1, DDT misreads the "boasting" verses because of his unfamiliarity with the principles of Greco-Roman rhetoric.

A significant portion of what follows in DDT [293-330] relies heavily on DDT's uncritical acceptance of the theories of Robert Eisenman. DDT simply accepts without question Eisenman's premises that the Ebionites existed in the first century and then runs with it. One minor point of DDT's worth noting: In a note [330] he claims it "significant" that whereas in 1 Cor. 11:24-5, Paul says Jesus' body was "broken," Luke 22:19-20, which he quotes otherwise exacly, says his body was "given." DDT makes this out as "contradictory of Luke as well as theologically troublesome" but doesn't seem to note that the same word for "broke" is used by Luke to describe what Jesus did to the bread which he identified with his body. If Paul is at variance with Ps. 34:20, then it seems Jesus was as well.
A chapter following supposes that John's epistles identified Paul as a false prophet; this is done by drawing vague connections, as between Gal. 2:6 (where Paul says that the pillars "imparted nothing to me") and 1 John 4:6 (in which John says that people who don't know God "won't listen to" the apostles). [332-3] DDT somehow arrives at the conclusion that because the pillars gave Paul nothing with respect to his Gentile mission assignment, this means that Paul didn't take what they had to say with regard to anything at all. Much is also made of Paul's alleged exclusive claim to evangelize Gentiles, supposedly leaving out Peter's work among Gentiles, though DDT must find this again by putting in Paul's mouth more than what he said.
Of much curiosity is DDT's argument that Paul taught that Jesus "did not truly have human flesh." [336] This is based in part on adhering to the usual outline of original sin, one that we do not adhere to. Other than this, DDT appeals to Rom. 8:3 and Phil. 2:7 in which Paul says Jesus was in the "likeness" of sinful human flesh (he ignores the qualifier) and in which he "appeared to be a man" (ignoring that Jesus would be more than just a man, but a hybrid of human and divine).
Likewise curious is DDT's argument that Papias read John's epistles as anti-Pauline. One of his arguments for this is that Papias does not quote from Paul -- an odd point, given that the fragments we have left from Papias amount to a few sentences; but of some note is that DDT cites The Catholic Encyclopedia [341] in approval of this point, while ignoring its comment:
It was formerly customary among liberal critics to assume (for no proof was possible) that Papias ignored St. Paul. It is now recognized that a bishop who lived a few miles from Colossæ cannot be suspected of opposition to St. Paul merely on the ground that the few lines of his writings which remain do not contain any quotation from the Apostle. It is highly probable that Papias had a New Testament containing the Four Gospels, the Acts, the chief Epistles of St. Paul, the Apocalypse and Epistles of St. John, and I Peter.
DDT's next argument supposes that Paul's existence was prophesied in the Gen. 49 prediction by Jacob that the tribe of Benjamin was a "ravening wolf" (49:27). DDT's exegesis is quite creative at this point; the prediction that Benjamin would "divide the spoil" is said to allude to Paul dividing the Jewish and Gentile missions [350]. Little needs to be said here; this is simply far too creative to be given credence. We close this round, thus, with comments on one final random connection made by DDT between these passages [366]:
Luke 21:8 And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am [Christ]; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.
Rom. 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.
Perversely, DDT supposes that Jesus in Luke has predicted that Paul would use these very words highlighted in Romans, and so Paul is the "Christian preacher who fits Jesus' prophecy in Luke 21:8". That it might be that Paul is alluding to Jesus' own words is not considered.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Geisler Packs It In

This week the Geisler debacle is moving at a fast pace, and the latest news – which happened so fast I wasn’t able to comment within “real time” – is that J. I. Packer has stuck his foot in Geisler’s mouth and Geisler is now trying to extract it. You can see more on this at the link below, where Nick Peters has blogged on it; my own humble contribution this time will be to address something Geisler says in his damage control manifesto, reporting a phone conversation he had with Packer:

[Packer]  affirmed that his statement was only referring to inerrancy in a formal sense, not in a material sense.  He said both Robert Gundry and Mike Licona have denied inerrancy in a material (factual) sense.

Oh really? 

Only problem is, when we look at Packer’s quote:

What biblical inerrancy means is that Scripture, rightly interpreted, is true and trustworthy. I don't think Licona's guess about Matthew's meaning is plausible, but it is not an inerrancy question.

…he not only seems to have forgotten to make that distinction, he also rendered it immaterial by saying it is “not an inerrancy question.” 

The main problem, though, is that Geisler handily didn’t explain what he meant by those distinctions (wouldn’t want anyone to know so they could think critically about it, right?), so it’s kind of hard to evaluate this. Since he was being so coy, I had to try to figure out what he and Packer meant by these distinctions, but there was some difficulty with that. So what I say below will be entirely provisional, and I will correct it later as needed, if needed.

I have found two different definitions of “formal” inerrancy – one that says, it means the Bible is right in every detail; the other that says, that the Bible as a self-enclosed entity, does not contradict itself. 

