Friday, September 25, 2015

The Paul Fan Club: Craig Winn, Part 4


From the July 2012 E-Block.

**

We shall now close with the final four chapters of Winn's tendentious reworking of Pauline theology, which, as before, consists of over a hundred pages that contain substance amounting to less than one page. 

Chapter 9 promises to reveal, after much drama, "the most vulgar words ever spoken in the name of God." First though, Winn must enter into inarticulate nitpicking with such comments as this by him on Gal 4:21:

If Paul were writing for God, he would not have said "speak to me." Nor would he have begun by saying: "the Law cannot hear." He would have written "Listen to Yahweh." More importantly, he would have told his audience that they can hear God’s voice by reading the Torah. The purpose of Yahweh’s Word isn’t to "hear us," but instead, the Torah exists so that we can listen to God. Paul has this all wrong.

Why is this the case, other than that Winn says so? Winn fails to enlighten us. Rather, this is simply another example of how Winn creates his own artificial idea of what constitutes holiness, and then rails against Paul for not meeting his idea. There is, in fact, not a thing wrong with "speak to me," (or "tell me," as alternatively rendered), especially when the point is that Paul is challenging with a question. Saying, "listen to Yahweh", therefore really doesn't aid in such a purpose.

On "the Law cannot hear," this is merely Winn's tendentious reworking of what real scholars, like Witherington, render as "do you not hear the Law?" How ironic that Winn here accuses Paul of "deplorable writing quality," and calls Paul "childish" for this remark, when it is his own incompetence as a translator that is the problem. Even more outlandishly, a non-expert in these matters yet again accuses the professional translators of trying to cover up the true translation to make Paul look good.

Egregious nitpicking continues as Winn remarks on Gal. 4:22:

In actuality it is not "written that Abraham had two sons," because from Yahweh’s perspective Abraham only had one son. That is why God asked Abraham in Genesis 22:2 to "take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitschaq, and go to the land of Mowriyah..."

It is hard to believe Winn is serious here. Despite all of this, is he denying that Ishmael was Abraham's biological son? What about the fact that even the OT calls Ishmael his son (Gen. 16:11, 15; 17:23, 25, 26; 25:9 -- named with Isaac as his "sons"! -- 25:12)? Topping absurdity on absurdity, Winn further declares that Paul should only have mentioned Ishmael if he wanted to illustrate that "Ishmael was expressly excluded from the Covenant and demonstrably banished from the Promised Land." Actually, this is the message, as intelligent and informed readers would understand by Hagar's position in the analogy, but then again, since Winn holds to the absurd notion of the new covenant as a continuation of the old, this would not occur to him. Indeed, his assumption on this point becomes a basis for further misplaced criticism.

So, after some time…we finally get to where Winn presents the alleged “Most Vulgar Words,” which he says caused him paralysis over his computer keyboard. But spare the drum roll: it is only Gal 4:24, where Paul explicitly says that there are two covenants, the former of which, Paul says, involves persons now in bondage because they have rejected the new one. Actually then, there is really nothing new here for us to address even though Winn does turn on the waterworks for a few paragraphs, and even manages to threaten those who accept Paul's words with eternal annihilation. In the end, it is merely old news that we have covered in earlier installments. The one "new" point we might note is that Winn somehow thinks it relevant that the word "covenant" is never rendered in the plural -- a triviality that proves absolutely nothing, in as much as all it tells us is that there was no prior context within which a plural was useful.

Winn hereafter engages an extended excursus on Sinai geography, which is useless enough that it need not detain us here. He then merely repeats himself expressing the erroneous idea that the covenant is a singular, and repeating at times arguments that we have already dealt with in earlier installments (such as the use of 'olam, and Matt. 5:17-19).

There is a striking irony in Winn's attempt to use Ps. 19 to argue against Paul. Paul had argued that no one is justified by the Law, not because of any fault in the Law, but because no one, practically speaking, meets its perfect standards. Winn petulantly replies by noting Ps. 19, which he reads as saying that such justification is possible. This is wrongheaded in two ways; namely, that it is absurd to use a psalm -- an item of poetry, subject to such literary practices as exhortation like hyperbole -- to correct a literal realism; and second, which escapes Winn dramatically, is that David -- the author of this Psalm -- was living proof of just how impossible it was to be justified by the Law.

Winn also offers yet another skein of assumptions based on word structure as he lays into Paul for using the Greek word systoicheo. He lists several words with allegedly unpleasant connotations, but the time he wasted making this list should have been spent looking more closely at the actual word. The first part, the sy- prefix, is connected to a common word meaning “in union with” which is used as many times in the NT as you would expect such a word to be used (over 100 times). That means even Jesus is in on the bad influence because he used part of this naughty word. The second part, stoicheo, comes from a word that simply means to walk in an orderly line.

