Friday, June 26, 2015

The Paul Fan Club, Part 2: Craig Winn, Part 2

From the April 2012 E-Block.


Chapters 3-5 of Craig Winn's Questioning Paul (QP) take up 101 typed pages when placed in a Word document, but as before, the substance/argument could be reduced to a mere tenth or less of that space. We will continue with our examination in which we extract that substance, only briefly commenting on that which duplicates prior arguments from Douglas del Tondo, and reserving extended commentary only for that which reflects arguments new to us. We will also skip over places where Winn repeats arguments we have already addressed in Part 1 of this series. 

Chapter 3

Much to begin this chapter deals with the "James vs Paul" matter, and Winn's tendentious and misinformed reading of that situation, so we shall skip over a great deal. We will also skip gratuitous and unsubstantiated charges of mistranslation, as we have still seen no indication that Winn possesses any relevant credentials as a scholar or translator.

From nowhere, Winn gets the idea that Paul spent "nearly two decades within walking distance of the place and people who witnessed the most important three days in human history, and not stop by on occasion to soak it all in." As we have noted against Earl Doherty, who made the same arguments for different reasons, this is ascribing falsely to people of another culture a modern, American tourist mentality. Ascribing "disdain" to Paul for not visiting what Winn rather bigotedly describes as "God’s favorite place on Earth" is simply misguided. At the same time, if Paul was being prepared for a mission, as he indicates, there would be little purpose in interrupting that preparation for what would essentially be tourism.

In part 1 we noted that Winn has the imaginative notion that the Greek word christos (anointed) means "drugged." To his roster of imaginative Greek readings he now adds another, concerning the word dokei:

Gal. 2:6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed [to be somewhat] in conference added nothing to me:

Winn asserts that this word conveys a "subjective opinion," as opposed to an objective conclusion and thus discovers a red flag of unimaginable proportions. But this is false. While this is one meaning of the word, it also means accounted as or reputed to be or even thought to be. Thus it is word that implies perception, but this perception could have an objective or a subjective basis, which must be decided by context.

In the case of Gal. 2:6, Paul’s concern is the honor rating of the pillars, and that is something that envelopes the collective opinion of the Christian ingroup; to that extent, what Paul speaks of has both objective and subjective elements (the latter since it works on assumptions of honorable motives and behavior). Thus Winn, who goes on to make much of Paul’s use of dokei in various contexts, errs yet again.

Concerning Paul's comment that he went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain, Winn proposes the highly tendentious and imaginative reading that Paul means he was considering "running from" the Jerusalem authorities. This makes no sense even in English; the proper context is rather Paul's use of the figure of "running" as in a race, a metaphor that was a favorite of his. (eg, 1 Cor. 9:24, Gal. 5:7, Phil. 2:16)

Winn also accuses Biblical scholars (!) of "inadvisably trusting their King James Bibles," in accepting the allegedly unwarranted addition of the word "privately" to the text:

And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

However, I see no reason to question the decision of textual critics who think it belongs; the word referenced (idios) is translated elsewhere the same way (eg, Matt 24:3). I should also note that Winn's dissatisfaction is based in good measure on his incorrect equation of the meeting of Gal. 2 with that of the public council of Acts 15. However, a little later, Winn's arrogance becomes so bold that he actually accuses qualified translators of possibly having "inadequate faith" which caused them to corrupt their work, and also has the nerve to suggest that inadequate faith and insecurity lies behind others disagreeing with him.

Much space is devoted to describing tests in Deut. 18, with the promise indicated that later, Paul shall be tested on these grounds. Shortly thereafter we get the first indication I have seen of how Winn regards the rules of the OT covenant:

That is not to say that we should ignore Yahweh’s instructions. If you want to be included in the Covenant, if you want to be adopted into Yahweh’s family, and if you want to enter heaven, if you are not currently circumcised, get circumcised. As we shall see, with Yahweh, male circumcision is a life and death issue, one in which He is unwilling to compromise.

Needless to say, such outlandish legalism is unsupportable. There is no sign that the Jerusalem apostles demanded circumcision of Gentile converts to the new faith; Acts 15 would have been the place for such a demand, and it is not there.(We will see how Winn explains that problem, later.) Nor does it pass any other sort of exegetical or contextual test: Baptism is the new entry ritual, and while Winn says we need to do that as well, it never occurs to him that a covenant with two entry rituals makes no sense whatsoever. Thus as well, Winn merely fearmongers when he states that Paul implies that God "changed His position" on circumcision: If circumcision was an entry ritual for the former covenant, and not ALL covenants with God, then there was obviously no change to speak of. (Thankfully, Winn's legalism is not so extreme that he considers these saving acts per se, but rather as expressions of the saved heart. He also later, in Chapter 4, contradicts himself by assuring his reader that circumcision is optional!)