In contrast, I can find only one definition of “material” inerrancy, which is that Scripture does not lie or deceive.

If we’re charitable here, we’ll have to assume Geisler had in mind – if any of this! – the second version of “formal” inerrancy, since the first version is essentially synonymous with “material” inerrancy as defined. But if that is what he meant, “formal inerrancy” is worth exactly two cents. It means in essence that if they Bible says that tomatoes can talk, then there is no violation of inerrancy as long as it doesn’t say somewhere else that tomatoes do not talk. 

So if Packer was indeed talking about formal inerrancy in this sense only, he was saying nothing informative – that Licona was not saying that the Matthew 27 saints, according to Scripture, did and also did not rise. But he couldn’t have meant that, since Packer was clearly aware, as he says, “What Dr. Licona offers is an interpretive hypothesis as to Matthew's meaning.” He clearly knows it has nothing to do with a “formal inerrancy” question as we have seen by these definitions.

So what then of denying it in a “material” sense? Packer’s own comment just noted also is out of bounds in that case. Packer said it was an “interpretive” question – not one where the Bible was being accused of lying or deceiving. (Of course, we have seen that Geisler does have problems understanding that the genre of apocalyptic is not a “lie” or “deception” in the first place – in other words, as we have said so many times now, he can’t see that you can’t “dehistoricize” a text not meant to be taken as history in the first place.)

So in the end, what for this? It’s hard to say, since Geisler doesn’t say exactly what he means by “material” and “formal” inerrancy. If he manages to define this out further, maybe we can say more, and we'll try this analysis again. As it is, it’s fairly clear that this rousting out of Packer is little more than major league damage control.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Norman Geisler Keeps 'on Truckin'

We’re interrupting the E-Block series on Doug del Tondo to let the reader know that Norman Geisler still doesn’t know when it is in his best interests to leave well enough alone. Indeed, at this point he seems to be taking on the habits of a cyberstalker, digging out whatever little opportunity he can to say the same things he’s already said once before which weren’t correct before and haven’t gotten any more correct with age.

Geisler’s peashot is aimed this time at an interview Licona did for a website that is geared towards helping people select a school (link below). One wonders why Geisler would even bother, but at this point, his obsession is apparently so great that Licona could probably appear opposite Big Bird as a special guest on Sesame Street and it would result in a 500 page Geisler response. Further than that I look for a Geisler article in the future which begins, “Recently Mike Licona was taking out his trash and….”

But like I said, there’s little new here, really. Geisler repeats the same stale arguments we’ve covered before in prior entries you can see under the subject link for this post. 

He still hasn’t learned that Greco-Roman bioi is not a “generic category” and still has not taken up my challenge to refute scholars like Burridge; all he adds is the sort of frightened, head-in-sand language we have come to expect from an unschooled fundamentalist in over his head (e.g., Licona was “poisoned by his baptism into Greco-Roman literature which penetrated his mind by unbiblical presuppositions” – next week, Licona will “go to hay-ul if he don’t repent”).

He still doesn’t get that maybe, just maybe, Gary Habermas one-upped him by thinking more deeply about his position on these subjects between 1983 (the time of Robert Gundry’s confab) and now (for as we may expect, someone like Geisler pretty much intellectually stays in stone no matter how long he takes, and no matter how much scholarship bounces off his scalp).

He continues to quote unnamed and anonymous sound bites as though anyone ought to pay attention, and sound bites as well for unqualified “great men” like Mohler and Patterson (who still doesn’t deserve that bronze statue – sorry – but does deserve the pigeons that come with it).

He still thinks he can hoist the 300 ICBI “scholars” (ha ha!) as authorities and that relatively and contextually unqualified people like himself, Packer, and Sproul are competent to judge this matter.  No, sorry, none of that trio is within their depth here.

He still hoists that rather silly argument about not being able to discern author intention. Apparently being chased around by the Ehrmanator didn’t give him a clue.

He’s still hoisting his inconsequential “survey” of “leaders and laypersons” (the old Brian Flemming technique).

He still whines about being made into a cartoon and quotes a few anonymous people with too-tight Fruit of the Looms who were disturbed by it. Aww. How sad.

He still fudges in reporting that ETS kicked out Gundry with a 70% vote (never mind all the abstentions). And he still has delusional views of himself as a new Martin Luther (“Here we must stand.  We can do no other.”).

He manages to expand all of this stale bread into 25 or so points, but nowhere does he advance his arguments one step, much less responds to detailed criticisms of his errors offered by this blog and so many others.

One the few “new” bits is where Geisler says:

Licona boasts of his successful debates with many noted unbelievers using his “new historiographical approach.”  Yet I was told by some persons friendly to Licona view who were present at the Bart Ehrman debate that they believed that Licona had lost the debate. After the event, one father told me that he was informed by his son who heard the debate that he did not want to go to church any more! 

