Thursday, August 2, 2007

Time wasted? An apology

Lacking the time to do a proper posting here, the one I have promised on why I believe in God for instance, I have taken what I see as the easy way out – visiting other blogs and making comments there. In particular I got caught up in what started out as an interesting discussion on faith but got bogged down by the closed minded approach of the blogger.

Was it a waste of time? In some ways yes, I was certainly not exposed to any new atheist thinking. In some ways no, I got reminded of the one of the fundamental flaws of much of the atheist thinking around. It is a problem in that it is irrational and limits discussion.

The problem is fundamentalism. Now many atheists deny that there is such a thing as an atheist fundamentalist because, being a non-belief it can’t be fundamentalist – whatever! The problem I see lies in the fact that atheist thinking is tied to the misconception of religious fundamentalists. Certainly that part of the atheist community that seeks to justify their atheism by discrediting religious belief, in order to establish a preponderance of evidence that God is unlikely to exist, seem stuck in what I see as a sort of time warp.



They have relied on the misconceptions of religious fundamentalists, usually Christian, but not exclusively.

In advance I apologise to those who have read my comments elsewhere for doing a cut and paste – my excuse is that I was side tracked when I have limited time to work on this blog – I consider myself castigated and will try and do better in the future.

So, what is chief among the misconceptions that I talk of:

1) The bible is the literal, recorded dictation of the word of God.

This enables the argument that the multitude of contradictions in the bible should convince us that there is no God. Problem is that the starting premise is flawed, the deduction a non-sequitur and so therefore the conclusion is false. The Catholic Church (for all its faults) teaches that the bible is not the sole source of Christian teaching, that the bible requires interpretation. Above all it is not to be taken literally.

It is the revelation of God’s teaching to a particular group. It is a collection of texts within an historical context. Yes I know some fundamentalist groups ignore this, but does that mean atheists should too?

The bible is seminal to Christianity, as other texts are to other revelations – and yes, guess what there are some texts of less merit than others and some plain phony texts. Again I draw your attention to the position of the Catholic church that the bible is not the only source of understanding about God. While the Catholic scholars can cope with the bible not being literal it seems that many fundamentalists can’t – perhaps they lack the benefit of the centuries of academic input that the Catholics have had.

I do not diminish the importance of the bible for Christians, but I do see it for what it is. Get the history and context right and it makes sense. The New Testament is primarily a collection of the sayings and works of Christ and the letters/writings of his followers, written about 60-110 AD and compiled around 360 AD. Yes Christians believe it was “inspired” but no, it is not a dictation from God recorded verbatim. There are dozens of sites, but for a quick intro try:

http://www.maplenet.net/~trowbridge/NT_Hist.htm

Recognising the origins of the New Testament why would it not have inconsistencies? It is intellectual laziness to draw the wrong conclusions from the inconsistencies – a conclusion that ignores the history in favour of the rhetoric! Why collect four of the gospels if any one was complete? What is consistent within the four gospels is the teaching of Christ – his message. Yes, at a semantic level there is debate, but at a conceptual level it is really clear.

There is little point in discussing the bible if it is seen as a literal dictation from God recorded verbatim. That is starting from a false premise! I would have thought that atheists would be inclined to the facts. If you have discredited belief in God through the improper use of the bible, then the fault lies with you, not the belief!

It is interesting to note inconsistencies in the bible – it is not valid to ignore the background of the texts when interpreting the texts and addressing the inconsistencies. To do so ignores the intent of assembling a collection of writings.

2) Multiple concepts of God.

Over time there have been, and still are many concepts of God in different religious communities. Some, such as Zeus have been discarded, others not.

This enables arguments based on contradictions but also one based on the variety of manifestations of God as being mutually exclusive/contradictory and therefore overwhelming evidence that there is no God. Again a flawed premise leads to flawed conclusions.

Multiple concepts of God – so what? Theology is an evolving field of study. Why should it not discard concepts found to be lacking and replace them newer thinking that better fits the evidence as happens in other fields of study. Fundamentalists do not do this – they tend to be locked into a simplistic literal bible (usually OT) concept of God. Atheist reasoning likes to trap theology in its past, it makes it easier to defend the atheist position. The path atheists travel has been travelled by theists who have reviewed the old thinking and sometimes found parts of it wanting. What theists have done is moved on with their thinking – sought new explanations of the evidence. I seldom see atheists challenging the current theist theology! OK, current theist theology is not of one mind. Indeed it is what one would expect in an environment of rational thought and weighing the evidence, so it is easier for atheists to stick with the fundamentalist OT God.

The view that I find fits the evidence of God is that God is not an individual but a collective consciousness with common purpose. This fits with Christian teaching about the Trinity and aligns with the possibility of multiple manifestations. or revelations of God. Is it “the truth” – I don’t know, but it fits the evidence and that is the best we can do. It a personal choice I have made that does address all the evidence, unlike the much of the fundamentalist and atheist thinking. The bible only addresses the Christian revelation of God, but there are many common elements with some other revelations.

Multiple versions of God would only support the idea that God is a human construct if the deductive stating point was that there was only one possible revelation of God. That would be a false premise from which to start.