Winn also has yet to explain why he is not in trouble for failing to perform animal sacrifices. (Perversely, Winn promises to show that, contrary to Paul, Titus was "strongly encouraged to be circumcised at this meeting" in Galatians 2.) We'll see if this changes any time soon.

Further complaints by Winn are based on an unwarranted equation in Paul's words between Peter and the other apostles and those whom Paul speaks of as having anonymously slipped in to spy on their freedom. The actual equation, as noted in our article on Peter vs Paul, is with unnamed local (Galatian) Judaizers who would be of the same party as those in Acts 15 who insisted on circumcision, and who I suspect would later evolve into the Ebionites of the middle second century.

As noted above, Paul's opponents here were Galatian Judaizers. Winn only briefly interacts with this view:

...they would also insist that the "false brothers" who were advocating on behalf of the Torah, were "Judaizers," because Christians don’t know that Judaism is predicated upon Rabbinic Law, as opposed to Mosaic Law. And that means Christian theologians would be wrong on every account, that is, except their premise.

How this is anything but a non sequitur is hard to imagine. Scholars are well aware that Mosaic Law is the basis; what is meant here, apparently, is Winn's idiosyncratic reading of Mosaic Law.

Yet another creative misreading is found here:

Since this verse was devastating to King James’ claim to divine authority, which was the entire purpose behind the publication of the King James Bible, the passage was edited to say that "God accepteth no man’s person." I kid you not. KJV: "But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:" Last time I checked, the purpose of salvation was so that God could "accepteth man’s person."

Here Winn has improperly used archaic KJV English to import a modern definition of "person" as simply meaning people, as in human beings. But the word used means essentially, “at face value”. Winn also misinterprets Paul's note that God does not show favoritism. As we have said of this:

"Respect of persons" has nothing to do with covenantal agreements, or even judgment based on merit, but with judgments based on our own suppositions and deductions. (The Hebrew in Deut. 10:17 for "persons" likewise means "countenance" or "face".) In other words, it means God does not take people at "face value" but searches them out. There is no relevance to the matter of the choice of Jews for service; they were chosen because their forefathers, and they, were obedient.

Winn wrongly reads "favoritism" the same way as atheist critics do, and thus errs.

A serious contextual error emerges when Winn claims that in dividing mission fields with Peter (Gentiles and Jews), it was Paul "taking a 99.99% share for himself". Winn is apparently unaware that Diaspora Jews comprised a fair portion of the Roman Empire; beyond that, nowhere does Paul exclude anyone from their own mission to the Gentiles, and he himself ministered to Jews. Winn is tendentiously reading a statement of priority as one of exclusivity; moreover, it does not occur to him that while this may be a general division for evangelism, it doesn’t set any bounds on discipleship and later interaction. It is also hard to see how this amounts to "power grab" as Winn claims, since no power was up for grabs. If anything, by Winn's calculation, Paul took for himself 99.99% of the chance to be persecuted, ostracized, and executed for spearheading a movement Rome and Romans would have considered deviant.

By similar imaginations, Winn supposes that Paul's declaration that Peter had been designated the apostle to Jews indicates some sort of exclusivity in contrast to Jesus' designation of Peter as "rock". Since Peter himself apparently didn't understand Paul's words to be so restrictive, it is hard to see why Winn ought to either.

Chapter 4

Once again we will distill out only that which is new; there is much repeated here (eg, what is claimed about dokei, and about charis [see part 1 of this series]). Arguments assuming that Gal 2 = Acts 15 are a major issue for this chapter, and so, much of this chapter is rendered void by a simple Gal 2 = Acts 11 equation.

Much is made of Paul's use of a particular word, energesas, in the masculine. Declaring that the Holy Spirit is referred to in neuter gender in Greek, Winn proposes that this is a subtle hint that Paul is being spiritually controlled by a demon. As further verification, Winn appeals to 2 Cor, 12:6-7, but as usual he is far behind the scholarship on that issue (link below).

After extended analysis requiring an Acts 15/Gal 2 equation, Winn, like del Tondo, proposes that warnings about Paul are subtly made by Jesus in places where he warns about future apostasy (Matthew 24). As with del Tondo, we have to wonder about the sort of God Winn worships who only delivers vague and subtle warnings about a person while also carelessly allowing this person's work to be widely considered canonical. Winn's deity is exceptionally coy and seems remarkably disinterested in details. The closest match Winn can offer is that Jesus warns about those who claim that the messiah is to be found in the wilderness, and he achieves his most specific match by way of his imagination only (as we noted in part 1), by which he supposes Paul to have also met Jesus in Arabia (the wilderness).