The words Winn digs up all start with the sy- prefix, and as you may expect, one may be “in union with” either good or bad things. Winn chooses only words with a “bad” connotation, ignoring or twisting with spin those with good connotations (e.g., systatikos, commendation, he twists to mean “introduce a new concept”; syssōmos, “belonging to the same body,” he ignores; systratiōtēs “fellow worker/laborer,” he also ignores; systrepho, which means to twist together in a bundle, he misreports as “to twist something so as to alter its intended meaning or purpose").

After this, little can be extracted that is new. Winn strains Paul's comments about Sarah overboard to the point that he thinks Paul treats Sarah after the manner of a Virgin Mary and is trying to see her as the fulfillment of OT passages about the Holy Spirit. In this Winn simply vastly over literalizes obvious (and clearly labeled) allegory. Further on, the following bit of insanity is worthy of note:

To affirm the Christian affinity for "the Lord," all you have to do is open your favorite "Bible." No matter the translation, you will find Yahuweh’s name replaced by Satan’s (a.k.a. Ba’al’s) title, "the Lord," 7,000 times.)

Really? So Satan deserves the titular crown of "Lord" but God does not? It escapes Winn that "lord" is a functional title, of one who exercises lordship. If I were Winn, I might suggest that the person writing this is a tool of Satan who is denying that God has mastery and lordship over creation, which is actually held by Satan. But I suspect the irony would bypass such a person.

Chapter 9 continues in this vein for some time, with nothing new emerging from it as Winn merely repeats the same errors multiple ways, and closes with Winn yet again having the audacity to condemn a series of sources -- some of them scholarly -- as though it were he who were the expert. He goes as far as to even refer to some of them as "anti-Semities" because they do not buy into his ridiculous ideas of a single covenant. Not surprisingly, Tekton material isn't one of the sources he managed to find.

Chapter 10

Winn now begins his root canal on his version of Galatians 5, and what is new to find is scarce. Here is what is left that is not merely variations on the same prior themes.

We have previously noted that Winn cannot even be consistent on whether a person must be circumcised to be saved. Ch. 10 weighs on the "must be" side of his tongue, as he offers to "ponder Yahweh’s express position on Gentile circumcision." What Winn finds is Ezekiel 44:5-9, which condemns Israel for allowing uncircumcised persons into the Temple, but which has absolutely nothing to say about it being required for the salvation of Gentiles on an all-time basis, save under Winn's use of tortuous exegetical disco which turns two covenants into one -- as well as by illicitly expanding the "Temple" to mean God's covenant community for all time.

Winn also goes ballistic over Paul's expression stating that he wishes those troubling the Galatians would emasculate themselves, in part because he takes it with utter literalism, but also because his understanding of ancient rhetoric is negligible. Moreover, he apparently missed passages in the Old Testament like Malachi 2:3 which speak of dung being wiped on people’s faces.

Somehow, Winn gets the notion that, "Paul simply wants Christians to abstain from sex." However, he reaches this conclusion mainly by having the sort of prudish mindset in interpreting Paul that he accuses Paul of having.
Getting fairly nitpicky, Winn has a few comments about Paul's list of vices to avoid:

Fourth, Paul’s Galatian epistle, second only to the Qur’an, is among the most "eris – quarrelsome and divisive" texts ever written. So if "arguing" is wrong, so is Paul. Similarly, dichostasia, translated "discord," but meaning "division and dissension," describes Paul’s letter—a document which disagrees with everyone including the Galatians, the Disciple Peter, and God.

Ironically, Winn's error is much the same as that of Richard Carrier, who reads it as "debate"! As we replied:

Fifth, zelos is most often used in a positive sense. It defines the "fervor of spirit and attitude" Yahshua desired, but found lacking in the Laodicean Assembly—the very people who lacked the Spirit. Zelos speaks of "pursuing a mission with great passion and fervor and to warmly embracing a loved one." So, since Yahshua considers zelos to be a good thing, methinks Paul was adlibbing here.

No, Winn is merely a poor scholar. He admits that there is a negative sense of zelos, and so there is, one that means quick temper of anger (Acts 5:17, 13:45; Heb. 10:27, Josephus Ant. 15.82, per Witherington, 400). Winn is merely arbitrarily choosing the positive connotation out of hatred for Paul -- never mind that the context is a list of vices!

This absurdity deserves a comment:

..the primary meaning of eritheia, translated "selfish ambitions," is "electioneering—the process of running for an elective political office." So by using it, Paul is demonstrating his hostility to representative government and democracy.

