Friday, August 28, 2015

Priceless Brotherhood

From the May 2012 E-Block.


In a chapter titled "James the Just: Achilles Heel for the Christ Myth Theory?" Price discusses alternative readings for Gal. 1:19 amenable to morphing Jesus into myth. He considers this verse the best argument around against Mythicism, when tied in with the historical reports of James as a successor to Jesus. Price discusses three theories to account for this:
  1. That James, like Thomas in later apocryphal literature, was understood "to be the earthly, physical counterpart to a heavenly Jesus."
  2. That James was part of a group of missionaries called "brothers of the Lord" (which is the idea of Earl Doherty...).
  3. That a heavenly Jesus has been historicized, and thereafter the fictive connection to James was made.
Option 1: Thomas Twin
For the first option, Price violently strains ahead hundreds of years to an apocryphal and Gnostic "acts" document. In the Acts of Thomas, verse 11, the Risen Jesus appears and declares himself to be the "brother" of Thomas:

And the king desired the groomsmen to depart out of the bride-chamber; and when all were gone out and the doors were shut, the bridegroom lifted up the curtain of the bride-chamber to fetch the bride unto him. And he saw the Lord Jesus bearing the likeness of Judas Thomas and speaking with the bride; even of him that but now had blessed them and gone out from them, the apostle; and he saith unto him: Wentest thou not out in the sight of all? how then art thou found here? But the Lord said to him: I am not Judas which is also called Thomas but I am his brother. And the Lord sat down upon the bed and bade them also sit upon chairs, and began to say unto them...

However, from the prior context of this story, it is clear that Jesus acts and lives on. This is completely out of accord with what the Christ Myth requires. Price even admits that the stories present Jesus as having walked the earth, so it would seem that Jesus calling Thomas his “brother” reflects some actualization in which Jesus is made out to be Thomas’ flesh and blood brother – precisely because he is his “twin”. However, since this sort of Gnostic connection could not possibly adhere to James in Gal. 1:19, it would be irrelevant anyway.

In the Acts of Thomas, Jesus is clearly visible to all men; he even sells Thomas as a slave to a passing Indian merchant! But what if it were the case that Jesus "remains invisible to mortal eyes" in one of these documents? Price also appeals to the Book of Thomas the Contender, yet another Gnostic document (and so likewise inapplicable). However, he appeals to this portion of it:

The savior said, "Brother Thomas 5 while you have time in the world, listen to me, 6 and I will reveal to you the things you have pondered 7 in your mind. "Now, since it has been said that you are my 8 twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn 9 who you are, in what way you exist, and 10 how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, 11 it is not fitting that you be ignorant 12 of yourself. And I know that you have understood, 13 because you had already understood that I am the knowledge of the truth. 14 So while you accompany me, although you are uncomprehending, 15 you have (in fact) already come to know, and you will be called 'the one who 16 knows himself'. For he who has not known 17 himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself 18 has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all. 19 So then, you, my brother Thomas, have beheld what is obscure 20 to men, that is, what they ignorantly stumble against." 21

Price notes that Thomas is destined to be "called" Jesus’ brother, and takes this to indicate and honorific designation due to spiritual insight, not birth. However, it is quite clear that the reason Thomas is expected to be called Jesus’ brother is because he is a “twin” of Jesus – the expectation is that a blood relationship will be assumed between them because of the likeness between them. Spiritual insight is what Jesus indicates Thomas will receive -- and this would be in order that the identification will be more appropriate, in light of the Gnostic view that everything in heaven has an earthly counterpart. Beyond that, it should be noted that this in no way indicates that Thomas here is not already Jesus’ flesh and blood brother. Jesus’ comment that he “will be called” Jesus’ brother does not mean that he is not now, but that he will receive the designation as an honorific title – not because, as Price thinks, he currently has spiritual insight, but because in their social world, it was an honor to be designated as related to someone in one’s family who had done well. The familial connection accrued honor to the other person; and so designating Thomas as “brother of Jesus” would have been a case of highlighting the relationship for honor.

Here as well, Price makes a vacuous and desperate appeal to the 19th century Chinese revolutionary Hong Xuiquan, who called himself the "little brother of Jesus" as a way to indicate that he was a second incarnation. Even by itself there is little reason to grant credence to Price's analogy, coming as it does 1800 years after the fact, from a different culture, and with no supporting data in the NT or any other document to support such a meaning.

That said, indications are that Hong conceived of this designation in a literal and organic way to begin with. In visions, Hong was introduced to his “Heavenly Father” (as well as his Heavenly Mother and Wife!) as well, so the idea of himself as Jesus’ “little brother” was by no means merely symbolic. See on this link below, in which a historian of this subject says, “it had come out that Hong regarded himself as, literally, the younger brother of Jesus Christ.”

Price's further comments include vain attempts to "mirror read" statements about James as Jesus' physical brother such that from whole cloth he creates a historical actuality in which this was a polemic against the earlier and more accurate teaching that "brother" meant something else. As such mirror-reading merely assumes what it sets out to prove, no more need be said of it.

Option 2: Brotherly Redux

The second option Price considers is that "brother" may have been used to refer to James as a leading missionary, such as Jesus calls "brothers" those who suffer for him. Of course, this is the same basic argument made by Doherty, which attempts to wrest familial ingroup language out of blood-familial language. Price, however, does nothing to improve upon the argument, nor does he deal with the difficulties we have noted.

