Friday, January 29, 2016


From the December 2012 E-Block.


Forgery and Counterforgery (hereafter CF) is presented as the scholarly version of Bart Ehrman's Forged. Because we previously addressed Forged, our reply to CF will initially check what we reported there and compare it to what is found in CF. 

Only about a third of CF is relevant to our purposes; namely, the parts which address the NT books Ehrman disputes. The rest is not of interest to us, but this 
does not mean we think it is sound and above criticism.

2 Thessalonians

The first issue to cover is the range of scholars who say 2 Thessalonians is authentic. We had quoted Witherington:

Here is where I say ‘caveat emptor’—let the buyer beware when Bart begins to make sweeping claims like “Second Thessalonians… is itself widely thought by scholars not to be by Paul” (p. 19). I phoned Bart on this very point, when we were debating at New Orleans Baptist Seminary last month. I pointed out that if one does the head count of what the majority of commentators say about 2 Thessalonians (even if restricting one’s self to so-called critical commentators), they believe Paul is responsible for 2 Thessalonians.

Bart’s rebuttal was that he was not counting conservative or orthodox commentators. My response to that was that, in fact, he was ruling out the majority of Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and at this point, also Jewish scholars. In other words, his ‘canon’ of critical scholars is small, a distinct minority of the total number of NT scholars around the world, with whom he has chosen to agree. My point here is, don’t believe such claims as ‘widely believed’ or ‘the majority of good scholars’ without first doing the math. In fact, Bart’s math does not add up. Thus,d while it is true that often forgers throw people off their trail by warning about forgery in their own forged documents, in fact, there were plenty of genuine warnings of this sort by authors like Galen, who were really upset with people writing documents in their own name. Galen even published a list of his authentic writings to make forgeries clear. As it turns out, many ancients were very concerned about the dangers of forgery, and Paul was one of them.

Ehrman in CF comes back to this issue, but he fails to overcome or even address Witherington's reply. Instead, Ehrman resorts to a shallow ad hominem, saying that even if it is true that the majority of scholars think 2 Thessalonians is authentic, "it is simply because a sizable plurality of biblical scholars (counting broadly) hold theological views that make the presence of literary forgeries in the canon of scripture untenable on principle. Among scholars with no such scruples, the balance swings in the opposite direction, and for compelling reasons." [157]

To begin, it is ironic that Ehrman cites lack of "scruples" as a deciding factor, given the arrogant and unscrupulous nature of this accusation. Second, even if his evidence is "compelling" (we will see it is not), he is still giving a broad range of scholars an insulting short shrift. It is just as easy to say that it is the lack of scruples held by Ehrman and others that causes them to see their evidence as poor and that of other scholars as compelling. Finally, Ehrman here sounds little more authoritative than a fundamentalist preacher who says people won't accept the truth because they are evil sinners on the way to hell. Once again, Ehrman returns to his fundamentalist roots.

In terms of the arguments, we noted the following used by Ehrman in Forged: Appeal to an alleged failed eschatology, which is moot under my orthodox (partial) preterist views, and alleged problems in 2 Thess. 2:5 and 3:17. The appeal to eschatology makes a major appearance again, but as before, Ehrman's assumptions are rooted in a different eschatological scheme, one that appears to derive from his former belief in a form of dispensationalism. So, we need add nothing new there. The argument re 2:5 is used again, briefly, but is not changed, so we also need not add anything. 3:17 is used again, but differently, as this time, Ehrman only addresses those who say it is a sign of authenticity, which is not an argument I would particularly use.

Ehrman now expands his arguments in CF, and focuses some attention on the relationship to 1 Thessalonians. I should note that he gives short shrift (again - see below) to the role of scribes, so that one obvious answer to some of his issues, namely, that Paul did not pen the letters himself, does not even occur to him. It should have, since both 1 and 2 Thessalonians name Paul, Silas and Timothy as being behind the epistle, meaning that Ehrman needs to consider one or all of these as potential authors; however, this is not like the cases he objects to, where another person writes wholly on behalf of another, but a case where named person(s) are credited as authors, not scribes. If Silas or Timothy were the penmen for both epistles, then every one of Ehrman's style/content arguments are immediately refuted.

For the sake of argument, however, we will now consider Ehrman's arguments, under the assumption that Paul alone is the penman of 1 Thessalonians.

Ehrman's initial contention is a rather perverse argument that similarities between 1 and 2 Thes prove that 2 Thes is forged. One would think that similarities actually point to the same author, but Ehrman suggests some twists and turns to argue the opposite.

The beginning and ending. Ehrman points out that these are virtually identical in the two epistles. Here is 2 Thes 1:1 as an example:

Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

The two openings, Ehrman says, are "virtually the same". The obvious answer is: Yes, so what? As readers who write to me will attest, for the past 12 years I have used the same opening ("Howdy") for my emails, and the same closing ("God bless, JP"), with almost no variations. Once in a while, I may use a different greeting if, for example, I think a reader may not be comfortable with an American colloquialism (say, if they are from Africa), or I may switch to "G'day" for Australian readers. In closings, I may add a "thank you" if the person has done me a favor, but 99.5% of my email start and end the same way. It apparently does not occur to Ehrman that the beginning and ending of a letter is exactly the place where a person is likely to adopt and stick to a certain pattern, especially when writing to the same person or persons.