While this was indeed the meaning of the word in its classic origins (Witherington sources that meaning in Aristotle), by Paul's time the negative connotation existed also -- and it would be rather difficult for Paul to "demonstrate hostility" to a form of government that was not extant at the time of his writing. People of this era primarily sought offices through patronage and favor, not by running for office seeking the popular vote.

And seventh, hairesis literally means "choice." It defines the act of "choosing" and is thus foundational to "freewill." Based upon haireomai, it means "to select for oneself, to prefer, to choose, to vote, and to elect." From Yahweh’s perspective, freewill is unassailable.

Winn's error is the same as Dan Brown's in The DaVinci Code; namely, failing to recognize the negative connotation of this word that was regularly used as well.

Komos, translated "public partying," is a problem for another reason. It actually describes "a festive assembly featuring feasting and merrymaking," and is thus synonymous with the Hebrew word chag, describing the nature of Yahweh’s Called-Out Assemblies: "Festival Feasts." Paul may be a kill joy, but God likes to party.

In Paul’s defense, komos was associated with the festival honoring Bacchus, the counterfeit Messiah whose annual winter celebration was renamed "Christmas." But, as with most of what Paul has to say, his lack of specificity is his curse.

In reality, this is yet another case of Winn being tendentious.

Chapter 11

Winn now moves to Galatians 6, and there is again little new. Near the start, paranoia reigns supreme:

The problems begin with "prolambano – may have previously detected or caught." This is very similar to the Qur’an asking Muslim children to spy on their parents and turn them in to the authorities if they suspect them of rejecting any of Muhammad’s orders or teachings. It was how most everyone in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany were controlled. It was the spirit behind the Salem Witch Trials in America. And it is how professors, politicians, priests, preachers, and media spokespeople are compelled to walk a conforming path today. It is the operating mechanism behind Political Correctness.

It is also the normal way in which behavior was controlled in a collectivist society like the NT world -- though without the military and government enforcement of a Muhammad, Hitler, or Stalin. All of it was person to person. Here again, Winn's ignorance of the contexts causes him to create a tendentious reading. So likewise here, on Gal. 6:4-5:

But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.
The last two verses are at cross purposes with each other. One says that if someone presumes that they are important, then they are deceiving themselves. But then he says that we should examine everything we have done so that we can boast and glorify ourselves.

What fails Winn here is that in the agnostic world of the NT, there was a certain proper level of "boasting" that one was expected to do -- saying neither too much nor too little of one's self, but telling the truth. Thus, Winn is far out of line to accuse Paul of duplicity, and far out of context to follow this up with a sermonette against it.

Perhaps the biggest shock of all -- Winn actually falls for the horrifying "Galatians burdens" contradiction allegation (Gal. 6:2 vs 6:5). This is one of most misinformed charges of contradiction from the Bible, and that Winn falls for it -- the sort of thing only "fundy atheists" fall for -- speaks volumes for his lack of competence. He adds to the error by pitting Is. 53:6 against both verses:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Winn reads this to mean, "Yahweh has already removed the burdens of all those who have availed themselves of Yahweh’s gift," but it is outlandish to apply this as though it meant all literal "burdens" -- such as poverty, hunger, or personal troubles -- have been erased! Galatians has nothing to do with "forgiveness," as Winn thinks: It has to do with the communal sharing of trial and subsistence. At the same time, he is being tendentious to read “iniquity” in terms of the sort of burdens Paul refers to.

One cannot but see irony in this:

It says that "those who are taught the word of God" which is code for "Evangelical Christians," "should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them," which is code for "pay your pastor a generous salary and provide him with a nice house and a munificent living allowance." Not surprisingly, the authors of the NLT were money-grubbing preachers.

Given Winn's record as a businessman, the scent of hypocrisy is hard to ignore!
Nitpickery is offered regarding Paul's reference to sowing the Spirit:

And while it is a technical point, we don’t "sow the Spirit." We can sow the seeds of truth by conveying Yahweh’s Word, and we can invite the Ruwach Qodesh into our own lives and receive Her, but that is all we can do. The notion of "sowing to the Spirit" isn’t sound literally, operationally, metaphorically, allegorically, or Scripturally.

Why not, other than that Winn is looking for a complaint? Sowing as a metaphor means to invest in and cause to be furthered (grow). In this case, Paul uses Spirit as an antithesis to flesh, a broad reference to world interests. "Spirit" thus becomes, by parallel, broadly a reference to the interests of God.

Turning from Paul briefly, we learn something interesting about Winn's Christology -- he is a sort of docetist, and therefore a heretic:

... Yahweh’s Spirit left Yahshua’s body and His soul on the upright pole so that His physical body could die and so that His soul could descend into She’owl for the express purpose of enabling the promises of Pesach and Matsah.