Well, gee, Norm. I have been told by tons of people – atheists and Christians alike – that you botched and made a fool of yourself in your “debate” with Farrell Till. And I’ve seen it used repeatedly by atheists as an example of how piddly-poor Christian apologetics really is. (One example linked below.) And in fact, thanks to you, I probably had to beat Till on the bunions a few more times than would have been necessary had you done a competent job of it. News flash: This is why I find debates useless. As someone once said, the “atheist” side could be represented by a dog howling “I Dream of Jeannie” off key, and there would be atheists who would still say the Christian lost. 

But anyway, given all that, maybe you’d better get that redwood out of your eyeball before trying to take that toothpick out of Licona’s. The way you keep spinning around, you're liable to kill people with it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Paul Fan Club, Part 1: Douglas del Tondo's "Jesus' Words Only"

Over the next three entries we'll be having an E-Block series that started in April 2009 on Douglas del Tondo's Jesus' Words Only. The "anti-Paul" movement -- of which del Tondo is a spearhead -- is distinguished chiefly by its poor scholarship, it's paranoia towards Paul, and quite frankly, outright dishonesty. This will become clear as this series is posted.


As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. -- 2 Peter 3:16
For many readers of the Bible, even Christians, Paul remains an enigmatic figure who seems to be speaking on a different plane. This is understandable. Paul was certainly among the three most educated and intelligent of the NT authors (Matthew and Luke come close, or perhaps even match), and it takes a great deal of careful study to avoid misreading him.

Regrettably, Douglas Del Tondo -- hereafter, appropriately, designated as "DDT" -- didn't do that study.

His book Jesus' Words Only (JWO) is a ponderous volume that is overlong by two times, and undersupported in its premises by three times. The most clear and immediate warning sign is Del Tondo's bibliography. For a book that purports to give the skinny on Paul, serious Pauline scholarship is badly underrepresented -- to the tune of "none." No Ben Witherington. No N. T. Wright. Not even a David Wenham. Instead, Del Tondo seems to think that the best defense and interpretation of Paul comes from the likes of popular preachers Charles Stanley and John MacArthur, radio talk show host Bob George, and, errr... "dead white men" like Martin Luther and John Calvin.

Worse, Del Tondo uses several commentaries published in the Bronze Age (like Adam Clarke's) and dips into the well of fringe scholarship, making trustful use of Robert Eisenman, he who believes that the Dead Sea Scrolls have been subjected to a conspiracy.

Needless to say, do not expect a command exegetical performance!

At over 500 pages, and with Del Tondo's rather anemic writing style, it will take us at least two installments to deal with his main arguments (we'll exclude some secondary ones, like his answers to arguments that God would not allow a fraud into the canon), so let us proceed to those now.

#1: Did Jesus Warn Us That Paul Was Coming?
Though DDT denies that God ought to have made sure a faker like Paul did not get into the canon, he does have it so that God cleverly and playfully inserted little warnings in the NT so that we'd be able to spot that faker once he made it in -- at least, we would be able to once DDT cleared up the matter for us. Del Tondo finds a warning in Matthew 7:23:
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
You perhaps missed the reference to Paul, so allow me to explain it as DDT does. The last word "iniquity" is the Greek word anomia. Literally, "no law" or "lawlessness." According to DDT, this doesn't mean general immorality or lawbreaking, but specifically, breaking of the Jewish law. Paul taught the abrogation of the law. Therefore, this is a warning against Paul. See what he means?

And of course, this gets to the heart of what many in the Paul Fan Club are all about. Somehow, they say, the covenant of law is still valid, and Paul denied this; thus -- Black Hat. We'll need now to take a diversion to explain the fatal premise in contextual interpretation this requires.

As I show here, the OT law is part of a covenant or contract agreement. Jesus gave us a new covenant. Yet we may still learn from the old one what God views as right behavior. This of course requires contextualization of the commands. And when the NT writers, including Paul, exhort morals on their hearers, they show that the new covenant isn't a free for all with behavior (though we'll see later how DDT tries to read that out of Paul).

The corner into which DDT paints himself -- and never really figures a way out -- is this: If the law is still valid as is, you have to follow all of it as it is. No excuses. You have to do Temple sacrifices. You have to put a rail around your roof. No contextualizing is allowed. But even DDT does not do this, and even he must admit to contextualizing to get rid of the sacrifice commands: These are moot, he says, because of what Jesus did on the cross. Really? Who said that? What? Hebrews says it? [74] Well, the author of Hebrews was a heretic then. This is how easy it is to use Del Tondo's Biblical Buffet. DDT himself practices "lawlessness" as long as he doesn't do Temple sacrifices, and there's no way around it that also doesn't release Paul from DDT's accusations.

Yet indeed, DDT does "contextualize" the law in his own way. He tries to get out of having to be circumcised, for example, by using the excuse that it was a command solely to Jews. [102] Oh? Yes, this is true. But the entirety of the Deuteronomic law was also given to Jews, and Jesus in his ministry was also speaking only to Jews when he said the law would not pass away. Yet Paul's audience was overwhelmingly Gentile. And DDT admits that the only burden placed in Gentiles was the strictures of the Jerusalem council (though he also adds the Ten Commandments [103-4], on the basis that some of the same commands were applied to sojourners in other places -- though not the Sabbath one, which is the only one anyone would ever say is not representative of a universal moral law). So in essence, DDT condemns Paul for saying the law is no longer applicable, to people who were never under its strictures in the first place! (We'll discuss two major exceptions he claims, related to that council, below.)