Beyond this, Ehrman makes much of the fact that only in these two letters does Paul not identify himself as an "apostle" or "slave," and that only in these letters is the church named as being "of" a place rather than "in" a place. How Ehrman thinks this helps him is hard to say. By his own reckoning, Paul did these things in 1 Thes, so why is forgery a better explanation than there being some circumstance that led the author of both epistles to write this way? If Paul neglects to cite a self-title in one letter, there is no reason he might not neglect to do so in another; the perversity of Ehrman's arguments here would make it so that, if Paul did not perform this sort of self-reference in Galatians, but did so in 2 Thes, Galatians does not lose any Pauline credit, and 2 Thes gains it.

To make the perversity of Ehrman's argument even more clear, by his own reckoning, there is at least a 1 in 6 chance that Paul will fail to perform such a self-reference in any given letter to a church (Philemon is excluded as personal; and Paul calls himself there a "prisoner"). That means that if Paul wrote at least 12 letters, there ought to be at least 2 where he did not perform a self-referent. I doubt if Ehrman will deny that Paul wrote letters to churches that did not make the canon. So, 2 Thes already had a demonstrable 1 in 6 chance of missing a self-referent -- assuming the lack is merely a random phenomenon of Paul's writing, and not because of some contingency associated with writing to or from the Thessalonians in particular.

In this particular case, a couple of potential contingencies exist. One is that if either Silas or Timothy penned these epistles, then it rather makes sense that Paul would not self-identify as a "slave" or "apostle" -- he's not holding the pen! Another is that Paul's purpose in citing his rank as "slave" or "apostle" is often taken to serve the purpose of affirming his position in Christ where questions may have been raised against it, perhaps because he was a latecomer to the game. In that case, the obvious retort is that the Thessalonians in particular never questioned Paul's honor status -- or else the question had long been settled for them.

As for the "in/of" distinction, this is too much made of too little. Saying a church is "of" a place is not uncommon. In Revelation 2, the same author (even if Ehrman does not think it is John) varies considerably within seven entries: "angel [of] the Ephesian church," "angel [of] the church [of] Smyrna," "angel [of] the Pergamos church," "angel [of] the in Thyatira church," "angel [of] the in Sardis church," "angel [of] the in Philadelphia church," "angel [of] the church Laodecia.” Is it that a big deal? No! Nor is Paul as uniform in epistles Ehrman finds to be genuine as he implies (here are the rest to churches, leaving out Philemon, and adding a Strong's reference number for some specific words):

Rom: "to all those being in (1722) Rome" (no "church")
1, 2 Cor: "to [the] church [of] God existing in (1722) Corinth" (strange -- Paul uses the same locational greeting for both; is that a sign of forgery?)
Gal: "to the churches [of] [the -- 3588] Galatia"
Phil: "to all the saints in Christ Jesus being in (1722) Philippi"

In this, Galatians is unique, but is closer to the greetings of 1-2 Thes than the four other epistles Ehrman counts as genuine (1-2 Ths lack "the" -- #3588). 

Why the variance? Does it really matter? No. As it is, we have such a small sample size for Paul's writings (whether we accept just the 7 Ehrman regards as genuine, or all 13) that it is ridiculous to draw any conclusions based on this, especially since a church would obviously be both "in" and "of" a city. Obviously, Paul is able to use the same locational greeting for two epistles to the same city (Corinth). So, Ehrman's argument is merely egregious nitpicking.

Unique Words and Phrases. Next, Ehrman cites a series of phrases unique to 1-2 Thes. I'll note again for the record that this disappears as a problem if Silas or Timothy did the writing, but even allowing for Paul to do so doesn't serve Ehrman's purposes.

Let's first give some examples from those offered by Ehrman:

work of faith (1Thes 1:3, 2 Thes 1:11)
which know not God (1 Thes 4:5, 2 Thes 1:8)
direct (1 Thes 3:11, 2 Thes 3:5)

The answer to all of those Ehrman gives is, quite frankly, "So what!" Statistically, even all of Ehrman's examples together result in something of virtually no statistical significance. Moreover, the same routine can be played with 1 and 2 Corinthians, which Ehrman takes as Pauline:

divided (Gk: merizo) (1 Cor 1:13, 7:17, 34; 2 Cor. 13). It is also found in Rom 12:3, but one of Ehrman's examples from Thes is also found in Phil 4:3, so he's clearly allowing himself some leeway.

wisdom Found numerous times in 1 Cor and 2 Cor 1:12. It is found plenty of times in Ephesians and Colossians, but since Ehrman rejects those as non-Pauline, by his own logic, this one must count.

mighty/strong Found a few times in 1 Cor, and in 2 Cor 10:10; otherwise not in the Pauline corpus.

testimony 1 Cor 1:6, 2:1; 2 Cor 2:12 -- also found in 2 Thes and the Pastorals, but since Ehrman does not regard those as genuine, they do not count.

trembling 1 Cor 2:3, 2 Cor 7:15; also found in Ephesians, which does not count, and once in Philippians, which is allowed by Ehrman's method.

That is just the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, and I selected likely words at random. Now, Ehrman claims there is no such phenomenon as this in 1 and 2 Corinthians, but he overstates his case in summary, claiming there are examples of "sequences of nine, ten or more words." The only example he gives of that length comes from the introduction and closings, which, as stated, is a special case; nearly all of his examples consist of one or two words. However, this is very easy to explain even so as it simply proves the person who forged 2 Corinthians was not as skilled as the one who forged 2 Thessalonians.