Winn's next most specific attempt at a match is a dismal second place indeed. He compares Luke 10:18, which speaks of Satan falling like lightning from heaven, with Paul's description of a light falling on him on the road to Damascus. However, the word used in Luke is an entirely different Greek word.

The third place parallel is even more dismal; noting Jesus' indication that his followers were given the power to trample "scorpions," Winn draws a distant parallel to 2 Cor. 12:6-7 (again, link below). Once again venturing into the arena of fantasy linguistics, Winn claims that the word used by Paul there also means "scorpion". It does not: Though the word for scorpion is similar (both start with the Greek "sko"), the word used by Paul means a wooden stake. Additionally, the two words come from different roots.

Beyond that, Winn sets up for himself a rather difficult dilemma: Jesus guaranteed that the disciples would be able to defeat snakes and scorpions, yet Paul emerged a clear winner in what Winn imagines to have been a contest of will and effort -- neither Peter nor James nor John were able to stop him, as he manages to admit further on. So Winn is left with an argument that makes Jesus' promise of no effect even for his own apostles.

An even greater joke is Winn's attempt to correspond Paul's warning about Satan being able to appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11) with the bright-light appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus. Of course, since John calls Jesus the Light of the World, it's just as easy to argue -- if one happens to have a John-hate complex, rather than a Paul-hate one -- that it is John rather than Paul who was deceived. At the heart of Winn's argument lies nothing more than a begged question.

An egregious nitpick concerns 2 Cor. 11:15: Therefore [it is] no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. Winn says, "judging someone’s motivation, their intent, is pure speculation. So Paul would have us move from facts and reason, to opinions. That doesn’t sound godly to me." Since Paul's rather clear implication is that God will be the one judging motivations and intent, there's no "speculation" to be had. At the same time, intent and motivations are hardly always as inscrutable as Winn would hope they would be: In this we perhaps see more revealed about Winn -- and his questionable (verging on criminal) past, rather than about Paul.

Winn also forgets Jesus' own words when he says, Further, Paul’s evaluation is also predicated upon a person’s "deeds" rather than what they have to say. As such, Paul’s means to determine whether a person is a false prophet, bears no resemblance whatsoever to Yahweh’s test. Of this, we should not be surprised. Under Semitic Totality, words and deeds go together; and speech is of course a deed, so that Winn is again merely nitpicking. However, even Jesus said, "By your fruits you will know them" -- not "words". (Though of course, elsewhere words too are said to be subjects for judgment.)

In a section that follows, Paul's ironic performance in 2 Cor. escapes Winn as much as it escapes atheist critics (link below). A little education in Greco-Roman rhetoric would have prevented his careless judgment of Paul as one who "has lost complete control of himself". In any event, once again a broad swath of Winn's verbiage is rendered inert once a simple mistake is exposed.

Winn's next secret "treasure trove" comes from 2 Thessalonians 2, in which it is supposed that Paul is subtly and coyly warning the Thessalonians about himself as the "man of lawlessness", and he connects this to the alleged "chilling confession" of 1 Cor. 9:21, To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. For some reason Winn does not make note here (he does later, in another context) of the accompanying phrase where Paul says he becomes as one "under the law" for those under the law. He also fails to note that Paul's references, in that social setting, cohere with observance of custom and hospitality among one's neighbors and potential converts (see again link below). Winn later perversely and bigotedly interprets Paul as saying here that the end justifies the means -- which demonstrates again how out of touch Winn is with appropriate defining contexts.

The sum of it can be taken from Winn's comments on 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11, which are, in whole: "I’m not sure what this means, but it’s not good." Winn could have spared readers the pain by simply saying this as his view of just about everything written by Paul.

Chapter 5

Much is made of how, in his speech before the crowd, Paul speaks of making a defense for himself rather than Jesus or God. Since Paul was the one being accused in the first place, and having to answer accusations made against him -- not God or Jesus -- one wonders why Winn thinks Paul ought to have changed the subject.