It is my view that many atheists have their origins in religious fundamentalism – usually US Christian? – that their valid rebellion is against these teachings that do contain some serious flaws. Unfortunately they have then chosen to follow the less rigorously intellectual path offered by atheism. Again I see the baby going out with the suspect bathwater.

Back to the header quote of this site:

"An unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account is the only method of preservation against the fluctuating extremes of fashionable opinion” Alfred North Whitehead.

Fashionable atheist opinion would benefit from "An unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account ...".

37 comments:

BEAST said...

Fret not. The Beast is here:

www.atheisthaven.blogspot.com

Cheers, and another round of beer
Beast

Anonymous said...

Kiwibear,

Hello. I have seen some of your posts on vjack's blog and thought I would pay a visit.

Would you answer/comment:

1. What do you believe is true in the Bible? What should we take literally? Is there anything?

2. Please provide a few instances where you think interpretation is required over taking it literally, and what is the interpretaion.

3. To which authority should we baby/bathwater tossing atheist appeal to round out our Bible reading?

Thanks.

Nadeen said...

Sorry, I tried to post the above as other and came across as anonymous-I am Nadeen and I wrote the post with all the questions.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Nadeen - welcome and not an easy task you have set me! Firstly I am not a bible historian or scholar so this is my understanding.

“1. What do you believe is true in the Bible? What should we take literally? Is there anything?”
I know I have to be careful answering this because as soon as I say parts of the bible are not “literally true” there will be a lot of atheists rushing in to say "I told you so – and so you can’t believe any of it". I believe the bible to be true (NT in particular is also closer to literal) but … let me try to illustrate the point rather than make a definitive statement.

A report of the start of the cycling Tour de France in London this year gave the number of spectators as two million, another claimed four and another six. Are any of them true? Could you argue that because the accounts differ that the writers are lying and there is no truth to the rumour that a whole lot of people watched the start of the Tour ? Do the contradictions mean it is all lies – there was no tour and it did not start in London.

If this were the bible, the common atheist position would like us to draw the latter conclusion – “there was no Tour”. What do we know as true: there was a Tour and it started in London and there were an enormous number of spectators. Literally we don’t know how many, I don’t think anyone does – almost certainly none of the round numbers quoted is right.

As I understand it, the gospels (and there were more than four) were used by the early Christian communities (first called Christians in Antioch I think) to help to get the story right and to spread the teachings of Christ.

Truth or literal - the New Testament (NT) and its three main elements; the sayings of Jesus, the doings of Jesus, the letters (and travels) of the apostles after Christ’s death.
Certainly we should not take the words attributed to Jesus as an exact record – time lapse before being written down, specifics of language use at the time and translation will clearly have had their impact as will the audience that the gospels were written for. Some of the key saying may have been quoted often enough from earlier enough to have been kept verbatim, but … . Does this mean Jesus said nothing, that it is all made up – a big con? No, there is a message, themes if you like through the gospels that we can pull together to establish what his teaching was all about.

Perhaps it is a bit like me relating an event I saw. I will say what I saw and remembered, and with a bit of ‘he said, then she said’ you will have a good idea of what happened and what was said in general – who was angry etc. … The main thing is that you get the idea of what happened, perhaps the details are a bit unclear. Plus it is all made more complex by the fact that Jesus taught mainly in parables.

(Interesting aside – Christ’s criticism of the Jewish religion at the time was strong and a lot of it has similarities with the criticism of religion today as voiced by atheists and some religions alike – so I guess you could say the people involved in religious organisations didn’t quite get the messsage).

What about the deeds themselves – did they happen or is it all lies? There are common events described (as one would expect) slightly differently in some of the gospels, but then some used common source material. Some of the gospel writers have chosen to role more than one event into a single story. Back to the Tour de France – it happened, but the details should not be taken as “gospel”. Certainly we know who won the Tour, so some of the detail around the important stuff is more likely to be accurate.

The letters of the apostles are most likely fairly accurate, although in most cases they were copied and disseminated.
Important for me is that the NT was written within living memory and if it was without basis in fact or referred to events that simply did not happen at all then it would have discredited at the time (the Tour happened!). There were a number of documents (gospels and other writings) that were not included in the NT. Those that were selected were seen to best reflect the time and teachings of Christ. Is some of what was left out true, almost certainly.

I don’t know if this answers your question – I have not provided a catalogue and some bits still have bible historians and scholars debating.

My understanding is that as a starting point it should all be treated as “not literal” and subject to interpretation. That does not mean that we can’t use quotes to or illustrate a point – it does mean that we can’t use the exact wording of the quote to prove a point

2. "Please provide a few instances where you think interpretation is required over taking it literally, and what is the interpretaion."

I will take the easy way out and refer you to a link that cites a number of examples and supports my statement that the Catholic Church does not teach a literal bible. Unfortunately the article in the link has a sense of journalistic drama and whilst it quotes a release from the Bishops of the UK (2005) it omits to mention that they were themselves relying on much older church teachings.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
tol/news/world/europe/
article574768.ece

3. "To which authority should we baby/bathwater tossing atheist appeal to round out our Bible reading?"

