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)

    1. I've been wondering about the historicity of john the apostle since it is said that he lived to see the heretic cerinthus (100 ad).

    2. Living to 90 was rare, but it happened. That doesn't mean much.

      Say...any reason you can't email me with these? It's kind of a pain to log in and out. :P