From Acts, Winn designates 22:3 as containing "three of the most horrid abominations I’ve encountered in something which is purported to be 'Scripture.'" One might suppose this excess meant he had found a Bible version of Acts praising Satan as Creator and Lord, but as it turns out, this is what sets Winn off:
  1. That Paul says he was "nursed and nourished"..."by a Rabbi, the very men Yahshua had said 'were born of serpents.'" This is an odd sentiment from Winn after he has spent so much time ranting about Paul has inspired anti-Semitism, but taking it seriously for a moment, it is quite clear that Jesus hardly regarded his words regarding rabbis and Pharisees as universal. There are a few spots where Jesus teaches earnestly seeking members of that group (Nicodemus is the most prominent example), and based on what we know of Gamaliel -- from Acts and from later information -- he was of a judicious nature and would have been far from being one the group that condemned Jesus. Beyond this, Winn rants that Paul is speaking of Gamaliel "as if he was filling the role of the Set-Apart Spirit" (Winn's holier-than-thou circomlouction for the Holy Spirit). However, the word used by Paul is never used to describe any action of the Sprit; it is used only twice more, in Acts 7, to refer to Moses being “raised” both by his parents and by the Pharaoh’s daughter. In any event, there is no grounds for Winn's assessment that Jesus would have "despised" Gamaliel.
  2. Winn's next complaint that Paul is "praising" the oral law, which "changes, corrupts, counterfeits, and conceals Yahweh’s Torah." Unfortunately, Winn performs a basic reading error when he says: So why did Paul call "the law which was received from our forefathers" "precisely accurate and in complete conformity" when Yahshua said the opposite?
    He didn’t. There’s no reason to suppose that Paul is referring to the rabbinic oral law. The word Paul uses is also used of the Torah law (eg, Matt. 5:17) and this too was passed down by the “fathers” of Judaism.
  3. Finally, again ironically after all his ranting about anti-Semitism, Winn declares of the Jews that "their god isn’t God. He is a false deity modeled after the men who conceived him." Of course, what bearing this has on Paul, who has as of this time broken from that tradition anyway, is hard to say.
After this, Winn mindlessly speculates that the manuscript of Acts has been changed at some point to modify something so that it is no longer damaging to Paul, and later, to obscure some points he deems critical. As elsewhere, Winn's grasp of the process of textual criticism is non-existent: Tendentious conspiracy-mongering is not part of the program. It is a wonder to behold, however, how often Winn throws out the speculation of a scribal error, or else adopts the automatic assumption that the earliest manuscript always preserves the most authentic reading. Neither of these tactics is the province of any qualified textual critic.

Perversely, Winn reads the designation of teachers in Acts 15:22 (“Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas”) as reflecting some conclusion that Paul "required supervision" and that "Yahuwdah and Silas were given the authority to speak on behalf of the Apostles and to control Paul, providing him with some much needed guidance." Not that this is found in the text at all. One wonders why, if Paul was teaching things so in opposition to the apostolic message, he was even included in the first place, rather than excommunicated and condemned. Because he was not, Winn is compelled to rewrite and add to the text, and create excuses for why this was not done. That Paul was "smarter, better educated, more ambitious, and a much more prolific writer" was true (of perhaps all but Matthew), but that would be all the more reason for the Jerusalem apostles to cut him off now. They also hardly needed to kill or imprison him, as Winn idly suggests. He says:

They could openly oppose Paul, which would create an irrecoverable divide between the Disciples and the people Paul was soliciting. Or they could try to work with him—and that would require compromise.

Really? Compromise? Winn has all this time been on about condemning Paul's own alleged gross compromises; and yet, here, Winn is forced into the inevitable corner of all Paul-haters, of explaining why this allegedly horrible person was apparently allowed to continue preaching, and why he was also not roundly and openly condemned. Why worry of some "divide"? The law which Winn so covets specifies that false teachers are to be done away with (Deut. 13), and though the apostles lacked capital power, it is clear that this implies a "divide" between those that do follow the false teacher and those who don't. Surely Winn is not so insensate as to suppose that YHWH would have endorsed "compromise" with those who disdained what Winn so creatively designates the "healing and beneficial message" of the Torah.

Inevitably as well, Winn is forced to admit that this was simply a huge political mistake -- one that the Jerusalem apostles insensibly kept on living with and making for 20 or more years, as did their own disciples and congregations. This is why Winn is compelled as well to twist and strain some secret message out of even the slightest thing, as the fact that Barnabas is named before Paul at Acts 15:25 (“our beloved Barnabas and Paul”). Of which he says:

Lastly, it is interesting that Barnabas’ name was listed first in this letter, suggesting that he was "beloved." With Paul being second, he was somewhat separated from the endearing term.

Is Winn serious here? Does he really suppose that the author of Acts was thinking that arranging names in a certain order was some covert way to indicate that Paul might have been less beloved than Barnabas? Likewise, Winn is required to even declare that the Jerusalem apostles erred in their assessment in Acts 15:28-9. This is not scholarship or exegesis; this is using the text as a buffet to support a predetermined conclusion (that had itself been reached in ignorance).

In light of all this, it is astounding to see Winn conclude that with this arrangement, "In trying to compromise with Paul, the Apostles became like Paul: Oblivious." How convenient for Winn that is indeed: This is his entire explanation for how Paul passed the test of the other apostles’ scrutiny – convenient stupidity that only he has been brilliant enough, after 2000 years, to uncover, finding what even credentialed scholars have missed.