In terms of which authority – I would suggest the Catholic church as it is more into the interpretation than most of the protestant churches and has the longest and most rigorous history of interpretative bible study ... BUT there is a hangover of older tradition and teaching in the Catholic Church that can get in the way as I have said it is an ongoing field of study.
I guess the key is to read it a whole and look beyond the words themselves at the meaning. Better editions of the bible have cross references to other sections that deal with the same topic/event. A good concordance (basically a book of cross references) is useful, but I find an authoritative bible commentary better - the Jerome Bible Commentary is probably the best around but a little dated and also stuffy in its style.

I have heard of books like “Does the Bible Really Say That? Discovering Catholic Teaching in Scripture” by Patrick Madrid, but have not read it. I got my insights from a course given by the local Catholic Inst. for Theology which seems to be more on the liberal and rationalist side of the fence – but then New Zealand society has a strongly liberal bent.

As a starter you could try the document I mention above. The Bishops of England and Wales, and of Scotland, have prepared a teaching document, The Gift of Scripture, in which the teaching of Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council (+/- 1965 I think), and subsequent Church documents are explained. What the Catholic Church has to say about the Holy Scriptures builds on ancient insights as well as utilising modern understandings.

Of course, the document itself has its critics – the liberals who take “inspired” to have a wider meaning they the bishops give it and the fundamentalists who never sleep have done their usual nit pick on it - and that includes Catholic fundamentalists like those who want to go back to the mass in Latin! In reading the document one can see the tensions between the more liberal and conservative elements among the bishops themselves – so it is itself not the final word, just another step alone the path.

You can get the whole document from

http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/
publications/
Gift%20of%20Scripture%20text.pdf

It is a bit of a heavy read, with the gems sometimes well hidden, but it in only 50 or pages it does give a fairly good perspective to the bible.

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

I saw your comment on DC about me taking the easy way out by focusing on fundies. Well, I see that as a challenge, so here I am. ;-)

I'd just like to say that Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are quite prevalent in some parts of the world so I don't see a problem with someone who chooses to focus on them.

You wrote:
as soon as I say parts of the bible are not “literally true” there will be a lot of atheists rushing in to say "I told you so – and so you can’t believe any of it".

Not me. Your Tour-de-France example shows that nicely. There might not have been literally 2 million or 4 million people present but the accounts can still be broadly true. Contradictions in the Bible can only show that it is not inerrant, so let's move on.

As I understand it, the gospels (and there were more than four) were used by the early Christian communities (first called Christians in Antioch I think) to help to get the story right and to spread the teachings of Christ.

Out of interest, have you read any of the other Gospels? The texts are online at
www.earlychristianwritings.com.

Certainly we should not take the words attributed to Jesus as an exact record – time lapse before being written down, specifics of language use at the time and translation will clearly have had their impact as will the audience that the gospels were written for. Some of the key saying may have been quoted often enough from earlier enough to have been kept verbatim, but … . Does this mean Jesus said nothing, that it is all made up – a big con? No, there is a message, themes if you like through the gospels that we can pull together to establish what his teaching was all about.

It either establishes what his teaching was all about... or the teaching of the early Church. I don't think that gives evidence either way.

The thing which sticks out at me is that none of the sayings or works of Jesus' ministry are recorded in the Epistles except for the institution of the last supper. Paul seemed to know a lot about Christ Jesus but, for example, didn't mention the sermon on the mount in 1 Thess 4:9 when he talks about brotherly love. The "Christ Jesus" of the Epistles is really quite different from the "Jesus of Nazareth" of the Gospels.

Bearing in mind that scholars generally agree that the Epistles were written before the Gospels, this is not what I would expect if Jesus was a historical figure. I would expect the historical ideas to be written first and the theological/mystical ideas to be developed later. At the very least I'd expect the first writings to be a mix of the two. That's not what we find though. The theological ideas come first and the historical ideas come later. I admit the need for instruction which we find in the Epistles, so that's beside the point.

The only explanation I know of is Earl Doherty's "Jesus Puzzle". I'd be interested if you have any ideas about this.

Don't get me wrong; I think there's a lot of truth in the Bible. It's easy to misunderstand though.

I will take the easy way out and refer you to a link that cites a number of examples and supports my statement that the Catholic Church does not teach a literal bible.

The article says "The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: 'We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.'"

Do you share that view (as expressed in the article - I haven't read the original quote)? To me, the Bible seems a bit confused about salvation. For example, is it by works (James 2:14) or faith (Gal 2:16)? I'd be inclined to go further than the position suggested by the article and not expect total accuracy from the Bible on any matter. What do you think?

Peace, Neil.

Nadeen said...

Hey Kiwibear,

Thanks for answering and I am very sorry for not getting to this sooner.

I asked the questions mostly because without knowing which brand of Christianity you espoused your blog lacked context for me. You also give the impression that you believe if atheist just understood a more liberal brand of Christianity (most especially Roman Catholicism) we would embrace it with open arms. I came from a liberal (okay moderately so) Protestant background, and I still became an atheist. It is true that atheist posting on the internet tend to hit the fundie/conservative side of Christianity hard. Surely, in part because it is such an easy target, and also in part because they are truly frightening.