So, in the end, "So what" is all the answer needed; however, we can take that further by exposing the bankruptcy of Ehrman's methodology with some questions and points.
  • What if these words or phrases, like "work of faith" was simply language adopted or specially used by the Thessalonian church, part of its unique in-group language?
  • How can these usages be deemed significant unless it is shown that these words and phrases ought to have been used in other places in Paul’s writing as well?
  • Ehrman's greatest difficulty, however, is a lack of imagination. He asks if it is "likely that Paul remembered to the very word what he said at times in his earlier letter," including what Ehrman takes to be "off-the-cuff comments and expressions." The answer to that, despite what Ehrman thinks, is that yes, it is very likely Paul (or any author) remembered such things, and this would be the case even if Paul had not made a copy for his own records and reference. As an ancient writer in an aural society, Paul would have carefully crafted his work for aural presentation, such that it amounted to him rehearsing a speech. I myself find that I can remember substantial portions of speeches and talks I have rehearsed, certainly more than sufficiently to recall unique words and phrases.
    Ehrman neglects the simple point that in an oral-based society, the function of memory was critical, and it would have been no chore at all for the author (Paul or whoever) to bring to their recollection certain words and phrases from their prior epistle. Indeed, the examples Ehrman gives are in accord with the literary practice of mimesis (e.g., Tacitus using the same word (trunci) in different accounts, once to refer to the trunks of bodies, the other to refer to the trunks of trees). The practice of mimesis required authors to recover -- by memory -- words and phrases from older works and reuse them in new and creative ways. 

    Given that 1 Thes is exceedingly short by any standard, the real question is, how can Ehrman NOT think that Paul could remember such things? It is, actually, because Ehrman erroneously regards the composition as being "off the cuff", which is not an adequate description of the composition of ancient literature.

    Other correspondences cited by Ehrman are even weaker. He notes that both 1 and 2 Thes have sections on eschatology, but this is rather obviously because 2 Thes is a response to an eschatological crisis, no doubt related to issues Paul raised in 1 Thes! Both, he says, warn against idleness, but why does this not mean that idleness was a problem particularly for the Thessalonian church? It is said that only 1 and 2 Thes have two "thanksgivings" each, one at the start, and one in the body of the letter. However, in both cases, the one in the body amounts to a single verse -- and you can find Paul stopping to give thanks in the body of an epistle in Rom 7:25, 1 Cor 14;18, and Eph 5:20, and at the end at Rom 16:4.

    Syntax. Ehrman's next section becomes rather technical as he relies on obscure statistical claims made by Darryl Schmidt. Though it seems too simple, these may be dismissed at once as reliant on an inadequate sample size. 1 and 2 Thes, even together, fall short of the required 10,000 words demanded by Yule in order to provide a sufficient sample size.

    Beyond that, Ehrman gives away the store unwittingly with concessions tucked in where they will be least noticed. He admits that someone who is a trained rhetorician can more carefully craft a style consciously unlike what they do in other productions, but when Ehrman says, "no one can plausibly claim" that Paul was capable of such things, he does so with substantial disregard for the detailed evidence indicating Paul's skill as a rhetoric (…later, he says, "Paul was no professional rhetorician" [173], and while that is likely true, no one claims that anyway; it is claimed Paul was a proficient and competent rhetorician -- so that once again, reverting to a fundamentalist mentality, Ehrman errs with an "all or nothing" approach).

    Ehrman also notes that 2 Thes has a greater complexity of embedded clauses than any other Pauline letter, but he also admits that "it is not nearly as complex as that found in numerous other authors."

    The problem of such arguments remains the same: To dictate what an author's "style" is, one must draw a line around what is known to be that author's works. I have had a substantial literary output over the years, including literally thousands of articles. If you choose just 30 of those, you are very likely to reach certain decisions about my "style" that will automatically exclude other articles that really are mine. I also write with a consciously different style depending on who or what it is for. My articles for the Christian Research Journal are composed in one way, because I am familiar with certain preferences of the editors. One example is that CRJ editors prefer "he or she" references, whereas I am personally indifferent to such things and will use "they" or "he" in my own writing. And again, my style for the Forge blog is entirely different than what I use for my serious books like Defending the Resurrection.

    In the end, it speaks for itself that Ehrman must admit that style arguments are "constantly challenged on grounds related both to the statistics and the models," and so must be taken "in tandem" with his arguments about words and phrases. Once that admission is made, the jig, so to speak, is up. Unless a technique like Schmidt's is demonstrated on several "controls" it is essentially worthless. But let us show this further by looking at what Ehrman lists as prime examples.

    Concerning 2 Thes 1:3-12, Ehrman writes that it is "often pointed to as a long and complex sentence." He admits there are other sentences in Paul nearly as long (2 Cor 6:3-10, 11:24-31), but dismisses this because "these letters do not match the complexity of the sentences in 2 Thessalonians." He says:

    [Schmidt] takes the longest sentence in the opening thanksgiving section of each of the Pauline letters and measures how many embedded clauses there are and how many layers of embeddedness. The results are quite telling: in Romans there are five embedded clauses at three levels; 1 Corinthians: six clauses at four layers...

    Ehrman goes on up the scale, and ends by saying, "2 Thessalonians: a whopping twenty-two clauses to fifteen levels of embeddedness."

    Problems? There are more than a few. For one thing, it is an artificiality for Schmidt to restrict the sample to "opening thanksgiving sections." ALL of Paul's writings, not just thanksgiving sections, should be included.