Much follows concerning the Peter vs Paul matter; we gave a link for this issue last time, so again we can skip past a good deal. It is remarkable (to say nothing of anachronistic) to observe Winn calling upon his background as a businessman to identify the discourse between Peter and Paul in terms of a "turf war" -- reading between the lines, since the text speaks of no such thing. Using the same modern template, he accuses Paul of being insecure, and offers a host of psychological rationalizations from this perspective. As we note in our own analysis, however, this is rather a typical exchange for an agonistic society -- and has absolutely nothing to do with turf wars or personal insecurities. In that light, Winn's profession that the situation "makes me nauseous" speaks (once again) more to his own lack of education than to anything else.

A treatment follows analyzing the positive reference to Paul in 2 Peter, but the result is no surprise: Begging his own question, Winn attributes the praise either to "second- and third-century scribes operating under Marcion’s influence [who] augmented the text to serve their religious interests" -- again, ignoring every canon of textual criticism in the process -- or to Peter speaking tongue in cheek, a creative application useful for explaining away just about anything that fails to favor one's predetermined conclusion. Further twisting the text to his purposes, Winn takes Peter's referral to Paul's letters as "difficult to understand" as confirming his assessment that Paul has poor writing quality, self-contradicts, misquote Scripture, etc. (as opposed to being because Paul was a scholar who wrote on a different level than most people did – which is what the Pauline scholarship would say).

We might remark on Winn's assessment that, "Had it not been for Marcion, in all likelihood, Paul’s epistles would have been rejected as apocrypha and ultimately disassociated with the Renewed Covenant witness over time. They would not have been canonized, and they would never have been considered Scripture." Needless to say, this reflects no known scholarly or academic view on the formation of the canon, which sees Marcion's effect on the canon as minimal and derivative. (Link below.)

Creative history is engaged to force-fit Paul into Jesus' prophecy about Peter having his hands stretched out and being led where he did not want to go. (John 21:17-20) To make this fit, Winn ignores the historic fact of Peter's death by crucifixion and instead applies the prophecy to his imagined "turf war" between Peter and Paul in which (he supposes) Paul chased Peter into obscurity; and further force-fits the portion speaking of Peter being led where he did not want to go, into being a prophecy of readers twisting 2 Peter 3:15 into an endorsement of Paul ("Peter had been taken to a place he did not intend to go.")

Like del Tondo, Winn also manages to detect Paul in Genesis 49:27, a prophecy of the tribe of Benjamin, of which we said:

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.

Winn goes much further, however, midrashically force-fitting his own invented history into being predicted in detail by the blessing of the Benjamites. Since most of this does rely on history he invents, little comment is necessary.

Further, Winn returns to something we noted in our earlier installment: Winn makes much over Jesus being made to quote a pagan play when he says in Acts, “it is hard to kick against the goads.” As we noted, however, this was a commonplace proverb, and it contains no secret pagan messages; it is hardly unlikely that it also became a common trope among Jews as well. Here at least Winn admits that the proverb was a common one, but he immediately ignores this observation and argues as though it were the exclusive property of the pagan play The Bacchae -- and from there, creates an outlandish scenario in which Paul is actually a worshipper of Dionysus. In the process, Winn promotes his most embarrassing notion yet:

Dionysius was not only killed and then resurrected each spring; his holy week mirrors the week-long Christian observance of Easter. The annual resurrection of Dionysius on the Sunday closest to the Vernal Equinox, celebrated the promise of resurrection from the dead.

And so on, as Winn unbelievably manages to endorse a number of "pagan copycat" arguments with respect to Dionysus -- ones we have refuted long ago. (Link below.)

Winn also claims:

Especially troubling, considering [Paul’s] affinity of the Greek Charis and Roman Gratia, Dionysus was their father. They were the "love children" of his affair with Aphrodite—the goddess of love.

There are two problems with this. The first is that charis is the Greek version of gratia; Winn has created two personalities out of one – the equivalent of making Zeus and Jupiter two different persons. The second is that Winn has merely selected one of several stories of the parentage of Charis; as Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology states:

The parentage of the Charites is differently described ; the most common account makes them the daughters of Zeus either by Hera, Eurynome, Eunomia, Eurydomene, Harmonia, or Lethe. (Hesiod. Theog. 907, &c.; Apollod. 1.3.1 ; Pind. O. 14.15; Phurnut. 15; Orph. Hymn. 59. 2; Stat. Thcb. 2.286; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 982.) According to others they were the daughters of Apollo by Aegle or Euanthe (Paus. 9.35.1), or of Dionysus by Aphrodite or Coronis. The Homeric poems mention only one Charis, or an indefinite number in the plural, and from the passage in which Pasithea is mentioned, it would almost seem as if the poet would intimate that he was thinking of a great number of Charites and of a division of them into classes.