It is hard to say exactly how bad this is, since Biblical anthropology has soul = spirit + body, and Winn seems to conflate soul and spirit as though they were of similar nature. He recommends that the reader consult his earlier book, and perhaps we will be so masochistic as to do so later.

Paul closes Galatians by remarking (6:11) with what large letters he writes. So obsessed is Winn that he cannot even leave this alone:

To begin, Paul wrote "elikois – as old as and as tall as," not "pelikois – how large and how great." Elikos is from elix, "a comrade of the same age, height, and status," and thus elikos is said to mean "as great as," in addition to "as old and tall."

Winn is badly out of touch here, as usual. As Witherington reports, elikos is merely a "classical form" of pelikos; "the meaning is the same." [440] Thus, Winn's conclusions from his erroneous assumption are disposable. The next absurdity: Winn reads Gal. 6:17 as Paul saying that he has a tattoo! Real scholars relate this more frequently to scars Paul received during persecution, but Winn merely uses his own hatred to dismiss Paul's reports of being persecuted as non-credible.

And, closing Galatians, Winn also closes with the absurdity that "Amen" refers to the Egyptian deity Amun; sadly, he not only spells Amun wrong (with an E!), he also shows his incorrigible ignorance of the very Hebrew culture he claims to care for, as we have written:

Some argue that the word "Amen" (first used in Numbers 5:22, and thereafter a lot in Deuteronomy, and on up into the NT) was somehow derived from the Egyptian god Amun-Re, with the implication that in using the word we are thanking a pagan god. Here's a corrective for that idea from Marvin Wilson's Our Father Abraham [182ff]. The word "amen" is part of a family of Hebrew words stemming from the verb aman, to believe or trust. (Gen. 15:6, "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.") Other related words are emunah, "faithfulness" or "steadfastness" and emet or "truth."

Looks like the Torah, by Winn's reasoning, is paying tribute to a pagan deity also! “Amen” is also used throughout the NT by writers Winn approves of (Peter, John, even Jesus!) so apparently they’re all corrupt as well But he has an excuse for the OT usage too, albeit not very coherent:

And lastly, when transliterated and capitalized, rather than translated, "Amen" is the name of a pagan god—the sun god of Egypt. Had the Greek transliteration (amane) of the Hebrew word (‘amein – pronounced aw•mane) been translated "trustworthy and reliable," then the pagan association would have been eliminated. But alas, it was deified.

So now, apparently, Paul is to be held responsible for choices made by English translators 2000 years later!

Chapter 12

There is little new in this particular rant; having assumed to have proved Paul guilty, Winn proceeds to judge Paul by the standards of Deuteronomy 18 and Matthew 24. He then diverts into questions regarding the other letters of Paul (which he allows as having "some" "encouraging" material), and implicitly promises more volumes on those letters later (I can't wait...can you?). Another extended (and extended, and extended) diversion discusses the suggestion that maybe Paul did not write Galatians (which Winn, and we, reject). An enormous portion of the chapter is devoted to a "highlight reel" of Winn's arguments over previous chapters, or to extended quotations of Scriptural warnings against error that Winn assumes to have proven Paul to be qualified to fulfill.

Then Winn embarks on incoherent speculations concerning Paul's motives. His analysis proposes that Paul was an insecure, egotistical person seeking attention. Such analysis fails from the start as having no connection to personality models available in an honor-based society. He also manages to propose that Paul was a failed rabbinical student who never knew a mother's love and struggled with homosexuality, but this of course never gets beyond hateful fantasy or into the realm of real evidence. Winn, of course, also proposes that Satan deceived Paul -- no unscholarly conspiracy theory could be complete without Old Scratch blacking out the light!

Winn arrogantly concludes with warnings and pomposity of this order:

If you are still a Christian, and are clinging to the notion that Paul spoke for God as opposed to Satan, and that his epistles are Scripture, you are now without excuse. The foundation of your religion has been torn asunder...If you are unwilling to do these things, appreciate the consequence. The souls of those who continue to believe Paul and reject God will cease to exist at the end of their mortal lives. And for those who promote Pauline Doctrine, which is essentially the religion of Christianity, you have made yourself God’s enemy, and as a result your soul will endure eternal separation from Yahweh in the Abyss. Don’t say that you were not warned.

Indeed! We may rather speak here of the calculated arrogance and indifference of a corrupt, failed businessman who presumes to know Greek better than credentialed scholars; who makes outlandish claims of the sort fundy atheists would offer; who creates tendentious twists whenever evidence fails him, and who sees the need to spray warnings of hell and damnation liberally about his text. Winn represents well all that is wrong with the modern church, and it is sorrowful to realize that he has deceived anyone at all -- but he could not have done so but for the widespread ignorance the church has unwittingly fostered. Winn is another example of our bills come due.

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