    Second, there is an artificiality in defining 2 Thes 1:3-12 as a "thanksgiving section." Only v. 3 and perhaps 4 are actually a "thanks" -- the rest is praise, prayer and exhortation for the Thessalonians. From a rhetorical perspective, though, this opening fits the model of an exordium -- where the author/speaker worked to establish their credibility with their audience. Given the nature of the difficulty in 2 Thessalonians -- an eschatological crisis causing some to abandon their livelihoods, and in which Paul finds it necessary to correct the Thessalonians on a teaching which he thought was settled -- an extended exordium is hardly surprising.

    Third, though it is a point he has used himself in other contexts, Ehrman is forgetting something when he speaks of this passage in terms of a "long and complex sentence"; namely, that there is no punctuation in NT Greek, so that translators are using their own discretion in deciding where to parse sentences.
    In an article, "2 Thessalonians 1:3-10: A Study in Sentence Structure," Duane Dunham notes that translations show considerable variance in dividing this section (which here, excludes 11-12, which Ehrman includes). The KJV and ASV have one long sentence. The RSV and NASB have four. The NIV has 8. The largest number of sentences, from the TEV, is nine. For Ehrman to write of the "complexity of the sentences" as though it were a settled issue, and for Schmidt to base a study on the "longest sentence" in an opening thanksgiving, is to stack the deck for the case before ever actually making it.

    For further confirmation, I checked with Dr. Ron Fay, an expert in Koine Greek who also has a math degree, and who therefore is specially qualified to assess arguments like Schmidt's. The kindest thing Fay found to say was that the thesis was "pure balderdash." In addition to confirming my point about inadequate sample size, and that the whole case requires assumptions that certain letters like Ephesians are non-Pauline, Fay added that 1) "the longest sentence tells you nothing about the author or the style, it tells you about those to whom he is writing," and "the Thanksgiving sections are, for all intents and purposes, meaningless in the greater schema of the letters other than to introduce certain topics."

    Colossians and Ephesians

    Since I regard these two epistles as the product of Timothy, writing for Paul while he is indisposed in prison, much of what Ehrman says of these is readily dismissible. Ehrman does not even consider the thought of Timothy as a freelance scribe, and as we will see later, he dismisses such ideas as quickly as possible again on still inadequate grounds.

    He considers style the most decisive evidence against Colossians. If Timothy was the author, this argument becomes immediately moot. That said, I am little impressed by Ehrman's appeal to the supposedly "unanswerable" style analysis of Bujard, which by his description is again little more than a case of arbitrarily drawing a line and overstating the significance of a statistic. For example, Bujard decided it would be a good idea to count the number of "consecutive conjunctions" in Paul's letters, and came up with these totals:
  • Galatians: 16
  • Philippians: 10
  • 1 Thessalonians: 12
  • Colossians: 6
    Considering the relative length of each of these (i.e., Galatians is just over a third longer than Colossians, and that includes a whole lot of greetings at the end of Colossians!), this statistic is already meaningless and would be so even if the letters were the same length. I'll also add that Witherington, in his commentary on Colossians, criticizes Bujard for failing to take rhetorical issues into account. Witherington says: "the great majority of distinctive traits Bujard finds in Colossians are normal traits of Greek in the Asiatic rhetorical style."

    In terms of non-style issues, Ehrman next moves to issues of Colossians' theology, and returns to the usual habit of critical scholars, making mountains out of molehills:
  • Col 1:13, "He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son His love," is made out to be significant because it is in an aorist tense, though Ehrman does not explain why this is a problem, he merely asks rhetorically: "Already?...Is this Paul?" without explaining why it cannot be. I can only assume that Ehrman is assigning some kind of obscure theological reading to the passage, since I regard this as something indeed "already" done, in the process of transfer into the new covenant. Perhaps Ehrman has a dispensational reading of "kingdom."
  • 2:12-13 and 3:1 are regarded as "striking" because it is "insisting that believers have already experienced a kind of spiritual resurrection" (i.e., “Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead" 2:12), which puts it at odds with other places where we have not been raised yet.
    Here again, I can only suppose that Ehrman's past fundamentalism is affecting him as he apparently can only envision these as literal promises, and so must explain away the resurrection as "spiritual" (which is not at all hinted at in the text). There is no such thing as a "spiritual" rising -- at best this might refer to some sort of collective "awakening" from the past life of sin, if it is to be taken literally, but that would resolve the alleged problem Ehrman finds. Indeed, if we take this as a "spiritual" event, then it is not at odds with Paul at all, for the passages Ehrman cites (e.g., Rom 6:1-6) refer only to a physical resurrection. So, by referring to this as a "spiritual" raising, Ehrman unwittingly solves his own manufactured problem.

    Ehrman also claims that the view he sees espoused here in Colossians reflects "the view Paul argues against in Corinth." It does? How so? The Corinthians had people arguing that there was no resurrection, and by Ehrman's reading, the Colossians have people who are arguing for a second one, before the one at the end of the age!

    On the other hand, that these might be proleptic promises of the future physical resurrection does not at all occur to Ehrman. Such language us also found in Paul elsewhere (Rom. 6:13, 2 Cor. 4:10-11, Gal. 2:19-20), passages which speak of the believer as already in possession of the redemptive life. 