I am actually quite touched you spent so much time responding to me, but it really does mystify me why a supreme being would make his religion so complicated and opaque. Thank you for the links, I will look at them, but it was your opinions I was most interested in.

Somewhere you mentioned theists are persecuted in New Zealand. Would you provide instances?

Thanks again for your kind response.

Labyrinth said...

Personally, I think NZ is a very tolerant society on the whole, of both the religious and non-religious. It is quite a secular society but I don't think it is intolerant one. Of course there are always individuals who are intolerant of others but they seem to be inescapable anywhere you go. We are also fortunate that no group of fundamentalists (of any kind) have a particularly big following.

Interesting blog by the way.

akakiwibear said...

Hi again to nadeen and welcome to lybrinth, thank you for your kind words about the blog!. NZ tries to be a tolerant society and my comment has been taken as more of an indictment than intended – sometimes in our secular, and very PC society theists are restricted in expressing their views and feel uncomfortable. A big deal??? But lets face it, I wonder if a theist would have got away with bad mouthing atheists the was Bob Jones did on radio – I suspect the theist would have been shut down for publicly expressing a religious view.

Hi Neil & welcome! Thank you for your long comment, not sure where to start. As to the other Gospels, thank you I had indeed satisfied my curiosity some time back.

Oh the fundies – my problem with what I saw as your position was not who your target was, I stir up some of their sites on a regular basis – it is sooo easy!! No my problem lies with the implicit, sometimes explicit, implication that because the Christian fundamentalist have got some of their thinking all confused that by extension there is no God – that’s a giant leap of faith if ever there was.

On a more personal level I have a certain sympathy for those who have acquired their faith, through no real fault of their own, from the fundamentalist environment they grew up in. Having grown up in an environment of simplistic literal arguments they find their flawed Christian ones challenged and replaced by equally simplistic and literal atheist ones. Now no real problem in people being challenged, and if they don’t have the gumption to see through the cockamamie presented to them as conclusive argument then why feel sympathy? Well it is in my nature to.

Visiting a number of atheist blogs one encounters many who have had their faith undermined and replaced with atheist bitterness. Unfortunately many have not taken the step beyond “so the bible is not the literal truth therefore there is no God” to trying to find some truth. Again their fault … but to say it is not a deliberate trap of Dawkins style atheism would be to avoid the issue. So yes challenge the flaws, but be prepared to go beyond the safe ground – where you can confidently say “I am right” to acknowledge that a belief or not in God is a choice based on scientifically inconclusive evidence.

On a theme of old texts, I have also been aware of the supposed dilemma highlighted in the so called ‘Jesus puzzle’. While there are certainly a number of puzzles around the recorded ‘historic’ life of Christ some pertaining to the geographical references or lack thereof, I have never found much meat in the “missing Jesus” argument. As “interested” rather than a serious biblical history scholar the context of the epistles seem at one with the text.

The epistle writers were by and large preaching to the choir and unlike the Southern Baptist of today did seem to need to get into hermeneutic argument to support their position – they refer to no source texts, refer to no teacher/rabbi other than Jesus. The communities they were writing to had the oral and written tradition that provided the base teaching – what they lacked (at least it would appear in Paul’s view) was help with integrating it into their lives.

Paul was not operating in a vacuum he created, but within an early network which had as a reference point the apostles and other close witnesses to some or all the events. There are the acknowledged early “saying” and “works” texts (I don’t recall the reference sites I used when I went down the historical Jesus road of the likes of Ellegard, Doherty and Borg) plus certainly local collections of the stories about Jesus which many view as the source documents for the synoptic gospels – these would predate the epistles and the four gosples.

For me the main point is that of the role of the epistle writers, they were providing supplementary teaching; the primary knowledge about Christ was already done. Could you imagine Paul writing to a community about a Jesus in the terms he uses if they had no idea as to the life and works of the person he refers to? I don’t lay claim to the “answer” on the real historical Jesus nor to the scholarly interest in seeking it. I didn’t see it would change my theist position, it might add knowledge to it, but it my research was throwing up nothing to undermine it. Also the logic of the common view worked for me – there was a chain of physical events with a metaphysical connection that created the environment that gave rise to the gospels and epistles.

As for salvation – well why would I really know, I don’t even know if there is “salvation” in the simple Sunday school meaning of the word. My opinion for what it worth is that works have to be more important as a measure of our time on earth. While I occasionally get drawn to debate the merits of faith or works with the likes of the Southern Baptists I believe we are either playing semantics or missing the point which is how we should live our lives as moral citizens, irrespective of the shade of our faith.

Peace be with you too.

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

Thanks for your response.

You wrote:
No my problem lies with the implicit, sometimes explicit, implication that because the Christian fundamentalist have got some of their thinking all confused that by extension there is no God – that’s a giant leap of faith if ever there was.