In the end, once all the contextualization is done, we DO have exhortations to "follow the law" -- and DDT is right to say (though not on the basis of his own views) that the sacrifices were mooted. So, likewise, were laws associated with eg, keeping kosher or making the followers of YHWH "stand out" from other people. Many moral laws (like the "roof railing" one) have become moot by practice (we don't live and work on a roof; but we do observe the principle behind this of safety standards). And that leaves us with what? Some general moral laws -- which Paul himself either affirms or never denies.

Of course, the question arises: Can DDT actually show that Paul was "lawless" in any sense? DDT claims that Paul "shamelessly put [his sins] on public display" but when we get to the list, we find a series of misapprehensions, misreadings, and misinterpretations of the sort we might expect from the Skeptics' Annotated Bible:
  • James (3:10) and Proverbs (10:7) speak against cursing, but Paul curses people (Gal. 1:8, 9, 1 Cor. 16:22). [64] DDT needs to look past the KJV, and for someone who makes much of Greek, he ignores it here. Paul uses the word anathema, which means something set away from God. James uses katara, which refers to an imprecation, not to someone's status with relation to God. Pslam 10:7 (DDT misattributes it to Proverbs) is equally strong, and is often used to refer to oaths. DDT is illicitly drawing parallels using the English words -- which is quite a feat for someone who says that he has been designated a "Classical Language Scholar" (per the back of his book). I should note that DDT may argue that Paul's "anathema" was a type of "imprecation" and therefore a violation. If he takes that route, then he is in deeper trouble, as by the same token, Jesus himself issued imprecations against a number of persons and cities, and Elisha called down a curse on the youths who were attacked by bears, and Deuteronomy is full of "curses" on those who disobey the law. Obviously, James cannot have such things in mind; he refers rather to "bitter envying and strife" (3:14) in the same context -- which suggests that he does not have pronouncements of judgment in mind, but rather expressions of personal animosity.
  • Jesus said not to call people fools (Matthew 5:22) but Paul calls the Galatians foolish (3:1). [64] Another bit of unHellenistic folly; the word used by Paul is anoetos, and happens to be the word used by Jesus to address Cleopas and his friend when they don't get the point (Luke 24:45). In contrast, the word in Matthew 5:22 is moros, from which we get moron. Perhaps Jesus himself needs DDT's help to get out of that sin.
  • James (4:16, 2:16) and Proverbs (29:23, 27:2) say not to boast, but Paul openly boasts (2 Cor. 11). [65] Here is an example of how DDT's lack of familiarity with NT scholarship hurts him. He fails to understand Paul's "boasting" in 2 Cor. as a rhetorical ploy, an example of irony -- not actual boasting.
  • Jesus saus not to judge people (Matthew 7:1) but Paul does judge Peter in Galatians. DDT has fallen here for the standard misinterpretation of Matthew 7:1. He also illicitly brings in Matthew 18:15, which has to do with sins of one person against another; Peter did not sin against Paul, and so Matthew 18:15 is irrelevant.
From here, DDT presents an extended accusation [66f] that Paul was "against the law" based on 1 Cor. 9:20-1, in which Paul says that he accommodates his missionary work to the persons he evangelizes. In this DDT is again without regard for the principles of covenant and contextualization we have outlined above. Though Paul is not specific in how he practices his "lawlessness," it most likely had to do with him not observing kosher food laws, or in some way expressing his unique identity with Judaism. It ought to be noted that this was important in Paul's day, inasmuch as Jews had a reputation among the Gentiles for being standoffish (see the comments of Tacitus in this regard) such that Paul surrendering any signs of Jewish identity when evangelizing would be regarded as a gracious, meaningful concession. DDT, however, knows of none of this. Instead, he sees this as an effort by Paul to "uproot the Torah." [68] Really? How so? How can Paul be "uprooting the Torah" with actions performed among people who don't observe it in the first place?

Further on, it becomes clear what the problem is: DDT repeatedly confuses Paul's indications of abrogation of the law as covenant with abrogations of the law as a moral guide. DDT claims that Paul "even abolished the moral components of the law" [74] but makes little serious effort to show this.

The first specific issue raised is that of the Sabbath. A case can be made, yes, that Paul denied the need to observe the Sabbath (eg, Col. 2:14), but this is far from a moral issue. DDT tells us that the Sabbath command "is clearly not a ceremonial law about sacrifice. It is one of the Ten Commandments." [77] What of this? DDT has proposed a fallacious logical progression much like that of the critic in our last issue (see article "Stone Sabbath"). That the Sabbath command is one of the "Big Ten" does not make it a moral imperative for all times, any more than listing women along with oxen in the tenth commandment makes them both "property." Like many misinterpreters, DDT has arbitrarily assigned to the Ten Commandments the category distinction, "things to be observed by everyone loyal to YHWH at all times." But he has failed to show why this category ought to be recognized.