Another point of note: Winn has repeatedly claimed that Francis Bacon was in some way behind the creation of the KJV, and drawn various conclusions from this. Unfortunately for Winn, this appears to be little more than a conspiracy theory without substance; it is promoted by lunatics like Jeff Rense, and occultists like Manly P. Hall, and tends also to be connected to theories that Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare. Clearly this is another example of Winn uncritically accepting falsehoods.

Returning to Paul's letter, Winn makes much over Paul's use of the Greek word harpazo in Thessalonians to describe the "rapture" of the saints. He says this word:

... speaks of being "seized and violently snatched away." Harpazo means "to attack, to gain control over, to possess, to physically harass and injure, to carry away by force, to spoil, and to secretly steal, plunder, and loot."

From this, Winn -- whose expertise in Greek, we should note again, is hardly established -- concludes that what Paul describes is an operation of a "spirit of darkness," not one of light. Unfortunately for Winn, the same word is indeed used of an operation of the Spirit of Light in Acts 8:39 (“And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip…”) and of a “light” operation in Jude 1:23 (“And others save with fear, pulling [them] out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”). and Rev. 12:5 (“And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God…”) And this is no surprise, since most of the definition Winn offers is simply spin; the word means “catch, catch away, catch up, pluck, pull, take by force” but things like “harass and injure” are unwarranted (unless by additional specifying contexts, not the word itself). In light of this, it is ironic that Winn goes in to accuse translators of not being willing to "properly translate harpazo, for fear of exposing their prophet’s inspiration." It seems rather that is merely exposes yet more fraudulence by Winn.

Returning to the matter of the word skolops (Paul’s “thorn”), more linguistic fantasy is engaged as Winn presumes to argue that other words “related to” this word include words like: … Skotia: "a dark and evil realm." Skotos: "the abode of evil and demonic spirits." And skolios: "to be unscrupulous and morally corrupt, to be perverse and deceitful, and to warp a path making what was once straight crooked."

This, however, is merely linguistic fantasy, according to lexical data; it is like thinking that “molar” is related to “molestation” and using this as a way to insult dental professionals and insinuate that they sexually abuse their patients.
Winn later accuses Paul of being sexist, based in 1 Cor. 11;3, and compares him to Muhammed and the Muslim practice of veiling women. In this regard Winn is badly misinformed on a certain point that ruins his entire argument: Men, too, wore veils during prayer in this social setting. (Link below.) Thus Winn's claim that, "Just like Muhammad, [Paul] wanted women veiled and out of sight" is laughably anachronistic (especially since the "veil" was nowhere near as concealing as the Muslim veil). Even worse, Winn joins atheists in pulling out Ephesians 5 to accuse Paul of sexism (for this, see analysis by Miller in link below). It is surprising that Winn does not also pull other alleged "anti-woman" passages into the mix, but perhaps that lies ahead in later chapters! We will just have to see.

We’ll return with more next time.

Paul’s thorn
Paul’s irony
On 1 Cor. 9: Is Paul being a chameleon and a charlatan? No more so than the teacher who learns the dialect of a student in order to be more effective teachers to them. Is it being a "chameleon" and being "opportunistic" to absorb local customs and behaviors for the sake of viable communication? Not at all. This was especially so in the ancient world. As Malina and Neyrey note in Portraits of Paul, it was natural and expected for persons to submit themselves to and for the good of the group by meeting their expectations for behavior [190]. The "chameleon" insult is a product of anachronism by a Western mindset and in no way reflects any idea that Paul would lie or make up stories.
The Canon (see section on Marcion)
On Dionysus
Paul and women

Friday, June 19, 2015

Journey Through Orthodoxy, Part 1

From the March 2012 E-Block.
More than once in the past 10 or so years, I've been mistaken for being Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. I had been told that some of my doctrinal stances matched the latter in particular, and owing to friendly challenge from a longtime Orthodox reader, I am taking a closer look at Orthodoxy and offering an evaluation. 

The reader recommended several books, and the first I received was John Romanides' An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics (hereafter OOPD). The reader of OOPD immediately notices that it is half in Greek (on the left side), half in English (right), so that it is actually only half as long as it seems to be. However, it seems to provide a suitable basic outline of Orthodox dogma.