Option 3: Mythmakers

The final option is one Price relates to "ethnological myths" in which fictitious family connections were created in order to explain later relationships -- e.g., Jacob and Esau are not real human beings, but "ethnic stereotypes of the groups they represent..." Of course, such speculations are themselves merely critical artifices without substance, so that here Price is (as he often does) using one weak higher-critical reed to support another. In addition, there is no evidence for such myth-making in NT times, though to fit the bill as needed, Price inserts another weak reed into the substance of his higher-critical sweat lodge, supposing we have a perfect example of that in the relationship of John the Baptist and Jesus. To accomplish this, however, Price must invent wholesale the notion of Christianity and followers of John being rival sects, so that the story of John and Jesus becomes a sort of enacted fable for why the sects should be rivals. As I have frequently noted, it is amazing how much history needs to be invented as times to explain away a much simpler history. Price's only other support for this notion is derived from further imaginations of James/Paul and Peter/Paul rival sects.

That just leaves a few odds and ends. Price dispenses with the reference to James and Jesus with the possibility of interpolation, or by the implied suggestion that by the time of Josephus, the "historicization" of Jesus had already taken place and Josephus simply knew no better. He closes with warning that one must not fall into "a hell-bent adherence to a hobby horse of a theory" -- and so, as has been typical or Price since we first encountered him to many years ago, performs an irony to which he remains happily oblivious.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Paul Fan Club: Craig Winn, Part 3

From the May 2012 E-Block.


We proceed now with Part 3 of our address to Craig Winn's Questioning Paul, with Chapters 6-8 -- which again reach 100 typed pages together, and yet again, less than a tenth of that substantive.

We had noted in a past entry that Winn, while recognizing correctly that "faith" is not merely belief, but more like trust (actually, loyalty), he nevertheless fails to grant this proper meaning when Paul uses the word, and insists that Paul uses it to mean "belief". Indeed, he has the nerve to go as far as saying Paul changed the lexicon and caused pistis to evolve from "trust" to "belief," from "reliance" to "faith." Since this definition did not appear in the first century anyway, and would not appear for centuries, this is nonsensical to start; but even worse is Winn's justification for this misreading:

I say this because Paul never once provides the kind of evidence which would be required for someone to know Yahweh or understand His plan of salvation well enough to trust God or rely upon the Way.

Of course, Paul would have provided such evidence long before he wrote his letters; the message of the Resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15) would have been preached many years before as the basis for faith. So pointing out that Paul "never provides evidence" is a misdirected objection, and this even more so in Paul's high-context social setting, where background knowledge by his readers would be assumed anyway.

Thus Winn's only reason for tendentiously transforming Pauline pistis is a failure, and his efforts to critique Paul thereafter on this basis also fail. It speaks for itself that he admits, the things Paul wrote which would otherwise be accurate if "faith" is properly defined. In short, he admits he has to forcibly re-interpret "faith" in a way entirely foreign to its linguistic and social contexts in order to get Paul to say things which he can condemn.

There follows some directionless meandering about Paul's understanding of the Law and of Talmudic regulations, made directionless by the fact that the critique of Paul therein assumes that Paul meant by "faith" what Winn wants him to have meant. Once this equation fails, so likewise do all of Winn's criticisms, such as that "Paul is committed to negating the Torah’s purpose." Likewise tendentious is Winn's supposition that Paul's use of certain language about Jesus as Messiah was either "added by scribes one or more generations after Paul penned his epistles, or that he deployed them knowing that his animosity for the Torah would conceal their actual meaning." Once again the facts do not aid Winn's case, so he simply invents any possible explanation to aid it.

After some more pointless meandering about translations, Paul's alleged deceptions, and more arguments based on the forced dichotomy Winn puts between Paul's message of faith and the true one, there is also more based on an inadequate understanding of Paul's dealings with Peter and the Galatian Judaizers (as well as Winn's unjustified understanding of the former covenant being continued in the new one). We do not find anything new until Winn states:
The best possible spin we could put on this is to suppose that the point Paul was trying to make was that if it were possible for a single, hypothetical man, woman, or child to do everything the "Torah" says, they wouldn’t need a savior. So this might be inferring that if one person could use "the Torah" to save themselves, everyone could, and thus there would not have been a legitimate reason for Yahshua to have endured the agony of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Such a message is quite clear, of course, in Romans, and is apparent in Galatians 2:16. But Winn arbitrarily raises the bar to eke out a condemnation:

... if Paul had wanted to say that we need a savior because we aren’t perfect, he could easily have phrased this in a way that everyone could understand. But he didn’t.

So it seems the real problem is not Paul, but that Winn doesn't understand. Yet one wonders why it is Winn's comprehension abilities that are the measure as opposed to what Paul actually did say.

Winn now starts in on Galatians 3, and it takes some time (and some extended ranting) to get to anything of substance. Like some atheists have done, he vastly overreads Galatians 3:1 (“before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”) to suppose Paul is saying that such things literally did happen right in front of Paul and the Galatians. Winn also arbitrarily faults Paul for not citing any prophecies Jesus fulfilled, but such a presentation would have been made years before during missionary preaching, so that the Galatians would not in the least be ignorant of such things. In a high context setting, none of this warranted or required repeating in Paul's writings.
Galatians 3:2 is then twisted (“Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”) to mean that Paul has openly admitted that his preaching differed materially from Yahweh’s Word, and has inferred that his message was more effective. Of course, this only works based on Winn's tendentious understanding of the new covenant as a "continued" version of the old one. Winn also goes off on a tangent with respect to the role of the Spirit in creation, and somehow wrenches from this the conclusion that the Spirit can be acquired by "observing the Torah," although none of what he had said prior -- about the role of the Spirit in the creation of the universe -- in any way had anything to do with this. An extended quote of John 3, apparently offered to the same effect, does no more to prove the point.

Not satisfied with the level of non sequiturs he has achieved, Winn deems it "obvious that Paul is associating the Torah with the flesh, and disassociating both from the Spirit in unbridled Gnostic fashion." This has never been apparent to any serious exegete or scholar, but Winn, apparently, deems himself more "informed and rational" than all of these -- so much so that he need not even explain how one might reach the same conclusion. Perhaps he does not consider it necessary, for he explains later that the Spirit "is the one who interprets Scripture for us." Perhaps that indeed explains Winn's idiosyncratic interpretations, as well as his breezy dismissal of the work of qualified translators.