After this, DDT turns from specific moral charges to a claim that Paul teaches a "new morality" based on expediency. But here he commits one of his most significant blunders of the sort one commits without recourse to serious scholarship. He cites 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23, which both say:
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient...
Unfortunately, rather than consult reputable scholars for an understanding of these passages, DDT cites for interpretative authority a Geocities website by authors who say of themselves:
As the authors of this site and the articles posted here, we would like to be up-front about the fact that we have never been to Bible College or Seminary. We are simply two Christians who are committed to God's Word.
...and radio host Bob George! Sadly, neither of these sources is correct in assuming that these words represent Paul's own views. Rather, as is recognized by serious scholars like Witherington (commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 167), when Paul says the words in bold above, he is quoting back to the Corinthians some of their own "slogans" to which he then replies! The Corinthians had fallen sway to a sort of proto-Gnostic heresy which encouraged libertine behavior because of its indifference to the physical body. These and many other verses (7:1, 8:1, 8:4, 8:8, 15:12) reflect the positions of Paul's opponents, not Paul himself.

That said, what of the specific slogan, "all things are lawful unto me" and Paul's response? Witherington judges that perhaps Paul did say something like this, but that if he did, the Corinthians "misunderstood the implications" of what he said, and the portions following represent a corrective. What of those correctives? DDT reduces these to Paul having a morality of expediency, or morality based on how you feel. DDT specifically criticizes Paul for "expediency" based on the Sabbath issue (on which, see above) and that of eating idol meat (an issue he fully misapprehends; see below). But it must be kept in mind, again, that Paul is replying to a libertine, proto-Gnostic slogan with the main principle of denying the usefulness of the body. Therefore, Paul's reply about what is "expedient" is not about moral expediency, but expediency in terms of what affects the body.

In this as well, it ought to be noted that DDT is working with a definition of "expedient" that equals, "what is advantageous without respect for ethical principles." Once again this is a case of DDT abusing the English connotations while ignoring Greek -- as well as alternate English meanings. "Expedient" has a meaning (as it did in King James' time, and still does today to an extent) of being useful, or better than some alternative. The Greek word used, symphero, has this meaning in other places as well:
Matthew 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast [it] from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Would DDT like to correct Jesus for his "morality of expedience" here? I'd think not. But note that further on, Paul's response fits a context in which it is "more profitable" -- in the same way Jesus says! -- to not sin:
Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make [them] the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
In light of this -- which DDT does not quote when he treats the "all things are lawful" portion -- it is absurd for DDT to say that Paul has a system where there are "no strict moral rules to follow." [82] If DDT can't get a rule against eg, fornication out of the above, then the problem may be his own clouded moral vision -- not Paul's!

In a section further on, DDT accuses Paul of denigrating the Law because he says it was "given by angels" (Gal. 3:19) -- which he regards as the "most troubling aspect" of Paul's view of the Law [83]. According to DDT, this is to be paired with Gal. 4:18-19:
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
How's this work? DDT believes that the "elements" are to be read as "angels" and thus "Paul clearly says the Law was not given by God." [84]
Sadly, once again, the serious scholarship confounds DDT's views. As far as the angels bit, I once noted responding to a Jewish anti-missionary site:
The word for "angels" means messengers and this is in line with the NT-era Jewish understanding of Wisdom as a messenger through whom the transcendent God's commands were delivered. Moreover, contemporary Jewish tradition regarded angels as having a "positive role in the giving of the Law (cf. Deut. 32:2 LXX; Ps. 67:18 LXX; Jub. 1:27-29...)" [Witherington, Galatians commentary, 257] and the rabbis also spoke of angels descending at the time the law was given (Pesiq R 21).
So far from being a negative reference, Paul's comments in 3:19 reflect a positive view of Jews of his day. What DDT calls "obvious heresy" was actually an affirmation that God handed down the Law via His own divine hypostasis and/or servants. (It is interesting that he is thereafter also forced to say that Stephen [Acts 7:53] and Hebrews [2:2] are "making a misapplication of Scripture" [92] when they say the same thing. It will not be long before DDT has his own "Jefferson Bible" at this rate!)

But what then of the alleged equation of the "elements" with angels in 4:8-9? DDT claims that "in Jewish thought, elements of the world means angels" but in seeking out his support for this, we find what can only be charitably called an outright misrepresentation of his source. DDT footnotes to a page here which he represents thusly:
One commentator points out that in Greek thought, the reference to "elements of the world....likely [means] celestial beings...
But a check of that page shows that DDT is engaging in selective quoting, for what it says is:
The elemental powers of the world: while the term can refer to the "elements" like earth, air, fire, and water or to elementary forms of religion, the sense here is more likely that of celestial beings that were thought in pagan circles to control the world; cf Gal 4:8; Col 2:8, 20.
It should be noted that not even the "celestial beings" view may be correct; Witherington for example (Galatians commentary, p. 298) ties the word to observances related to the Emperor cult, such that it is the Emperors themselves who are "no gods" and the "principles" refers not to celestial beings, but simply and generally to religious rules such as observing times and seasons (as was done in Judaism as well as paganism). But regardless, DDT has plainly misrepresented -- indeed, lied about -- his source, which does NOT identify the "celestial beings" with the angels of Jewish thought.