Ah, okay. That's not quite my position. I think we don't have enough evidence to show that there is likely to be a God. I also think that we don't have enough evidence to determine anything of the nature of God if there is a God. I also think that the default position when there is a lack of evidence is to not believe in that thing. I therefore don't believe in a God but do admit the possibility that I might be wrong. Furthermore, I would expect to find evidence if God intervenes in our world and think that such evidence is missing. I therefore believe that an intervening God does not exist. I don't base my beliefs on what the fundies believe.

The epistle writers were by and large preaching to the choir and unlike the Southern Baptist of today did seem to need to get into hermeneutic argument to support their position – they refer to no source texts, refer to no teacher/rabbi other than Jesus.

I beg to differ. The Epistles refer to a number of source texts. For example, Romans 15:3 quotes Psalm 69:9.


The Epistle authors also refer to themselves as preachers and teachers many many times (Rom 10:8, 1 Tim 2:7, 2 Tim 1:11 etc...). The only place I could find where Christ is mentioned as a teacher is Ephesians 4:21 in the KJV/NKJV translations which says that the Ephesians were "taught by [Christ]", but other translations say "taught in [Christ]". It seems unlikely to me that Paul is referring to part of Jesus' ministry on earth in this verse. I don't remember Jesus teaching the Ephesians...

I can't see how it helps that the Epistle writers were preaching to the choir. The point I'm trying to make isn't just that the Epistles fail to lay down the events of Jesus' ministry in a systematic fashion. It's rather that they fail to mention those events in passing. We don't find phrases such as "as Jesus said in the sermon on the mount".

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts. I have to get back to work. I'll get back to your other points later.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi again,

I've got a couple more minutes and thought I'd include two of the verses I referenced.

Here's Romans 15:3:
For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

And Psalm 69:9:
for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

I chose that pair of verses because Paul is saying something about Christ, but to do that he quotes the Old Testament rather than making a comment about some event in recent history.

I'm still thinking about the rest of what you wrote...

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Work can play havoc with pleasure – weeks fly by a blog is ignored.

Neil – apologies for the ambiguity of my comment – I meant no texts/scriptures potentially part of the NT.

I think the reference to Christ but not his teachings by Paul is ground for speculation that is interesting but no more - unless you are looking to undermine the faith of those who have not previously thought about it or have based their faith on an inerrant bible. History study, by its nature encounters ambiguity and incomplete pictures. Certainly the founders of the modern church played a part in selecting the history that worked best for them – they were human and not always devoid of vested interests. I have not too much time researching all the views on the “missing references” - simply because it does not seem to merit too much attention. It is not really a big surprise.

There were two main streams of emergence of the church that we are familiar with – Paul’s which was theological, based on the revelation to him. The focus of this was not preaching what Christ did/said during his life, but on establishing his theological status. This is where Paul was the “expert”. He was not a disciple, therefore did not have the authority or credibility of a first hand witnesses to quote Christ’s words or to refer to deeds he did not witness. BUT when it comes to the theology he had some claim to “expert” status. His mission (as he seems to have seen it) was to bring followers of Christ because of WHO Christ was, not directly because of his words or deeds, i.e. based on Christ’s theological status. The second stream focused on developing a following with more of a focus on WHAT Christ taught and did.

Peace to all

Larro said...

I haven't finished reading your post yet (I will) I would just like to point you to Zeitgeist - The Movie, 2007. If you haven't watched this movie yet it's pretty good. Part 1 is most relevant here.

Granted I don't subscribe to a some of the conspiracy theories presented in parts 2 & 3, yet it is intriguing to say the least.

Larro said...

kiwibear, you keep speaking of "evidence". What evidence? Sorry, as far as theologians go the "evidence" is not real evidence. It's all hypotheses.

You also stated this: "I seldom see atheists challenging the current theist theology!" What's new? The one principal argument is that there IS a god, period. An argument for the existence of something outside of reality. I never heard a theist embrace the notion that "maybe there is no god". Could this be new ground to that theologians could cover? And if they have I'm sure it was chucked out the window. That's called closed-mindedness.

Theists seem to think that atheists are churned out of an atheist factory somewhere and that being an atheist can't possibly have stemmed from religious faith. Most atheists (not me, I may have actually come from one of those factories (just kidding, I grew up very, very secular, with no religion in my life growing up [exaltation])) grew up chained to their parents memes.

"...rational thought and weighing the evidence..."? Maybe in each of one particular faith, but certainly not spread out among all faiths. That creates bloodbaths. Along with money and greed.

Ok, I've ranted enough. Thanks.

icpwg: I can play with Guinness, LOL

akakiwibear said...

Larro, I have put my reply into a new post.

akakiwibear said...

Apologies to Larro and Afterburner for lost comments - should not have happened.

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

Sorry for the delay. Things have been very busy at work.

You wrote:
Paul was not operating in a vacuum he created, but within an early network which had as a reference point the apostles and other close witnesses to some or all the events. There are the acknowledged early “saying” and “works” texts (I don’t recall the reference sites I used when I went down the historical Jesus road of the likes of Ellegard, Doherty and Borg) plus certainly local collections of the stories about Jesus which many view as the source documents for the synoptic gospels – these would predate the epistles and the four gosples.