Of some peculiarity is Winn's claim, "...Paul is trying to establish a distinction between the promises made to Abraham and the Covenant memorialized in the Torah, as if they were separate things. And then he will use this illusion to demean the Torah by suggesting that Abraham didn’t need it to be right with God. But we do, and that is one of many crucial issues Paul has missed." Winn has, as we have noted, missed Paul's point to begin with, but one wonders how and whether Winn here proposes that Abraham didn't need the Torah; and whatever he would suggest, how Abraham managed to be right with God without a law code that would not exist for hundreds of years.

It is also of somewhat ironic interest that in continuing to falsely accuse Paul of having a modern understanding of "faith," Winn replies that e.g., Abraham had plenty of evidence on which to base his loyalty, such as having a child at 90. This is exactly our own point in the article we have on the meaning of pistis (faith); and Winn also provides examples from Hebrews much the same as our own. It is even more amazing that after consulting lexicons and dictionaries that make clear how pistis was used in first century Greek, it never occurs to Winn that his reading of it as "belief" in Paul is merely tendentious nonsense. No lexicon or Greek authority knows of such a meaning for the word at the time. Winn's plea that (again) he knows Paul meant "belief" because Paul doesn't provide evidence is monumentally absurd -- not only because it is years past the point where Paul would have provided evidence for Christianity to prospective converts, but also because such a demand as Winn has is semantically unreasonable. If I say in an offhand manner, while discussing something else, "There is evidence for the truth of Christianity," does that turn the word "evidence" into something that means non-evidence? Of course not.
Winn forces yet another artificial dichotomy in saying: On Mount Mowriyah, Abraham demonstrated that he was willing to trust Yahweh, not that he, himself, was trustworthy. So once again, Paul has twisted the Torah to serve his agenda. He has artificially elevated the status of a man instead of acknowledging the status of God. In reality, Winn here has forced an artificial distinction between demonstration of willingness to trust and being shown trustworthy. The two go together in a reciprocal relationship; Winn creates the dichotomy merely to extract another alleged deception from Paul. At the same time, Winn implies that this somehow equates with Paul failing to acknowledge that God is trustworthy, which is yet another artificiality.

Chapter 7

We get now to Gal. 3;10, which Winn describes as "suicidal logically and spiritually." As yet though we are still waiting for Winn to explain why and how he is able to follow the Torah so well without a Temple to sacrifice in, and whether he plans to stop wearing polyester, or see a priest if he gets leprosy. The snafu that is the "Dr. Laura letter" has no effect on intelligent Christianity, but it makes a train wreck of Winn's version of that faith. Since, indeed, no one observes the Torah faithfully -- Winn included -- Paul's point about it resulting in a curse for those who go back to it is quite right and proper. Winn's failure is encapsulated in his supposition that Paul is describing the Torah in and of itself as a curse rather than its implicit and eventual effect on all who try (and fail) to keep it. In this Winn even admits Paul is right, for he says, "It’s true: we cannot work for our salvation." He also qualifies carefully later by saying that we do not have to do "everything God recommends." And yet he denies that Paul is saying this very thing, and instead insists that Paul was indeed making that one to one equation, Torah = curse. In turn, this insistence is based on Winn's own irrational expectations for how he thinks Paul ought to have worded the matter; never mind that generations of scholars and experts on Greek have gotten this very message out of Paul's words, and not Winn's message.

Making it all the more clear that he must muddle the Torah to work his exegetical magic, Winn states: "No one has ever been saved because they never ate pork, but if you roll around in the mud with pigs, you are going to die." While this is a truism, it is an impossible rendition of the intentions expressed by the dietary laws. Winn has arbitrarily turned the Torah into a homily full of symbols as a way of explaining away his inability to actually follow it. How ironic (again) that Winn thereafter has the nerve to accuse Paul of misquoting and misusing the OT!

For amusement it is worth noting one place where Winn's absurd legalism does lead him into insanity:

God told His people not to follow the laws, customs, and traditions of the Egyptians and Cana’anites. That means we are to avoid doing things which were done in Babylon, Greece, and Rome whose civilizations either inspired or copied them. And that means we should not celebrate New Year’s Day, Saint Valentine’s Day, Lent, Easter, Halloween, or Christmas, nor gather in churches on Sundays.

Of course, by that reckoning, we need to jettison nearly all our laws, since many derive in some measure from precedents found in sources like the Code of Hammurabi and the Roman Ten Tables. In addition, Winn has turned God into a hypocrite inasmuch as the Torah also contains of some the same laws, which can be found in pagan law codes. That is indeed absurd, but it is the kind of absurdity Winn's abject legalism will lead one into.

Digging out, again, anything new or of interest, we find Winn picking up the banner of atheists when he says:

But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Sha’uwl’s specificity here with regard to zera’ being "seed" singular, not plural, suggests that I was right when I said that it was unlikely that he accidentally quoted the four Scriptural passages which served to convince his readers that his message was supported by God. How is it that this man could have missed the fact that the Messianic prophecy related to Passover was singular, not plural, and yet isolate one aspect of zera?

Yet in spite of this, Winn ends up admitting that his argument is "all much ado about nothing" in that he believes that the word "seed" "implies the plural even in the singular form," and adds that God intended both to be understood. So why pillory Paul for this alleged error? (For more on this, see link below.)

Further on, Galatians 3:17 is noted:

And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

And of this it is said:

Rather than affirm that the Covenant established with Abraham was validated and memorialized in the Torah 430 years later, [Paul] is saying that the Torah "did not revoke or invalidate" it. In that way, rather than the Torah being essential to the Covenant, it is irrelevant to it. His strategy was ingenious and insidious.