    Additionally, Ehrman is oblivious to the point of why the language is used this way in Colossians: The authors are answering a heresy which declares that the believer is not complete unless they follow certain legalist prescriptions. Hence it is proper for Paul or Timothy to frame the matter as though believers were already in possession of the qualities of Christian life.

  • Ehrman says that Colossians understands "redemption" as the "forgiveness of sins" (1:14), which is not found anywhere else in Paul's letter. This is another "so what" matter, but it doesn't matter anyway. Whether Paul says such a thing elsewhere or not, it accurately describes a transaction of the Christian covenant under the patronage contract offered by God via Jesus as broker. Since Paul describes such a covenant in his letter as well, he thereby implicitly includes this concept.

  • Ehrman also makes light of the hapax legomena (in Colossians and Ephesians only) charizomai. Of course, such arguments mean nothing even if Timothy is not the scribe, not only because hapax legomena can be found in Pauline letters Ehrman takes as genuine, but because the word is derived from charis (grace), a word Paul uses enough times to choke a horse.
  • Ehrman regards Col 1:24, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body – for the sake of his body, the church – what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ," a "shocking image for Paul; were Christ's sufferings in some way inadequate and needed to be completed?" Ehrman is evidently unfamiliar with the principles of a collectivist society. Of course Christ's sufferings are not completed, as long as his collective body is still suffering. The verse itself explicitly refers to "his body" as a referent, so clearly, Ehrman only finds this a "shocking image" because he reads it like a modern individualist.
  • Despite earlier disclaiming such arguments as weak, Ehrman declares it odd that in Colossians, the author goes after issues of Jewish legalism with terms like "sabbath" and "festivals" and "regulations", rather than words like "law" or "commandment". It perhaps does not occur to Ehrman that this is because it was specifically observation of the sabbath and festivals that was a chief concern of the Colossian heresy -- which is very odd indeed, since Ehrman argues that the oddity is that the author "is dealing precisely with the issues of relevance to the terminology, but he does not use it."
  • Col 3:18-4:1 is declared "non-Pauline" -- and it most likely is, for it most likely represents a sort of community-wide code that was not authored or originated by Paul himself. After all, we see similar admonitions in 1 Peter 3, and these are values that would be the property of the in-group as a whole, not just Paul or Peter. For some reason, Ehrman cannot even conceive of Paul (or any author) quoting or alluding to prior works. Ehrman also declares the recitation of the "family values" in the passage odd in light of Paul's preference for a life of celibacy for himself (1 Cor 7). In this, Ehrman misses two points. One, demonstrated by Winter, is that the recommendation of Paul in 1 Cor 7 is made under the contingency of a famine in the area of Corinth. The other is that based on his argument, no one who is single could be trained and employed as a marriage counselor. Once again, it appears that Ehrman's fundamentalist mindset is coloring his arguments.
    We now move onto Ephesians, and here again, I had argued in TNT that Timothy was the scribe for Paul, so that stylistic differences would be expected. Ehrman spends some time arguing that because of the obvious relationship to Colossians -- which he thinks is forged -- this must also mean Ephesians is forged. Further, he advances in brief some of the same arguments used against Colossians (e.g., eschatology), as is appropriate given the similarity of content, but still no better justified.

    He reuses the argument we covered in our earlier review of Forged:

    He supposes that Ephesians 2:3 (“Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others”) contradicts Phil 3:4, in which Paul calls himself blameless. I have to wonder if Ehrman is serious here, or whether he is simply too stuck in fundamentalist readings of the text. Surely he cannot think that Paul in 3:4 is declaring himself someone who never, ever, sinned! Indeed, if he wants to get fussy, that would also contradict Rom 3:23, which says “all have sinned.”
    I know of no one who takes Phil 3:6 as indicating Paul was absolutely sinless, though it is coherent as a statement that he was “blameless” in the sense that he observed all the proper strictures of the Temple religious practices.
    He supposes that Ephesians regarded Christians as “saved” now, whereas in his other letters, “ always used to refer to the future.” Ehrman offers no references for this whatsoever, and it takes only a moment to find that he is wrong: Rom 10:9 -- “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Cf also 10:13); 1 Cor 1:18 -- “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”; and 2 Cor 2:15 -- “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish”. All refer to persons “saved” in the present or due to actions in the present. Many referents refer to salvation in a future sense, and that is quite natural since “salvation” involves a process that continues, in practical terms, into the future. In any event, Ehrman is patently in error.

    The Pastorals

    Here again, we side with those who attribute the scribal act of the Pastorals to Luke. Amazingly, one of the leading advocates of this view, Jerome Quinn, is not even referenced regarding this particular argument, even though he is referenced for a minor matter of syntax only.

    Ehrman spends a great deal of time arguing against views that the different Pastorals were authored by different persons, a view which does not concern us. When he does get to issues of relevance to us, there is little new. Ehrman unbelievably thinks it ought to take until the second century for the church to figure out things like selecting a person for an office out of a pool of candidates. Otherwise, there is nothing new here, and not already covered in Trusting the New Testament. Ehrman, indeed, is so far behind on the scholarship that he is still hoisting 1 Tim 2:11-15 as though the author were literally saying women receive salvation via childbirth (as opposed to this being an answer to a quasi-Gnostic cult that said women would lose salvation if they gave birth).