According to my research, the Epistles of Paul are the earliest Christian writings we have. I'd be interested in any evidence that Paul was writing into the context of a historical Jesus. I've come across people who think that there was an early passion narrative but their views seem to be based on the assumption that there was a historical Jesus which rather begs the question.

Also the logic of the common view worked for me – there was a chain of physical events with a metaphysical connection that created the environment that gave rise to the gospels and epistles.

I admit that if we had evidence for physical events being connected with the metaphysical then that would be one explanation for the history of Christianity. Unfortunately we don't have any such evidence. In fact, we have a lot of evidence that physical events occur according to physical laws and not in reference to any metaphysical conditions.

It seems most reasonable to me to conclude that Paul had a vision but that its source was purely physical. Of course, I can't prove that. It just seems like the best explanation for the evidence which we have according to the things we know about the world.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi again,

You wrote:
Unfortunately many have not taken the step beyond “so the bible is not the literal truth therefore there is no God” to trying to find some truth.

To try to find some truth? Do you mean truth in the Bible? Truth about God? I certainly try to find truth and the same goes for other atheists I've met. Where we differ might be in how we think we can gain access to the truth. I think we can gain access to the truth through logical reason, science, experience interpreted through science, historical investigation and authoritative testimony. What do you think?

I have not too much time researching all the views on the “missing references” - simply because it does not seem to merit too much attention. It is not really a big surprise.

I find that odd. Maybe it's because I've had most contact with evangelicals. What would be a big surprise? What if archaeologists found Jesus' body? Or a letter between two of the disciples planning to steal Jesus' body? Or a book describing how to do miracles as magic tricks? Would any of that shock you? It's a bit off-topic but I'm just interested.

He was not a disciple, therefore did not have the authority or credibility of a first hand witnesses to quote Christ’s words or to refer to deeds he did not witness.

Right. The odd thing is that modern Christians seem to claim more authority on the matter than Paul did. For example:

No, there is a message, themes if you like through the gospels that we can pull together to establish what his teaching was all about.

Here, you're claiming more than Paul did about the teaching of Jesus.

BUT when it comes to the theology he had some claim to “expert” status.

He might have claimed to be an expert. I don't think we have anything to back up that claim though. Do you know of anything?

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil, you got me reading more on the topic and that is always good. It refreshed my thinking and got at some new ideas. While but I remain far from a real biblical scholar, I will try and summarise some of what I have see as valid.

There is little doubt among serious scholars that the person of Jesus existed and that his teachings were captured in the book Q – the gospel of Thomas seems to confirm this. That person may not be identical to the person described in the canonical gospels due to the transition from record of teachings to narrative style. Q seems to predate NT gospels and Paul.

Equally certain is that groups of Jesus people (Q enthusiasts)existed and followed His teachings. OK so far? Now along comes Paul with his revelation regarding the theological status of Jesus. His message pushes the teachings aspect into secondary place. Indeed his message is intended to do that, what he has to say is (in his opinion anyway) much more important.

Paul is a man with a mission – the theology of Christ not the teachings - they are old hat.

I credited him "expert" status on his revaluation and the theology he presented - seemed fair, but my own doing.

I find it interesting that as I dig further into the material that many atheists see a damning of Christianity my theism gets stronger and I look increasingly to the Catholics to provide a vehicle for my belief.

Perhaps it is because my belief is "bottom up" and not blocked by 'truths' that may in fact be a bit distorted. Certainly I see the problem faced by the typical fundamentalist who discovers they have been "lied to". Perhaps they should peer beyond the detail (even understanding how it got muddied in the first place) to the big picture which is still quite clear and increasingly confirmed by advances in theology.

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"you got me reading more on the topic and that is always good. It refreshed my thinking and got at some new ideas."

I'm glad it's got you thinking. Our discussions here have got me thinking too.

"There is little doubt among serious scholars that the person of Jesus existed and that his teachings were captured in the book Q – the gospel of Thomas seems to confirm this."

I don't think Q is quite as firm as that. Yes, the Q hypothesis has wide acceptance among scholars but it's not the only one.

Given what you've said, it seems odd that the Gospel of Thomas (and Q if it existed) didn't record the crucifixion. I'm not really sure what would motivate someone to write something like that. I'll have to think about this some more.

"Paul is a man with a mission – the theology of Christ not the teachings - they are old hat."

The theology of Christ is certainly one aspect of what Paul has to say. However, Paul also instructs the churches in the Christian life and never uses the teachings of Jesus to back him up. I'll look up some verses when I have the time...

Got to go.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

Here's an example of a teaching which is missing a reference to Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:9: Now, about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

I would expect some sort of reference because Love was central to Jesus' teaching. For example,

John 13:34: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Again, in Romans 12:17-20:

[17] Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

[18] If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

[19] Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

[20] On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

This is clearly teaching material but he got it from Deuteronomy 32:35 and Proverbs 25:21-22. There's no reference to the sermon on the mount:

Matt 5:39: But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Romans 14 is an interesting case.

[9] For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

[10] You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat.