DDT cites one other source that allegedly makes this connection, Vincent's Word Studies -- which was first published in the 19th century! But apart from the appalling appeal to such ancient source without looking at anything newer, an online copy shows that DDT can't get that fully reported either. He is all he quotes:
The elements of the world are the personal, elemental spirits. This seems to be the preferable explanation, both here and in Colossians ii. 8. According to Jewish ideas, all things had their special angels. In the Book of Jubilees, chapter 2, appear, the angel of the presence (comp. Isa. lxiii. 9); the angel of adoration; the spirits of the wind, the clouds, darkness, hail, frost, thunder and lightning, winter and spring, cold and heat.
Problem? Vincent goes on to say a heck of a lot more than that! Look:
In the Book of Enoch, lxxxii. 10-14, appear the angels of the stars, who keep watch that the stars may appear at the appointed time, and who are punished if the stars do not appear (xviii. 15). In the Revelation of John we find four angels of the winds (xiv. 18); the angel of the waters (xvi. 5); the age in the sun (xix. 17). In Hebrew i. 7 we read, "who maketh his angels winds." Paul also recognizes elemental forces of the spiritual world. The thorn is "a messenger of Satan" (2 Corinthians xii. 7); Satan prevents his journey to Thessalonica (1 Thess. ii. 18); the Corinthian offender is to be "delivered to Satan" (1 Cor. v. 5); the Kingdom of God is opposed by "principalities and powers" (1 Corinthians xv. 24); Christians wrestle against "the rulers of the darkness of this world; against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the upper regions" (Eph. vi. 12). In this passage the elements of the world are compared with overseers and stewards. This would seem to require a personal interpretation. In verse 8, "did service to them which by nature are no gods," appears to be = "in bondage under the elements," suggesting a personal interpretation of the latter. The Galatians had turned again to the observance of times and seasons (verse 10), which were controlled by the heavenly bodies and their spirits.
So it is that DDT turns what was in fact a broad survey of views of "celestial beings" in various contexts into a specific reading of the Gal. 4:8-9 "elements" as Jewish angels present at the handing down of the law. Vincent does not make that identification; rather, he is broadly explaining why "elements" refers to something personal, and if anything, connects the beings in Gal. 4:8-9 to "the spirits" associated with "heavenly bodies" -- meaning pagan elements. The dishonesty, a wonder to behold.

One last point against DDT's identification of these "elements" with Jewish angels. It should be noticed that Paul asks the Galatians if they plan to turn again to those "elements." The Galatians were pagans before they were Christians, not Jews. Therefore, the "elements" could NOT refer to anything of a Jewish nature, because they could not turn again to anything to which they had no adherence before.

In a short section, DDT makes much of the accusation against Paul in Acts that he brought a Gentile (Trophimus) into the Temple -- essentially arguing that because Paul did not ever deny the charge, he must have actually done it! [112-3] DDT parses words rather painfully to arrive at this: "Neither Luke nor Paul ever deny Trophimus profaned the Temple. Instead, both Luke and Paul merely try to deny that there was proof that Paul had brought Trophimus into the prohibited area." It is tempting to say that this is a parsing worthy of an attorney like DDT -- and indeed it is. At the same time, the verses cited (Acts 24:13, 25:8) have Paul or Luke saying that his accusers cannot prove their accusations -- not a specific act.

But now to one of DDT's most enormous beefs....and I do mean BEEF! The accusation: Paul violated the command in Acts telling Gentiles not to eat idol meat by telling them that they could. As DDT puts it: "Paul taught idol meat was perfectly acceptable unless someone else thought it was wrong." [118] Let's look at how he addresses each alleged teaching.

1 Cor. 8.
DDT has misread this passage from the start. As Witherington explains (commentary on Corinthians, 186f), this is again a case where Paul is addressing a specific problem in Corinth, and it again has to do with proto-Gnostic (or perhaps Cynic or Stoic) libertines. It is they-- not Paul, as DDT says -- who were arguing that it was all right to eat sacrificed meat, using the rationale that idols were "nothing." Now note that this forces Paul to walk a tightrope: On the one hand, he can hardly be put into the position of saying that the pagan's gods were legitimate entities, such that the sacrifices had real meaning. He can't deny the force of the libertine's arguments in this regard. On the other hand, he must stand behind a prohibition to eat idol meat. To answer the libertines, Paul presents two arguments. The first is that the sacrifices are unwittingly offered to demons (10:20), so that the libertines are in a sense still wrong: The pagan gods may be frauds, but there are still potentially live beings behind them. Second, he offers the argument that DDT wrongly understands to be an allowance to eat idol meat: You may offend a brother who is weaker. Perversely, DDT turns Paul's admonition around -- from a moral appeal for consideration for one's brothers, into a libertine permission to eat idol food as long as your brothers don't see you do it!