Better to say, Winn's reading of Paul is unwarranted and paranoid: but above all, a non sequitur of Paul's actual logic, which does not declare the Torah "irrelevant" in any sense, but rather is making the point that faith (loyalty) lies at the heart of both. There is no sensible way one may derive from this any idea that the Torah is "irrelevant." One can derive another conclusion Winn reaches, that the Torah is "extraneous to the promise." But that is patently obvious given a factor Winn has negligently bypassed: Much in the Torah is culture-bound to the Ancient Near East. Torah cannot be closely tied in with the promise to Abraham precisely because so much of it had a limited shelf life; even in Jesus' time, some portions of it no longer had any bearing on Jewish life.

Not that it matters, for Winn's argument is based on his continued insistence on viewing these varied covenants as the same ones continued, rather than new ones each time -- a view which, we have noted earlier, is oblivious to the nature of covenant law. One cannot speak of the promise to Abraham "becoming the Torah," as Winn claims.

It is worth highlighting this statement which displays Winn's arrogance in declaring his work superior to that of serious scholars:

Gerald Borchert, of the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Douglas Moo of Wheaton College, and Thomas Schreiner of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, working under the auspices of Mark Taylor, the "Chief Stylist," Daniel Taylor, the "Senior Stylist," and Philip Comfort the "N.T. Coordinating Editor," collectively known as "Team Tyndale" with regard to Galatians, coordinated this stylish theological twist whereby the promised inheritance was nullified by trying to keep the law. Then for good measure, they tossed in an extra "grace," just to be sure they had paid proper homage to Paul’s goddess.

Later he also calls this team "deceivers" for not coming up with his readings. The arrogance is a wonder to behold, especially as we still have yet to be told what credentials and experience Winn has translating Greek.

Little new arises thereafter; to make the Torah absolutely eternally applicable to all people, Winn commits the classic error warned of by Barr with respect to the word 'olam in the Old Testament (see link below).

Evincing further tendentiousness, Winn interprets Galatians, which refers to humans as held in custodial care by the law, as saying it means we were imprisoned by the law. To this end he tendentiously describes the paidagogos as an "enslaved leader of boys, guardian, custodian, trainer, and supervisor of children who strikes and smites them, an enslaved disciplinarian". A parent could be described in equally tendentious terms by someone with an axe to grind; from these and other tendentious descriptions, Winn scratches out from Paul an "especially demeaning" description of the Torah. That this same Torah did happen to prescribe harsh penalties for certain offenses -- including death -- which were far harsher than anything any paidagogos acted out -- escapes Winn's attention.

Winn denies any positive associations with the paidagogos, saying they were "not associated with schools, or learning..." and also condemns translations which use such words as guardian and schoolmaster. A far more informed excursus in Witherington’s Galatians commentary (262-7) specifically refutes Winn’s misinformed assertion, noting the many positive roles of the paidagogos (and also noting, as we do, that there were good as well as bad ones!), particularly that of serving as a moral guide for the child. In short, there are plenty of positive associations with the paidogogos, and Winn simply ignores or is unaware of these.

It is worth noting a brief error, one of the sort Winn tends to blow out of proportion: He note more than once places where Paul does not insert a definite article in Greek before the word "Christ," and from this conclude that Paul "meant Christo to represent a name, not a title". This is false since proper names in Greek do frequently have a definite article placed before than (though not always). It is simply one of the artifices of that language and means nothing so significant as Winn implies.

Absurdly, Winn also takes Paul's "neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female" with pathological literalism, pedantically pointing out that e.g., "there continue to be male and female individuals..." I last saw this level of literalism from Acharya S, and it speaks for itself that Winn descends to this level.
To those who think he is going overboard with this criticism, Winn replies, rather incoherently:

...your point would be valid if Paul were a politician, and if Galatians was part of an election campaign rather than a treatise on salvation.

It is hard to see why this is an excuse for Winn's overstated literalism.

Of Gal. 3:29, "And if ye [be] Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise, ", Winn is even more outlandish:

As we have already discovered, kleronomos, translated "heirs," is a compound of kleros and nomos, meaning both "law, and manmade tradition." A kleros was "a lot or stone with a person’s name inscribed on it, which along with other names on other stones, was tossed into a jar, shaken, and then selected purely by chance as a result of which stone fell to the ground first." So, once again, this isn’t the most appropriate word to describe our adoption into Yahweh’s family. We are not selected by random chance, and the casting of lots is akin to divination, something Yahweh says is an abomination.

Sadly, this too is merely fantasy. Although Winn is correct about one definition of kleros, it is also anything obtained by assigned apportioning, and does not mean “random choice” – especially since God, in Jewish thought, is the one who decides where the “lot” ends up (as was the case in the OT). I might add that the same word is used by James 2:5 and Hebrews 6:17 to describe Christians.
In an amusing testimony to his arrogance, Winn offers a chart in which he describes Gal. 1-3 as 61% "inaccurate," 8% "irrelevant," 8% "half-truth," and zero percent accurate. My own rough assessment in that of Winn's work, 92% is irrelevant (include that which is repeated over and over), 80% inaccurate, and 100% unscholarly.

Chapter 8

Now we get to Galatians 4, and Winn is again tendentiously describing roles Paul uses as illustrations for the Torah: epitropos and oikonomos. Unlike last time, though, Winn doesn't bother to explain why these references are inappropriate, other than that he is personally insulted by them. He also notes Paul's use of stoicheion (elements) in 4:3 (“ Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world”) as a reference to the Torah, and from this offers an extended rant in which, among other things, he claims Paul wants his readers to see the Torah as demonic, rudimentary, etc. based on the idea that Paul uses the same word in Colossians to refer to worldly things. It does not occur to Winn that “elements” is simply a word of meaning anything basic – such as the letters of the alphabet, or the rudiments of mathematics, which means we should now suppose Winn will condemn Sesame Street as relating demonic information.