[11] It is written: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ ”

Paul decided to use Isaiah 45:23 instead of quoting Jesus' words:

Matt 7:1: Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

How is it that Jesus' teachings are old hat? Clearly teachings in general aren't old hat. Why is it that Paul never quotes Jesus as an authority?

It's not restricted to Paul though. The same thing happens is at 1 Peter 3:9-12. Instead of quoting Jesus' words, he quotes Psalm 34:12-16.

[9] Do not repay evil with evil, or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

[10] For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.

[11] He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.

[12] For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

The simplest explanation would be that Peter and Paul didn't hear about Jesus' teaching. But that would be unthinkable wouldn't it?

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil, OK more than food for thought, a meal - I see your point and my previous explanation does seem stretched. I will work on it. I am a bit over committed right now so I ask your indulgence.

Peace

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil, this was really thought provoking, thank you. After such a long delay I would be surprised and delighted to have you visit again.

Your comments sent me off on an interesting trail. A bit of the apologetics – no help. A bit more of the chronology and historic context – some help. A read of some of Paul’s and the other epistles – very interesting.

My original response to your ‘argument from silence’ was by saying that Paul did not need to quote Christ – that was based on the assumption that he could. This seems to be a false assumption.

Paul certainly knew of Christ – he was after all doing a great persecution job. His revelation was about who Christ was and that was what he set out with a real mission to proclaim. BUT there is a clear separation between Paul and the apostles.

Paul makes a big deal about his message being from God and not influenced by people. In Galatians (written about 20 years after his light thing on the road) he says that it was three years after his revelation that he first met with the apostles (Gal 1:18) and his next visit was 14 years after (Gal 2:1). So it actually looks like he did not know enough about the detail of the words & works to go around quoting them.

Also interesting is the fact that he was clearly not of one mind with the apostles on a number of topics - more than just circumcision. I get the impression that he saw his message as more important – it did not really matter what Christ said or did, what mattered was that he came from God and died for us. Now this emphasis may have been a genuine belief or an expedient way of avoiding a hole in his knowledge and more importantly submitting fully to the authority of the apostles.

Your earlier comment Bearing in mind that scholars generally agree that the Epistles were written before the Gospels, this is not what I would expect if Jesus was a historical figure. I would expect the historical ideas to be written first and the theological/mystical ideas to be developed later. At the very least I'd expect the first writings to be a mix of the two. That's not what we find though. The theological ideas come first and the historical ideas come later.

I now think I have a better context to reply. The above is part of the answer, but the chronology is also a driver as is the authorship of the material that has survived.

Depending on your source, this is a fairly common time line:
+/- 36, crucifixion
37 Paul sees the light
40 Paul visits apostles
65 Q & Thomas
70 Mark
80 Matthew
90 Luke
With this time frame the we see that there was only oral tradition for the apostles to “hand over” to Paul – and that was not why he went to see them – he was into what was for him the big question of the gentiles. A topic complex enough to have fully occupied their time together. Written words & works material only becomes available to Paul well into his mission. The apostles however are not hindered in the same way – they can go around preaching based on their first hand experience. So we have two messages on parallel courses driven by the reality of the situation.

Do you still expect the works & works to have appeared before the epistles? Why – the words & works had the living oral tradition (did not need to write it down, (plus they seemed to have thought that the second coming was to be in their lifetimes?)) and Paul was engaged in his mission (the theology) and accompanying letter writing.

The earliest non Pauline letter to survive is James at around 80 after Q and Thomas and at best concurrent with Mark etc. So since the words & works material was available we might well expect it to be referenced. If James (= leader in Jerusalem) and the apostles, in particular Peter in Rome were part of the plot to create a Jesus myth then they would have freely referenced the myth material. Likewise if the myth was being created around them we would have expected to see it discredited in their letters – don’t you think so?

If you use it, the argument form silence does have to work both ways. Why the silence on the myth creating conspiracy? Where are those debunking it? Besides, at the end of the day, why would anyone embark on this myth creating conspiracy when the certain outcome was a few rounds with the lions to entertain the Romans?

As a final comment, Luke (a gentile) was a companion of Paul’s from around 60. I can see why he needed to chronicle Acts and pen a gospel – he was ideally placed to do so. He had travelled with Paul, knew the apostles and had Q + Mark.

It does all seem to be a natural progression of events rather than an elaborate conspiracy.

God bless

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

Thanks for the thoughts and challenges. I'm finding this to be an interesting topic because I hadn't had previously heard any Christian responses to it.

You wrote:
"Paul certainly knew of Christ – he was after all doing a great persecution job."

This indicates that he knew of Christianity. There's no doubt that he knew about the apostles. Did he know about Christ as a man in recent history? Only if the apostles were preaching that.

"So it actually looks like he did not know enough about the detail of the words & works to go around quoting them."

Okay. I think we agree about that. Of course, there could be various reasons for Paul not knowing about the words and works but as you point out it is entirely consistent with him not spending time with the apostles.

"The apostles however are not hindered in the same way – they can go around preaching based on their first hand experience."

This is the bit I disagree with. Let's look at some non Pauline writings.