    We close this installment with a look at how Ehrman treats the matter of the use of secretaries, or scribes. In the review of Forged we commented:

    He notes the thesis of Richards (The Secretary in the Letters of Paul) that secretaries were used in a variety of ways, ranging from dictation to full composition. He denies that there is sufficient evidence for the range Richards gives beyond dictation, but does so on embarrassingly inadequate grounds. As it turns out, Ben Witherington and Mike Licona have already done more than enough to answer Ehrman on these points, so I will just provide what they say and add a few comments.

    First of all, as Ben Witherington notes in his critique:

    I need to say from the outset and on first glance that there appears to be a rather large lacunae in the argument of this book, namely the failure to do this study after having studied in depth ancient scribal practices and the roles of scribes in producing ancient documents in ancient Israel. For example, I see no interaction whatsoever in this book with the landmark study of Karel Van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, in which it is demonstrated at length that scribes played a huge role in collecting, editing, and producing ancient documents, and that it was indeed a regular practice to name a scroll after either the originator of the tradition, or the first or a major contributor to the tradition, not after the scribe who actually produced the document, often decades or centuries after the tradition had first been formed.

    This was neither a deceitful practice nor a blatant attempt at forgery, but rather a normal practice in a culture with a deep reverence for ancient traditions which in a largely illiterate society relied on scribes to be the conservators, copiers, preservers and presenters of the tradition, in written form. Inasmuch as the writers of the NT appear to have been almost entirely Jews or God-fearers deeply steeped not only in the OT but in Jewish ways of handling sacred traditions and sacred texts, it is rather surprising that this book does not spend more time actually examining such things. Perhaps in the scholarly monograph that is to follow this popular level book, this rather colossal oversight will be remedied.

    I'll stop there to note that no -- that "rather colossal oversight" is not remedied. Van der Toorn's book remains unknown to Ehrman -- or else purposely ignored by him.

    Indeed, as I wrote concerning Van der Toorn’s book on the Ticker:

    The one major contribution Van der Toorn offers, for my experience, is in Chapter 2 where he discusses the role and nature of authorship in antiquity. I have frequently told critics that the ancient concept of authorship is more like authority than “so and so wrote this” as it is today, and this is exactly what Van der Toorn says and elaborates upon. Here are some critical points:
    “Up until the end of the Middle Ages, readers were more concerned with the authority of books than their authenticity. The author was deemed relevant mainly as a source of authority.”[27]

    “In the Ancient Near East, it was uncommon for an author to sign his or her work.” [231] Hence it is no surprise that we have so many “anonymous” OT books (the Samuels, the Kings, etc.). Even Babylonian and Assyrian texts named not the author of the text, but either the name of the scribe or the name of the owner of the text.

    One point I would derive from this is one I have used often already: When Moses is said to be the authority behind the Pentateuch, it never means that he personally wrote it. Rather, though he may have authored some of the texts, his main role would be that of an authority who stood behind the text and caused it to be made.

    Another concept Van der Toorn introduces is that of honorary authorship. This is a case of a text being ascribed to a patron who ordered the text, as opposed to the scribe who wrote and composed it. Once again, it is in this sense that it ought to be argued that Moses, for example, “authored” the Pentateuch. 

    However, critics continue to work with a modern definition of authorship in their criticisms. He also points out that our concept of authorship is tied to notions of authors as individuals; but because in the ancient world, “an individual is indistinguishable from his or her social role and social status,” [46] authorship is itself an expression of role, and that as mouthpiece and crafter of the values of the community the author represents; so, in that sense, authorship is in a real sense communal.

    This is not to say van derToorn agrees that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. He doesn’t. He thinks it was a fictitious attribution, but I have frequently argued with critics that their criticisms assume a modern definition of “authorship” and that is precisely what van der Toorn debunks. He makes an analogy to the modern practice of those who write copy for advertisements – they never “sign” their work. This is one major exception to our modern tendency to take offense when an author is not credited with the creation of a text, but for ancient people, “an author does not invent his text but merely arranges it…”. [47]

    This is important because Ehrman argues based on alleged lack of evidence. Of course, this is non-argument anyway, since the only evidence he seems to think counts is the sort of explicit comment about scribal contribution which such letters would lack in the first place!

    Now, here are Licona’s comments, to which I, again, will simply add.

    First, Ehrman asserts that there is no evidence of this being done by anyone outside of the ultra-wealthy. He writes, “Virtually all of [the evidence for the use of a secretary beyond taking dictation] comes from authors who were very, very wealthy and powerful and inordinately well educated.” (135-36) Writing a letter in antiquity was a costly enterprise. In the updated and expanded version of Randolph Richards’ doctoral dissertation, he discusses the costs involved. Papyri, labor and courier fees added up quickly. Of course, Cicero, Seneca and the ultra-wealthy could easily afford the costs. But Paul the missionary would not have been so fortunate. Richards estimates that the cost for penning Paul’s letters ranged from $101 in today’s dollars for Philemon to $2,275 for Romans. And that does not include the expenses involved with a courier. Now perhaps you’re thinking, “But Paul tells us he had churches that supported him (Phil 4:10- 18; 2 Cor 11:9). And we know he had co-workers whom he mentioned in his letters. They would naturally have been the couriers and could even have served as his secretaries. So, he wouldn’t have incurred little if any labor costs.” Of course. And what’s to have prevented these coworkers from also providing editorial and compositional services according to their personal abilities? Could the Tertius mentioned in Romans 16:22 have been a professional secretary who had volunteered his services? We will never know. What is clear is the fact that Paul was not a member of the ultra-wealthy does not preclude his use of a secretary for editing and composition.