As it happens, the first two thirds of the book gives me some idea why I have been occasionally mistaken for an Orthodox (EO) believer. Several elements represent conclusions I have arrived at independently. Orthodox views of theosis are not conceptually far from (though not identical to) my view of the heavenly life as an experience of growth and privilege/honor (which in turn is somewhat more developed than the typical Protestant idea of sanctification) . Romanides' explanation of the Trinity includes references to hypostatic Wisdom. Later in the book, the discussion of the "torments of hell" contain ideas in concert with my own; Romanides explains that while believers will see God as light, unbelievers will see God as fire -- an explanation which, even if not as developed as my own, at least recognizes the metaphor inherent in the concepts of light and fire.

Other aspects of what OOPD presents involve matters that I either have no stake in (e.g., the filoque) or have yet to investigate. So what does that leave in terms of potential problems? 

The first I see is one common to many movements -- whether mainstream groups like Catholicism or fringe groups like the Mormons. The Orthodox vest authority, Romanides explains, in an Ecumenical Council which is regraded as infallible. However, OOPD is regrettably no more forthcoming in terms of providing rational basis for depositing authority in this body. This will undoubtedly be one of the subjects for which I will be seeking worthy arguments in future readings.

Romanides, however, refers only in general terms to EO's "deposit of faith" which is at the center of the "Holy Tradition" and is transmitted down the ages by bishops and presbyters. These Romanides designates as "knowers" with "direct knowledge of the glory and energy of God," as opposed to those who are only "believers," who are apparently to "receive without hesitation the witness and teaching about God" from the knowers. I regard such a system with suspicion in whatever variation it appears -- even as it appears among Protestants, where I regard the current situation with Norman Geisler to be an equivalent (e.g., what I have called the appeal to a "Great Man" speaking). 

Perhaps the most disturbing statement by Romanides is this one: "It is a joke, not only spiritually, but also scientifically, to think that one can interpret Holy Scripture correctly, if he has no idea about the revelation of the Glory of Christ to the Prophets and the Apostles." That's rather a high hurdle to set for one's self, for it means that if you produce even one erroneous interpretation, you have a lot of explaining to do. Unfortunately, the usual resort for those who hold such views is to declare that their interpretation must be right because after all, they have the Spirit -- all you have is (cough) scholarship, research, arguments, etc.

Further on, it is said that "[t]hose who wish to live according to Christ place themselves under the guidance of a father, who has the charism of discernment of spirits, and, consequently, is able to teach the manner through which one becomes a participant in the Mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection." In the Biblical world such claims would have to be validated by prophecy (the Deuteonomic test), and Romanides indicates three things missing outside EO which he thinks shows that a breakaway from Apostolic succession, and presumably as well, theological authority: absence of veneration of saints; absence of veneration of icons and relics, and absence of miracles wrought through them. We have discussed the first two in articles some time ago; as for miracles -- based on precedent, those would be a significant measure, but alas, Romanides stops short of offering details or confirmation. So, count that as something else I'll be looking for (but quite honestly, not expecting at this point to find).

The second major issue is a complex of issues having to do with ecclesiology. I have a number of reservations about what appears to me to be a "one size fits all" approach to participation in ritual functions. The assumption I have perceived so far is that one is obliged to participate in various scheduled liturgies and prayers; allowance is made under certain circumstances to not take part, I am told, but my own reservation -- that such rituals do nothing to enable discipleship in my own life, and if anything, would distract me from what I regard as my assigned task, is not among the exceptions.

I do have some sympathy for the EO idea that the church is not merely invisible, but also in some sense visible. There is a principle of active participation in EO's doctrine, virtually the same as one which I have tried to encourage. What I do question is the determination that a particular mode of participation is demanded of the believer. This is not inclusive of the rituals of baptism and the Eucharist (or as Baptists say, the "Lord's Supper!"), which I do think are mandated, or of enacting certain moral principles in our daily lives. EO goes beyond this, though, finding as well a warrant for observation of many more rituals.

And so we finish there, with little if anything offered beyond an introduction and outline, with practically no effort at validation. Romanides, however, is not so much an apologist as an expositor, so he does not argue for the demands of EO practice in any detail. I will be seeking such defenses in future readings; for now, his book has provided walking papers giving us some idea what burden EO will have to meet in order to validate its claims.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Puritan Files: Guthrie and Winthrop

From the February 2012 E-Block.
For this round of the Puritan Files -- which will be our last, for now, since we're not digging out too many issues worthy of attention -- we'll have some comments on two works. 

The first is John Winthrop's A Model of Christian Charity, which I selected in hopes of finding something along the lines of a guide for Christian living. That is fairly well what it turned out to be, and I daresay it would make excellent reading for Christians even today -- especially in the modern world, where much of the collectivist mindset which Winthrop took for granted has disappeared. A small personal illustration will fit in here. 