We will ignore and extended rant in which Winn tendentiously reads into Jesus' farewell address in Luke all sorts of warnings about Paul. As is usual with the anti-Paul crowd, one must wonder why God would be so coy and allusive such that it took 2000 years for this code to be cracked and it occurred to no one in charge -- like Peter or James --- to stop Paul. Winn's explanations of convenient stupidity by these leaders (discussed last issue) fail to serve on this account.
Winn makes much as well of Paul not naming Mary or Sarah in Gal. 4:4. He comes up with a cockeyed thesis that it was some conspiracy by Paul to demean the Torah, but the reality is much simpler: To name a woman in a text, apart from much more compelling reasons to do so, was to dishonor her. Hagar, as a servant, could be safely named under this rubric.

A momentary pause for gross anachronism: Not only does Winn adhere to the disproven equation of "abba" (Gal. 4:6) with "Daddy"; he also manages to give Paul a psychological analysis:

In Paul’s native Aramaic, this is the delightful expression spoken by sons and daughters as they gazed up into their father’s eyes. Paul, himself, however, would not know this pleasure, as he was sent off to Rabbinical school as a young boy. And [Paul] never married, and thus never experienced the joy of being a parent. All of this I think contributed to his less-than-ideal temperament.

Actually, there is no evidence of when exactly Paul was sent to school; and if not marrying and having children affected his temperament, then one must wonder whether Winn would say the same of St. Francis, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or even Jesus.

Adding to the error of using abba so, Winn piles on this paranoid absurdity:

...Yahweh’s chosen language is Hebrew, not Aramaic. The Spirit would never actually say "abba," but instead "‘ab." And this error would not have been worth mentioning had Paul not switched languages to that of the Babylonians and Assyrians here make his point. By doing so, he has belittled the language of the Torah, and thus its voice. And that was his intent.

It seems rather odd, then, that Jesus himself spoke Aramaic, and that the New Testament is in Greek. Indeed, Aramaic was the common language of Jews of first century Palestine. So were they belittling God too?

Thereafter, there is little to nothing new; repetitive and unoriginal rhetoric follows for "...Dionysus, the god of grapes and wine, died each winter and was said to be resurrected each spring." I found this to be false in my research on this subject (link below). Paul's words from Galatians 4:11 on are spun out to create a psychology session in which Paul is described as a "tormented individual," inappropriate and self-centered," "sufficiently impressed with [himself]," and so on. Had Winn the least bit of familiarity with serious scholarship, he would have recognized this rather as a perfectly proper rhetorical technique, one in which Paul, as a proper member of a collectivist society, pointed to himself, a recognized leader, as an example to follow. It verges on bigotry for Winn to instead tendentiously reinterpret Paul's intentions in this completely anachronistic way.

In close for this round, there is one piece of nuttiness that is so outlandish that I wish Winn had explained it, but he does not:

...Paul’s sexual orientation is irrelevant, with one caveat. According to Daniel’s prophecy, Satan’s Messiah will be a homosexual.

That's one that scholars of the Old Testament and of eschatology have been missing for a very long time!
  • Dionysus
  • seeds in Galatians
  • on olam' (part of a larger article)
  • Friday, August 14, 2015

    Resurrection Appearances as Altered States of Consciousness

    From the April 2012 E-Block.


    There are signals on the horizon of a new variation we might see Skeptics use as an alternative theory to explain the Resurrection, though it will probably be a case of misuse rather than use. In Flights of the Soul (hereafter FOS), a member of the Context Group, John Pilch, discusses the applicability of alternate states of consciousness (hereafter ASC) as an explanation for certain Biblical phenomena. My expectation is that Skeptics will misuse Pilch's findings to support some version of the hallucination hypothesis to explain the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. As we shall indicate, this would be a mistake, both because of how Pilch actually presents his thesis on ASCs, and because Pilch himself does not sufficiently justify his widest application of ASC theory. 

    We will explain the second aspect first. On the one hand, there seems to be hardly any problem with using the label of ASC to designate certain recorded Biblical experiences. In particular, Ezekiel's vision, and that of John in Revelation, can certainly be classified as ASC experiences. In contrast, Pilch -- without practically no explanation or justification -- expands the range of ASC to also include the experience of Jesus and Peter walking on water, as well as the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. 

    Admittedly, FOS is a collection of past journal articles by Pilch, so it is not a systematic treatment of any particular issue. If it were, perhaps Pilch would have given more and better explanations for why the post-Resurrection appearances ought to be classed as ASC. As it is, we are offered in FOS no way to distinguish between an ASC and a "normal" state of consciousness experience with respect to certain incidents. His arguments for such broad application seem to amount to two:
    1. A lot of people -- upwards of 90% of the population -- have experienced ASCs. Of course, this in no way argues for any particular experience by any person as an ASC.
    2. Jesus assures people not to be afraid, and is not always immediately recognized, which is consistent with ASC experiences. Of course, not all of the experiences of the Risen Jesus have these elements; some are missing one or the other, or both! Moreover, such elements are hardly exclusive of "normal" consciousness either.
    But now we move to the other hand, which is how Skeptics are likely to misuse ASC theory. It seems highly likely that at least some with equate ASC with "hallucination" or some other subjective delusion and use what Pilch and other ASC theorists have to say to further such an argument. This would be illicit, for several reasons.

    First, even as we do, Pilch rejects the Enlightenment dichotomy between natural and supernatural (4), and has strong words (for him, at least!) for those who adopt an Western and ethnocentric dismissal of such experience.