    Indeed, let me add here that Ehrman’s proposal is a massive non sequitur. How in the world can it be argued that wealth somehow governed one’s use and practice of using a secretary? If a wealthy Roman lost a huge chunk of change speculating, did he use secretaries differently?

    I will stop again, to note that Ehrman repeats the same argument, virtually unchanged, and he repeats all of the same arguments we note further here:

    It is further a non sequitur for Ehrman to point out that Cicero is the only person for whom we have evidence that scribes were used to fully draft letters. He simply raises the bar of evidence to arbitrary heights, demanding that we have something equivalent to Cicero’s own comments in order for the hypothesis to have traction. The very fact that NT writers DID use secretaries, and the fact that they DID have available to them the resources of a wealthier upper class of people, is more than sufficient evidence for a secretary hypothesis to have standing and for the burden to be placed on doubters like Ehrman.

    Continuing with Licona:

    Second, Ehrman points out that letters in the Greco-Roman world were very short and to the point, whereas the NT letters are lengthy treatises that deal with complex issues (136). Ehrman says this is problematic because the disputed letters of the New Testament such as Ephesians and 1 Peter are “lengthy treatises that deal with large and complex issues in the form of a letter” and are “so much more extensive than typical letters . . . in their theological expositions, ethical exhortations, and quotation of and interpretation of Scripture. These New Testament ‘letters’ are really more like essays put in letter form. So evidence that derives from the brief, stereotyped letters typically found in Greek and Roman circles is not necessarily germane to the ‘letters’ of the early Christians” (136, ital. mine). Indeed. And what is true of Ephesians and 1 Peter is even truer of ALL of Paul’s seven undisputed letters with the exception of Philemon. Ehrman has unwittingly eliminated his own argument against the heavy involvement of secretaries! Ephesians and 1 Peter are quite long when compared with the average length of the letters of Cicero and longer than the average length of the letters of Seneca.
  • Cicero: averaged 295 words per letter, but ranging from 22 to 2,530 words
  • Seneca: averaged 995 words per letter, but ranging from 149 to 4,134
  • Paul: averaged 2,493 words per letter (13 letters), ranging from 335 (Philemon) to 7,111 (Romans)
  • Rom: 7,111; 1 Cor: 6,830; 2 Cor: 4,477; Gal: 2,230; Eph: 2,422; Phil: 1,629; Col: 1,582; 1 Thes: 1,481; 2 Thes: 823; 1 Tim: 1,591; 2 Tim: 1,238; Tit: 659; Philemon: 335
  • Average of Paul’s undisputed letters: 3,442
  • Average of Paul’s disputed letters: 1,386
  • Other NT letters: Hebrews: 4,953; James: 1,742; 1 Peter: 1684; 2 Peter: 1,099; 1 John: 2,141; 2 John: 245; 3 John: 219; Jude: 461 The above figures provide some interesting observations. With the exception of Philemon, the average length of the New Testament letters is much longer than the average length of letters written by others of the period. However, notice the length of the undisputed letters of Paul. They are longer than the disputed letters. Yet no one, including Ehrman, questions whether Paul wrote Romans and 1 Corinthians in spite of the fact that those letters are each around 7,000 words! This reveals that Ehrman’s argument concerning letter length is only a paper tiger.

    Licona further appeals to the common sense notion that it is usual to ask others to review a text that is important. In this case, it is hard to accept that any Christian text would NOT go under review by more than the “authoring” party and for scribes to be asked to review the contents.


    In Ehrman’s third and final argument against the secretary being heavily involved in Paul’s letters he says there’s evidence that brief stereotyped letters like land deeds and sales receipts were created by secretaries. But there is “absolutely no evidence” that such authority was ever provided to a secretary for “composing a long, detailed, finely argued, carefully reasoned, and nuanced letter like 1 Peter or Ephesians” (137). For example, Ehrman contends that 1 Peter was written by a highly educated Greek-speaking Christian who understood how to use Greek rhetorical devices and could cite the Greek Old Testament with flair and nuance. That does not apply to the uneducated, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking fisherman from rural Galilee, and it does not appear to have been produced by a secretary acting on his behalf. (138-39) And it does not seem possible that Peter gave the general gist of what he wanted to say and that a secretary then created the letter for him in his name, since, first the secretary rather than Peter would be the real author of the letter, and second, and even more important, we don’t seem to have any analogy for a procedure like this from the ancient world. (139)

    But recall that Ehrman himself admits that, given the length of the New Testament letters, the Greco-Roman letters are not necessarily germane. Moreover, some analogy exists related to the liberty the historian could take in recreating speeches. The digital recorder was a long time away from being invented when historians attempted to reproduce speeches in antiquity. The historian was to do his best in recalling the content of the speeches from those who had personally witnessed it. However, according to Lucian, a Greek author from the second century who provides the only surviving treatise on the proper conventions of writing history in that era, historians were instructed to use accurate content. However, it was then that the historian could become orator and display his own elegance of words when communicating the content.
    And of course, van den Toorn does provide the needed analogy from the ancient world. Ehrman has failed to unseat the secretary hypothesis on multiple counts.

    And that is all…Ehrman spends all of 4 1/2 pages in FAC on the secretary hypothesis, giving it the same short shrift he did in Forged, and then having the nerve to claim that those who invoke the hypothesis are engaged in "wishful thinking." It is clear, rather, that Ehrman remains unalterably committed to an agenda in which honesty and completeness is not a priority.
  • Friday, January 22, 2016

    Prayer Breakfast in Hell?