As DDT continues, he yet again attributes to Paul that which was far more likely a quoted slogan of the libertines (eg, 8:8: "But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.") which he in turn answers (8:9: "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.") It should be noted that the word for "stumblingblock" is a strong one -- implying that your action may lead your Christian brother into apostasy. Far from being a permission as DDT spins it, 1 Cor. 8 is a very strong warning.

This is the next passage dealt with:
1 Cor. 10:25-28 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, [that] eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth [is] the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you [to a feast], and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth [is] the Lord's, and the fulness thereof...
From this, it becomes clear that the issue is again somewhat different than DDT makes it out to be. In Acts, the ruling against eating idol meat is made with the presumption that the eater knows that the meat has been offered to an idol. But for food sold in the market, or served at the house of a host -- there is no way to tell what was previously offered to idols and what was not. One hunk of meat looks the same as another! And while some or even most meat came from a temple sacrifice (Witherington, 189) there were all kinds of other foods in the market as well. Indeed, the word used for "meat" does not simply mean beef, but all types of food that might be offered to an idol. There was no telling what was what for sure.

Paul's directive therefore is to eat, until someone tells you the meat was sacrificed to an idol. And of course, that is only sensible, for the food itself has no idolatrous properties; it is the knowledge of the sacrifice that instills those properties.

DDT, however, again presents the matter as though Paul were telling people it was all right to eat meat that they knew was sacrificed to idols, as long as no one was offended. To do so he is compelled to again engage is some rather "lawyerly" exegesis. Paul warns that one cannot eat idol meat and also take communion at the Lord's table. DDT tries to evade the blunt force of this warning by saying that it is "not a flat prohibition on eating idol meat." [123] It isn't? A warning that these two practices are mutually exclusive doesn't equate with prohibiting the one versus the other? I do not believe DDT is speaking the same English language we are.

DDT then misreads (again) a Corinthian libertine slogan as Paul's own words (10:23) before selectively quoting from 10:25-27, as in bold:
Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, [that] eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth [is] the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you [to a feast], and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake:
DDT does also allude to the purchase of meat in the market and eating at someone's home. But he fails to quote the rest of the passage, and interprets it for the reader as Paul saying, "it is best you not know what you are eating. Don't let your conscience dictate questions about what you are eating. In a sense, Paul believes it is better you not know the meat's origin rather than try to scrupulously avoid eating such meat." [123] This is again a twisting of the lesson: As DDT fails to note, once one knows the food is from idols, Paul issues a flat prohibition.

It is also telling that DDT fails to quote Paul's supporting citation of Ps. 24:1. It is also less than honest to describe Paul's point so as to imply that we are to go about consciously trying to avoid finding out if food has been sacrificed to idols. In the market, there simply was almost no way to do this. Food items were hardly put into bins marked SACRIFICED TO ZEUS TODAY, because the average Roman had no objection to eating such food and required no differentiation.
In the case of eating at someone else's home, there was only one way to know if food was sacrificed to idols -- and that was when your neighbor put it down at the table and made the announcement. In that case, you were hardly in danger of eating idol food in the first place; you'd know before it made it to your mouth. But there is more that DDT misses: To make such announcement means that the host was trying to be sensitive to their guests, in case they did indeed wish to NOT eat idol food (Witherington, 227). It would not then be a case of not knowing you were eating idol food once the meal started; you were being "warned" beforehand. Silence on this point indicated that it was not idol food. Therefore DDT's exegesis is wrong yet again.

In the end, DDT forces himself into an awkward position with 1 Cor. 10. If, as his analysis implies, Paul ought to have told people to find out where the food came from before they ate it, then DDT needs to place himself under similar restrictions. He is obliged to not purchase any product until he is sure that every aspect of the chain of production of that product is pure. He is obliged to ensure that every little old lady he helps across the street has not just come from a shoplifting spree. He is obliged to refrain from giving a vagrant a hot meal until he is sure that they are not wanted by the police. Somehow, though -- I doubt that he does all of this!

In close for this section, it is again most telling that DDT ignores credentialed scholars for his source material, and instead digs deep into the texts of obscure, unknown pastors of local churches who have posted their readings on the Internet. But then again, it should be no surprise that even then, he fails to adequately represent their views. The sermon of a Dr. Peter Barnes that DDT cites, is quoted to the extent of a single paragraph -- while ignoring a few contextualizing points similar to those we note above.

If I may insert an observation based solely on a personal experience....when I was called for jury duty, the pool was told that they only had to consider evidence presented by the attorneys. They could not check the facts our further for themselves. I immediately disliked this -- for it implied that an attorney could willfully refuse to report evidence that convicted their client (or conversely, for prosecutors, exonerated the innocent defendant).
It seems that DDT is much too used to his privilege as an attorney to withhold damning evidence.