    Second, and relatedly, although he does not say so as frequently as I'd like, it is quite clear that Pilch regards ASCs as reflecting some sort of objective experience. In his introduction, Pilch reports a personal dream he had which related objective truth about a faraway person, which he later confirmed to be true in real life. Answering a potential reader question about whether Ezekiel ate a scroll, or Jesus ate fish, in a vision or in reality, Pilch says, "The answer to both questions, of course, is yes!" (41) He describes the experience as being as real as a dream, and as noted, Pilch thinks one can receive objective truth via a dream about someone far away. These and other comments make it clear that Pilch accepts a sort of objective reality to ASCs that Skeptics would be unlikely to accept.

    Third, ASC simply doesn't mean hallucination. Pilch notes that varied experts have classified 20 or more states of consciousness, some of which (sleeping, dreaming) can involve subjective experience, some of which (lethargic, hyper-alert) may, but in general do not.

    Fourth, in terms of the Resurrection appearances, Pilch specifically states that what the disciples saw was "quite real" and that they "saw Jesus in an alternate reality." (119) Roughly, it appears Pilch is describing an effect much like someone in Star Trek opening a door to another dimension which is as real as this one. He also explicitly rejects the thesis of someone like Ludemann (147) who turns the appearances into hallucinations as culturally inappropriate.

    Again, as we have noted, Pilch does seem all too ready to see an ASC where it isn't at all apparent. He decides, for example, that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was involved in a type of ASC that involved breathing through the left nostril, and to affirm this, arbitrarily decides that the "drops of blood" Luke describes must refer to a nosebleed (25)! He also concludes that other ASCs, which would seem incompatible with an exclusive Christian message, are true; he reports as veridical, experiences of Moroccan Jews with a deceased holy man. (155) Nevertheless, regardless of whatever merits and ASC interpretation may have for the Resurrection -- and at present, despite Pilch, I see no reason to favor one -- we can be reasonably sure that it will be twisted and turned by critics into some variation of the hallucination hypothesis.

    Friday, August 7, 2015

    Journey Through Orthodoxy, Part 2

    From the April 2012 E-Block.
    For our next article in this series, I selected Orthodox Theology by Vladimir Lossky. Unfortunately, it gave me little to work with. Why? Partly it is because Lossky has a type of writing style I find disconnected and rambling: Lossky is one of those types of writers who does not present his ideas systematically, but apparently, as they occur to him. This made it difficult to extract the meat from his presentation. 

    Another matter is that a good portion of Lossky's volume is devoted to highly technical discussions of secondary rather than primary doctrinal importance -- and almost nothing relates to matters with which I have noted prior disagreements with EO doctrine. The one note of interest is Lossky's explanation (117) for veneration of relics of saints: Because "the human person remains equally present in His (the Word's) body, recaptued by the elements, as His soul." This does, at least, accord well with the notion of Semitic Totality.

    Beyond that, I found nothing necessitating analysis of report, but as it turns out, the EO reader who issued the friendly challenge of investigation to us has expressed a willingness to present here our dialogue on these issues. Therefore, we'll now be looking at his commentary on my prior article, and I will offer my own reply commentary. We will continue in this vein for further issues of the E-Block as long as we have available material from either a written source or from our reader which can be supplied.

    Hereafter my comments (from the first article) are in bold; the reader's commentary is in italics, and my secondary observations are in normal type.

    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 regarded 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.

    Our view of the Ecumenical Councils is a bit different than the RC view, which sees them as ipso facto infallible based on a fulfillment of a set number of conditions. Orthodox see it a bit differently. Perhaps a more accurate translation of "Ecumenical Councils" would be "Imperial Councils." These were general synods of all the bishops of the Roman Empire who would gather together and discuss dogmatic issues. The truly ecumenical councils are infallible not because they have met a set number of conditions, but because they have been verified by the experience of the deified Saints. This is an issue which I think you slightly missed, so let me quote some more and then clarify:

    Before moving on, my obvious question would be how one could possibly verify from "the experience of the deified Saints." Is this "experience" somehow quantified by record? By whom, and over how long? And to what extent has "verification" been performed and taken place? It seems to me this would be heavy burden or proof to fulfill.

    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."

    Awhile back I wrote a response to some Roman Catholic ideas about infallibility, inspiration, and ecumenical councils, which I think should serve as a good clarification:

    On the Charism of Infallibility in the Church
    For the Orthodox Christian, it is not correct to say that the charism of infallibility resides in a single bishop. Indeed, it is not even correct to say that that charism of infallibility resides in the whole body of bishops. In ordination to the episcopate, the bishop is entrusted with the responsibility to confess the faith of St Peter, of whom he is a successor, but it is not guaranteed that he will confess that faith. Instead, it is proper to say that the charism of infallibility resides in the Holy Fathers.

    A Holy Father (or Mother) is a Christian who has walked the narrow path set forth by Christ our Lord. That is to say, they are indwelt by the Spirit of God, poured out on all Orthodox through Chrismation, but nurtured in a particular way in the Holy Fathers. Because they are in communion with God through Christ in the Spirit, the Spirit drives their actions. The good works that they do are by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we are to take these thoughts to their logical conclusion, it is likewise true that the faith they teach is by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is the consensus patrum (consensus of the Fathers) that an Orthodox Christian must look to to. This is why St Vincent of Lerins taught that the standard of faith was universality, antiquity, and consent. In these criteria we can properly discern the Truth revealed to us by the Holy Fathers, who possess, in a unique manner, the charism of Truth.
    The error of Roman Catholicism is separating the charism of infallibility from the work of the Spirit in salvation.

    This is all well and good, but here I am looking for something which would separate the Orthodox from (say) the Mormon in terms of the chrismation and nurturing. A group like the Mormon council of 70 elders I can see making the same claim (though not using the same terms).

    Appeals to universality, antiquity, and consent are on better epistemic grounds, for they lay a burden on dissenters to explain their dissent. Even so, one would of course be obliged to demonstrate the universality, antiquity, and consent awarded to/designated of any particular truth claim -- which means we are back once again to a basis for authority which does not rely on any inspired person or body, but rather on epistemic tests for truth.