    From the December 2012 E-Block.
    1 Cor. 10:14-21 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

    Recently, on YouTube, an extremist fundamentalist sort appealed to this passage as a condemnation of those who participate in so-called "prayer breakfasts" in which members of different religious traditions (whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, or what have you) join in communal prayer. Is this a valid condemnation?

    I'll start with a caveat: As an introvert, I don't see much personal benefit to such meetings to begin with. I'm also not familiar with the exact goings-on at each and every manifestation of these meetings. So, what I have to say will be in terms of a "what if" quality -- in other words, in what way would such a meeting violate the sense of 1 Cor 10?

    The answer is a fairly simple one. As numerous commentators have observed, this passage specifically alludes to a certain types of religious practice in the NT world. Meals were an occasion for fellowship at all times, even when people of different religious traditions met. They may have had common cause on other accounts, such as having a fireman's club. Would that violate 1 Cor 10? No, because Paul here specifies the Lord's Supper, a specifically religious ritual, as a comparison.

    What may escape us here is that the pagans had their own "version" of the Lord's Supper since table fellowship was a standard for life, and it was also a standard for religious practice. Commentators note that invitations to certain functions sometimes invited the participant to "dine at the table of ____" (fill in the blank with a deity). Such meetings could occur at a home, in a temple, or anywhere.

    In such circumstances, the deity might be said to be the "host" of the function. It would then be clear why Paul would issue his warning as he does. The Christian truly ate at the table of what might be a demon.

    So, how does this apply to a modern "prayer breakfast" function? I can't see that it would, in terms of the food, since no one (that I know of!) thinks that the tables and the food themselves belong to the other deities. What about the prayers? I can only see a problem emerging related to 1 Cor 10 if it is somehow presented that the prayers are all to one deity in reality , that, for example, the Muslim Allah and the Christian Jesus are in some way identical. In contrast, if the prayers are understood to be rigidly defined as being two different entities, and there is no mixing of them, then while that seems rather odd, religiously, it is not relevant to 1 Cor 10.

    Prayer breakfasts of this sort, I gather, are more of an effort at social unity than a religious function. NT people would find this rather odd, but I can't see Paul condemning it under the principles of 1 Cor 10. He may have had other objections to it -- but those would be the subject of another study.

    Friday, January 8, 2016

    Near Death Checks, Part 4: Betty Eadie

    From the November 2012 E-Block.


    Readers following this series know that we have had little success fulfilling our purpose of finding verifiable details in NDE experiences. For this reason, you might say I got to the point of scraping the bottom of the barrel. While looking for an account like that of Colton Burpo's (that did offer some details), I then turned to another popular account by a Betty Eadie. 

    Eadie's NDE account is a longish one, and in the past was subjected to criticism by various apologists. It's not hard to say why as she presents herself as having received a message from beings in the spirit world that is mishmash in three parts. One part is Mormonism, per her own faith where she even calls God a "Man," refers to pre-mortal lives, and presents a Mormon view of the Fall as a positive thing. Another part is straight out of Wayne Dyer where she refers to "positive and negative energies" and to "positive self-talk" with alleged healing powers. The third part is pantheism, with the notion that even drops of water have purpose and intelligence. That sounds more like a Disney cartoon than a serious rendition of the afterlife, yet Eadie has the temerity to equate these with the "living waters" of the Bible. 

    Eadie also presents a sort of naive universalism, as the existence of multiple religions is explained as an accommodation for some persons just not being suited, or ready, for certain religious traditions. Some speak of making God in one's own image, and Eadie does that very well -- her career is that of a "registered counselor," so her God seems to be one too. 

    Her account offers not one instance of a verifiable detail of the sort we have been seeking. 

    Indeed, if Eadie is telling the truth, she passed up the chance to get such details numerous times. As with many NDErs, she claims to have met a divine being that she states to have been Jesus, but she never asked if it was him. This, and everything else she claims to have been imparted to her, she says she either "saw" or "understood." Her account of the "understood" Jesus also includes a revelation that (surprise) the Trinitarian view is wrong and Mormon tri-theism is right. I would have liked to have asked "Understood Jesus" about Wisdom theology, then. More practically, she claims to have been given a vision of early American pioneers, and of a street corner drunk who was aided by a lawyer, but heaven forbid she might ask for the names and locations of these alleged visions. This is all the more outrageous since Eadie claims that while in the NDE, she could "learn about anybody in full detail." Gee -- any chance we might get some helpful facts to verify her NDE? Perish the thought! We're also told a couple of times that she was made to forget some of the details she had learned…how very convenient. 

    Eadie's account fails the closer we come to any verifiable details. Her reports about things like divine love assume modern, Western values for those concepts, which alone is enough to call the authenticity of her account (or her understanding of it) into serious question. More evidence is found in her primitive understanding of prayer, which reads more like a Frank Peretti novel than the Biblical expression of patronage. As for the rest, though it has some parallels to more serious NDE accounts, it is but a mere caricature. A closing account of how demons surrounded her in the hospital, and were warded off by a "dome of light", sounds like a scene from a Chick tract, rather than a serious account. 

    A reader with an interest in NDEs told me the week I wrote this that I shouldn't take Eadie seriously, and I don’t.