DDT is, though, very attentive to passages in Revelation 2 which condemn those who teach Christians the way of Balaam and to "eat things sacrificed to idols." As we have seen, this isn't what Paul taught at all. But there is an oddity in the use of Rev. 2. The churches condemned for allowing such teaching -- Thyatira and Pergamum -- are, as far as we know, without any association with Paul or his teachings. In contrast, the church praised for rejecting this teaching, Ephesus, is one Paul clearly had positive associations with. In addition, it seems strange that Jesus so clearly identifies one responsible group -- the Nicolaitans -- quite clearly, but not Paul. To be sure, DDT does think that Paul is mentioned -- in a very backhanded way.

Nevertheless, DDT force-fits Paul into the Balaam mold, using a method we find familiar from works like Helms' Gospel Fictions and MacDonald's Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark: Essentially, he collapses down descriptions of Paul and Balaam into least common denominators, ignoring differences in their stories. For example, both are a "prophet of God who was changed from an enemy into a friend by an angelic-type vision" while on a road. [132] (And oddly this is once again secretively and slyly placed in the NT by a God who DDT supposes would not rather just make sure Paul was left out of the NT entirely). Let's analyze each of those.
  • "Prophet of God" -- not quite. Paul is never described as a prophet but as an apostle.
  • "Changed from an enemy to a friend" -- not in Balaam's case, no. Balaam was a prophet for hire; his "friend" was whoever had the most cash. He was never changed to a "friend" (he could only prophesy for favor for Israel because he couldn't say anything else) and was paid to be an "enemy".
  • "Angelic-type vision" -- um, not quite. Paul saw Jesus, not an angel; it's clear DDT sees a problem with his match here, as he calls upon a rather obscure idea from one of the (much older) commentaries that the angel seen by Balaam was Jesus. The commentator, John Gill (1697-1771), uses this rather odd reasoning: "...the angel speaking in the same language as God did before to Balaam, Nu 22:20 shows that not a created angel, but a divine Person, is here meant..." Really? So the fact that the angel says the same thing God does ("but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shall thou do") proves the angel is God? There are good reasons why educated people no longer use these commentaries for anything but historical curiosity!
  • "While on a road" -- well, why not also point to differences? Paul was walking; Balaam was on a donkey. Paul was on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians; Balaam was on his way to curse Israel in the wilderness. And so on. But DDT's "parallelomania" is so great that he tries to find a parallel in Balaam's donkey asking why he is being beaten ("Why have you hit me three times?") and Jesus asking Paul why he is persecuting him. [136] Did DTT intend to imply that Jesus is equal to a donkey and that Paul was riding Jesus into Damascus?
When it gets down to it, the only true potential identification that matters is whether Paul indeed taught what the Rev. 2 "Balaam" taught. We have already seen that the "eating idol meat" charge fails. That leaves fornication. Can DDT make a case for Paul teaching people to fornicate? Well, it's rather legalistic, but here is how he does it: In 1 Cor. 7:15, Paul says that when an unbelieving husband leaves a spouse, she is not under bondage to him any more. According to DDT, this means it is fornication if the woman remarries. Say what? Yes. Why? Because Paul didn't say that she needed a certificate of divorce as Jesus commanded in Matthew 5! Yes, that's right. For lack of mention of a piece of paper, Paul was teaching people that it was OK to fornicate (by remarrying after an invalid divorce)! [140]

The pedantic legalism here speaks for itself, but we can say more. DDT's condemnation fails inasmuch as the certificate of divorce was a specifically Jewish practice. In Corinth, in the Greco-Roman world, a person could enact a divorce simply by leaving (or telling the other person to leave). "Walking out" was the functional equivalent of the Jewish divorce certificate. (See Instone-Brewer's Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, 190.)

Thus it is that DDT's attempts to saddle Paul with the "Balaam" label are proven ineffective. His most important argument for leaving Paul to the history of heresy is defused.

A curious sidelight on page 148 is one in which DDT criticizes Paul's doctrine of grace as one which permits unrestrained sin without penalty. But wait -- what about rewards in heaven, then? DDT acknowledges this point, but dismisses it as being "no loss of something you cannot afford to lose" and "no penalty" because you don't lose salvation. "It is not even a set back. You simply do not move ahead," DDT says. [148] His downplaying of the matter notwithstanding, DDT is here talking about one's eternal rewards, and what one will live with forever. Is it "no penalty" to be told that because of your sin, you will spend eternity scrubbing New Jerusalem's toilets, as opposed to doing something far more important?

Briefly, we may note DDT's chapter on salvation in Paul versus salvation as offered by Jesus. Not much needs to be said here, as DDT's lack of understanding is fundamental: He makes much of how "faith" is seldom mentioned in the Gospels [161], but fails to define faith properly as loyalty -- and surely cannot deny that Jesus demanded loyalty from his followers in practice. By the same token DDT thereby fails to understand works as an essential outworking of true faith, and so wrongly accuses Paul of offering a cheap grace, and of reading into Paul the idea that a "one-time belief in certain facts saves you." [170] Paul and his contemporaries would say: "No, that belief of yours would result in you acting a certain way, if you truly believed it."