Some years ago, Mrs H and I visited the Mayflower replica in Massachusetts where there were character actors dressed as Pilgrims, acting the part of people of that day. The character actor we spoke to had no doubt been ask several times that day already how the Pilgrims used the bathroom on the boat, so I think he was pleased when I asked something more substantive: "In your society, is the individual or the group more important?" He answered that the group was more important, and we can see that expressed well in this typical Q and A from Winthrop: 

Question: What rule must we observe in lending? 

Answer: Thou must observe whether thy brother hath present or probable or possible means of repaying thee, if there be none of those, thou must give him according to his necessity, rather then lend him as he requires (requests).

The inherent joint responsibility of this statement has not necessarily disappeared completely from the modern world, but many would think that the prospective lender was being cheap, or trying to avoid giving the loan. But in Winthrop's day, this reflected responsible stewardship and an eye towards not giving someone so much that they abandoned their own responsibilities.
Winthrop also showed a strong consciousness of the broader responsibility of the church within the world:

The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

There are two sides to this, of course: One is that sense of responsibility, but we can also see in here the seeds of a sort of manifest destiny -- one that could lead to the sort of erroneous excess expressed by Cotton Mather in our first article in this series.

The second work I selected was William Guthrie's A Christian's Great Interest -- thinking it might have been another moral guide. Instead it turned out to be a book on how to have assurance of salvation -- and in many ways it read little differently than would a book of the same nature by someone like John MacArthur. The objections Guthrie collected (like, "I'm too sinful for Christ") are very much familiar to the modern eye and ear. His answers, however, are overall a good deal more detailed and systematic, offering step by step considerations for the reader.

In that respect, Guthrie does represent what could be called a more "scientific" approach to salvation. One could imagine Paul or James reading Guthrie's work and shaking his head, saying, "Just live it out -- if you have faith, it will flow naturally from you." Paul advised self-examination, yes, but never gave more than a basic list of virtues expected of the believer. In contrast, Guthrie's minute examinations and recommendations have the bearing of a government tax code! In that, it is easy to see how legalism might unwittingly grow from such soil.

At some future date we may return to an examination of Puritan works, but for now, we conclude this side venture and move on.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Lutzer Letter, Part 2

Not long ago in this space I posted an open letter to Erwin Lutzer regarding his errors in Hitler’s Cross. A week after I posted that, I decided it was time to send it directly to one of Lutzer’s outlets for his own attention. So I went to the comments area at Moody Media, and sent them the text of the posting.

The response wasn’t really surprising. No admission of error. No intention to correct the errors. And of course, Lutzer himself didn’t answer. However, the answer did end up being far more lame than I had hoped. Here it is in full, save the ritual greetings and closing:

We always appreciate hearing from our readers, even when substantial disagreement exists. From the length of your letter, we recognize the time and effort that you marshaled in order to respond to Hitler's Cross. Our hope is that even in the midst of your objections that you found the book edifying in its call for Christian perseverance in the face current trends among the American church.

You hope so, huh. Well, no, I didn’t find it edifying at all, not in that sense or in any sense. Gross misinformation is seldom edifying even in the service of some supposedly higher mission. (I don’t think Lutzer has even a remote grip on “trends” in the church either. But that’s another issue.)

But let’s think about that answer for a moment, and what it says to us.

First, it diminishes and trivializes the problem of blatant error by calling it “disagreement” – as though Lutzer and I were merely having a chat about which brand of tea we each prefer, as opposed to matters of definitive historical record in a book being read and trusted by millions.

Second, the rendering of the matter as one of “disagreement” shows a blatant disrespect for the the scholarship of credentialed historians I referred to in the initial post, in essence assuming that they are no better reckoned as a source for truth than conspiracy theorists and amateurs like Ravenscroft and Sklar.

Third, the closing portion as much as says the following: It doesn’t matter whether we got the facts right; the message is more important. In this I am reminded of an incident I was part of some time ago in which I caught a certain celebrity political source using a false quote of one of America’s Founders. When I noted that the quotation was false, I was admonished by one of the followers of this source for “missing the point.”

We are in a dangerous situation, epistemologically, when we sacrifice truth and accuracy for the sake of some sort of “point” we are trying to make. Fundamentally, we open the door to those who argue, for example, that the Gospels or Paul didn’t have to be reporting history; they were just trying to “make a point.” I’m sure Lutzer’s servant was not thinking far enough to realize this, or that he was thereby undermining the grounds for his own faith by being so trivializing. But it is for this very reason that it is essential that Lutzer and other popular pastors like him not be given some sort of free pass to foul up history in the service of pastoral teaching.

I’ll continue to find ways to bring this matter attention, and make myself a thorn in Lutzer’s side. I’ve been advised by a veteran apologist that Lutzer is not likely to correct or admit his mistakes. That’s probably true. But if he does not so here, it won’t be for lack of effort on my part.