    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.

    Nobody ever appeals to their own charism or own personal authority, ever. To do so means that they have fallen into spiritual pride and delusion. We rely on the witness of the deified Saints who have been united to Christ and conformed to His Image by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells them. Because they are united to Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit an act and word, we trust the consensus of the Saints as the authentic testimony to the truth of the gospel.

    So indeed, I would suppose Geisler would be considered as aberrant among the Orthodox as I would take him to be! But this leaves me at square one still in terms of suspicions. There is still a large hurdle to reckon with; still truth claims to be evaluated, and that of course is what this series is all about, from my perspective. That it is a group (and arguably, a dedicated and well-educated group) said to be inspired here, not one man, does make my burden for dissenting higher than it would be otherwise. But the claim of inspiration, while I can respect it, does not add to my burden at all.

    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.

    Tradition is the revelation that God has given to His people throughout history, and it is manifested through the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. So, the witness of Tradition is chiefly the Holy Scriptures, because the Apostles and Prophets received the fullness of doctrinal revelation. They are inspired because they experienced God in the Logos (whether disincarnate or incarnate) through the Holy Spirit. The Church confirms this revelation and explains it in new ways through its Saints, Liturgies, etc. ...

    This idea of a magisterial authority has led Roman Catholic apologists to attack the perpiscuity of Scripture to an extent which they should not. Scripture can be rightly interpreted. This is why I try to help Protestants rightly interpret it without any appeal to a source only I would accept. Then, when they see that the Scriptural exegesis leads to Orthodoxy, they accept the authority of our Living Tradition because it has preserved this accurate exegesis so faithfully. We may cite Holy Scripture to refute heretics, and this is quite productive. To be frank, however, not everybody is cut out for depth exegesis. The practical flaw of the Protestant view of Scripture is that every person must do a depth, doctrinal study of the entire Bible in order to even figure out what they believe. 

    For Orthodox Christians, the Bible can be read and understood by a non-Orthodox without appealing to the authority of the Orthodox Church, but this is a long endeavor, and life is short.

    Well, if anyone is cut out for this, and anyone has the time -- I do! Of course I understand that most people end up simply following what they are taught -- that is how it is with so many believers. But we have a problem keeping to that today: Easy access to information (and misinformation) has made it far, far harder for people to stay stuck to what they were taught at first to believe.

    Sadly, it has come to the point that everyone -- not just Protestants -- will need to do depth study to preserve what they believe; either that, or hide down a hole and never interact with anyone else.

    This of course is part of my urgency in creating new materials (as on my YouTube channel) to communicate truths that years ago would have merely been the province of scholars. A Robert Ingersoll who roams the land on a horse has far less of a chance to unseat the beliefs of vast numbers of people than an Ingersoll who has the Internet at his disposal. The authoritarian models simply will not work in much of the West any more. (It will still work in certain parts of the world where Orthodoxy - and other movements, of course -- remain strong.)

    In short, I'm in agreement that scholarship is useful and does provide a light on the Holy Scripture. I will interact with anyone who claims that it refutes any of the Church's doctrine, because I think when applied correctly, it confirms it.

    That of course would be an ideal place to be in.

    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)

    Romanides was being a bit too idealistic about the Orthodox life there. What he's talking about is spiritual father, where one places oneself under the obedience of a guide who will help instruct you on how to fight various sins and attain union with Jesus Christ. However, it is very rare that such a person will be in a level of deification that displays supernatural manifestations, though perhaps not as rare as we would think. The "charism" he was referring to was not a special gift of prophecy, but simply the charism of being in union with God through Christ. By "discernment of spirits", he meant one who is experienced in the Christian life and has the capacity to guide another in it. I think Romanides allowed for a lot of misinterpretation of what he was saying there, and I would rewrite it if I could.

    I have no comment here, as this next was my more critical point:

    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).

    Actually, as one who has been Orthodox for a few years now...I think you may just be surprised. Miracles are very, very common, and I'm saying this having witnessed a few of them myself. Look up Saint John Maximovitch. He reposed in 1967, and is known as "Saint John the Wonderworker." Thousands of people who experienced his miracles are still alive. He foretold the date of his death, and this has been reported by many, many people. And he made every effort to hide his own holiness (to avoid temptation to pride.) He is nothing like the disgusting Pentecostal and Charismatic shows where they try to flaunt their own spiritual gifts. He was extraordinarily humble. I have a special devotion to him.

    Ironically, my answer to this is different than it would have been just a month or so ago. The difference: Having now read Keener's volume Miracles, Romanides' indication that miracles are lacking outside EO has become...rather strained. As I have noted in a review, Keener does not document as well as I'd like for all he says. However, his reports are that the designated church as a whole -- with no respect for denominational lines -- remains experiencing miracles to this day. They are not everyday occurrences, to be sure, but Keener's careful analysis and reports -- the bulk of which don't rely on miracles by Pentecostal or Charismatic showmen (thank heaven, Benny Hinn is not even mentioned!) -- belie Romanides' claim and increase the burden of proof he would have substantially.

    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.

    Here I simply have to disagree and say that you are objectively wrong. :P I know this may sound a bit too presumptive, but there is an objective grace that exists in the services of the Church that is not dependent on how much one feels cut out for it or not. Many people enter the Church because they believe it's true, but they dislike the Liturgy. Within a few years, if they live the life of the Church, they can't live without it, not because it entertains them, but because it is filled with Divine Grace. One thing I've discovered as I've lived the life of the Church is that many things I assumed would be worthless for me have turned out to be anything but.

    While the :P indicates a certain jest I can appreciate, whether such grace exists and is objective is the very thing I'd most seriously question. There are a multiplicity of religious traditions which speak of experiencing "grace," and they deem it as objective as anyone else. This is not to say that any in particular are or are not authentic, but with such experiences across the landscape, and people giving testimonies that are mirror images of this one for their own practices, I will need much, much more than anecdotal assurances. I will also need good reason to think such experiences are not psychologically self-fulfilling prophecies.

    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.

    Could you go further with this? What rituals do you think are not useful beyond those two?

    Here I had in mind mainly scheduled fasting and prayer rituals. However, anything apart from the Eucharist and baptism is likely to be in this category too, regardless of what group offers it. (Southern Baptists for example have their Wednesday suppers -- trivial by comparison, but still a fixed ritual of sorts.)

    We now move beyond my article to some issues covered in emails with my correspondent. The first had to do with certain practices involving fasting and prayer, of which I asked whether these were shown to be required of all:

    That's fine, but is this given as prescriptive or descriptive? IOW is there anything that specifically says, 'This is something everyone ought to do'?

    The context indicates that it is prescriptive. Immediately preceding the section on fasting there is an instruction on exactly how to baptize (obviously prescriptive), followed by the section on how to fast and pray:

    8:1 And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; 8:2 but do ye keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation (the sixth) day. 8:3 Neither pray ye {as the hypocrites,} but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, {thus pray ye. 8:4 Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; 8:5 Thy kingdom come; 8:6 Thy will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth; 8:7 give us this day our daily bread; 8:8 and forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors; 8:9 and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one;} 8:10 for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever. 8:11 Three times in the day pray ye so. So, the whole section is about prescriptions. This is how you baptize, this is how you fast, this is how you pray, etc.

    This is a partial answer; I am satisfied that there are prescriptive instructions for certain ceremonies. But this is only part of what is sought: I am also asking if there is anything that prescribes these things as enduring through time and space, extending to the entirely of the ekklesia. In other words, was this author expecting that Christians e.g., 750 years hence and living in Japan MUST observe the same rituals (pray three times a day, fast the 4th and 6th)? And if this is so, is there any reason to think this author had the authority (or someone else did) to make this declaration?

    We had some discussion over observance of the Eucharist, and as I have little dispute with this being a prescribed ritual, and of prayers being associated with it particularly, I will not present that here. My correspondent asked me what I thought of "the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist". It is a matter I'd wish to look into, but it would neither make or break my perceptions of choices. I was asked of this once by a Catholic correspondent and my answer then is the same as now: I don't see any real reason to accept or reject it; I also don't see that it adds to (or subtracts from) the life of the disciple of Christ.

    I'm willing to admit things like tradition into the database; though of course I also subject it to the same critical scrutiny as anything else.

    One of the big arguments I'd make for the necessity of Tradition is the fact that the very canon of Scripture comes out of it. As the canon is not listed in the pages of the New Testament, one must look elsewhere for it. The canon was worked out like all Orthodox doctrine is- in the life of the Church throughout history. Significantly, by the time we have the twenty-seven book New Testament canon, we indisputably have Priesthood, veneration of Saints and relics, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and Orthodox doctrine all around. Do you accept that the Holy Spirit inspired the Church to know the correct canon?

    I have in fact said in my article on the canon:

    However, if we believe in the inspiration of the Bible, then it is also reasonable to assume God's hand in the matter of the compilation of the canon. Although skeptical of many traditional positions on the canon, McDonald rightly perceives that "(t)hose who would argue for the inerrancy of scripture logically should also claim the same infallibility for the churches of the fourth and fifth centuries, whose decisions and historical circumstances have left us with our present Bible." [MacD.FormCB, 255]

    One cannot sensibly argue that God inspired certain books of the Bible and then allowed us to mix in books with it that were not inspired. It was either all inspired at its origination, or none of it at all, other than at a basic human level of inspiration - and though, thanks to transcription errors and the like, we have some chaff mixed in with the wheat at present, the ambiguity that is reality at the textual variant level does NOT affect our position on the canon level.

    That said, I have also remarked that I see the canon as more a convenience than anything else. It is a collection of that which is 1) true and 2) relevant to Christian life. This does not mean that true or relevant things cannot be found outside the canon. And for that reason, I simply don't see the "Necessity" of tradition in this regard either. Indeed in my view, if candidate books were collected by a Martian, and they were provided with all the necessary information, I can hardly see how their canon would significantly vary from the one we have now. Perhaps they'd leave out some of the less utilitarian books like 2-3 John, for example, but it is hard to see how most of the others would be left out.

    Beyond that, I would consider it a non sequitur to draw any conclusions about such things as veneration, relics, etc. based on the chronological correspondence of those things with the canon.

    Yes, it's something admissible within the paradigm IMO. Even so, I'm going to insist on validation for any claims of continuous inspiration.

    By what criteria do you accept Scripture as inspired? By what criteria would you judge continuous inspiration? Remember that we aren't claiming continuous doctrinal revelation. We are claiming that the Holy Spirit worked to ensure that the doctrine which was once for all revealed to the saints remained incorrupt.

    As a matter of fact, I have not bothered with working out criteria for inspiration, because I find truth to be a more critical test. So when I ask for validation of inspiration, what I mean is I want validation of accuracy -- and if that works out, then inspiration is icing on the cake. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there are enough groups claiming to be working with the Spirit for their heads to fill Noah's Ark. Many also claim the Spirit wasn't behind other movements. Of course, to the degree of extravagance this is said (e.g., Mormons say the church was dead for thousands of years!) the burden becomes harder to fulfill. But it remains a burden, even an easy one (with also a lighter yoke).

    As for books...I am frustrated to no end with the lack of Orthodox apologetics beyond the surface level! I don't want to send you surface level crap. I'd recommend: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky. Not exactly apologetics but bases much of what it writes on the Holy Scriptures which are regularly cited.

    It's on order for next time!