"The earliest non Pauline letter to survive is James at around 80 after Q and Thomas and at best concurrent with Mark etc. So since the words & works material was available we might well expect it to be referenced."

Yes, that's what I would expect. However, James is as silent as Paul.

James 2:5
"Listen, my friends. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he has promised to those who love him?"

Did James know about the sermon on the mount or the sermon on the plain? How could he resist dropping in a reference?

James 2:8
"If you are observing the sovereign law laid down in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' that is excellent."

Again, he might have made reference to Jesus teaching about love, but doesn't.

James 5:10
"Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."

Oops. He forgot to mention his brother. Okay, so scholars have already suggested that the epistle of James wasn't written by the brother of Jesus. However, I think we can be sure that it wasn't written by Paul or his companions.

"If James (= leader in Jerusalem) and the apostles, in particular Peter in Rome were part of the plot to create a Jesus myth then they would have freely referenced the myth material."

There's no plot. No conspiracy. I'm not suggesting that there was an organized campaign to create the myth but rather that it developed naturally. The idea is not that people created a myth around a historical figure, but the reverse; that people built a historical figure around the myth.

I'm not sure if James' use or not of the myth material is relevant. The myth material is found in Paul's letters and James' discarding of that material needs to be explained whether or not he knew about a historical Jesus. I'm not sure we agree about the extent to which it's discarded though.

"Likewise if the myth was being created around them we would have expected to see it discredited in their letters – don’t you think so?"

Yes. I don't think that the myth was created around them. They were part of the myth creation.

"Where are those debunking it?"

What is there to debunk? If the apostles and Paul were preaching a Christ who sacrificed himself in the spiritual realm then only someone who had lived with Jesus could say that they were wrong. But maybe Jesus didn't live on earth so nobody could object.

"Besides, at the end of the day, why would anyone embark on this myth creating conspiracy when the certain outcome was a few rounds with the lions to entertain the Romans?"

The real reasons are lost in the mists of time. They might do it because they believed the myth and they didn't have our 21st century view of objectivity. They might do it to make a quick buck under the title "the poor of Jerusalem". They might do it to give themselves a position in the church and gain respect from Christians.

I'm out of time. I'll have to get back to your comment about Luke later.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

I quite doubt that the author of Acts (we can call him Luke) was a companion of Paul, the author of Galatians and other epistles. Paul made a big deal in Galatians 1:13-2:1 about how he was independent from the apostles in Jerusalem and only visited them twice in 17 years. This doesn't fit at all with the description given in Acts 9:26-28 where he visited the disciples and moved freely in Jerusalem. Acts makes no mention of the 3 years which pass before this trip. There is also a second trip recorded in Acts 11:30 before the Jerusalem council which is in Acts 15 and Gal 2:1. Did Paul forget about one of his trips when he wrote Galatians? Would he risk his reputation in lying about it? I think not.

The account Paul gives in Acts 13:31 of preaching on the basis of the witness of the disciples is at stark contrast with him saying that they added nothing to him in Gal 2:6.

Paul is also presented in Acts 21:40-22:21 and Acts 24:1-21 as giving great speeches. Yet in 2 Cor 10:10, Paul's accusers said "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing."

I could go on. The point is that Acts doesn't seem to be written by someone who had heard the stories directly from Paul and was present on some of his journeys.

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil, as much as I am enjoying this thread, I seem to have lost sight of the plot. Perhaps too much reading around the topic.

Can you give me a quick recap on why you see this an important. You referred earlier to the Jesus puzzle and said that it presented you with the only explanation for the omissions. Doherty attacks Christ as a viable historic figure and hence sees all of Christianity as a myth. You refer to this again more recently "I don't think that the myth was created around them. They were part of the myth creation." .

I suggest that there is no evidence of anyone debunking the myth - certainly at the time of writing at least Jewish writers should have been there to respond. The only Talmud references I am aware of that seem pertinent support the historical Jesus, crucified on the eve of passover. e.g Schafer "Jesus in the Talmud" which presents a picture of the Talmud writers discrediting a historical Jesus person rather than a myth) or rational behind them creating a myth (not buying to ticket to anywhere except trouble.

- or have I missed your point?

Hamba kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

Neil, I would still appreciate you restating your point, the significance of the omitted references to help me focus, but in the meantime I have not been idle.
Out of curiosity I looked up the pastoral letters from the Bishop of Auckland to see if he referred to Jesus to back up his position in his letters. Now it is interesting that he doesn’t tend to do so (e.g. #1 below). In this example, he refers to a letter (#2 below) from the Pope – I understand this to be a common trigger for a pastoral letters.

So I went off to a long apostolic epistle by JPII on the role of Sunday (interesting but by no means riveting) BUT again I found no reference to the pre crucifixion ‘words & works’ of Jesus – I may have missed one, but it is interesting because JPII and all the reference material at hand – no excuse not to use it; plenty of OT references and to the epistles – much like the epistles of old. I wonder if we both missed a contextual factor? Now I have not gone on a rampage of reading all the papal letters, so I have too small a sample to draw a real conclusion ….. but interesting?

Peace

#1: http://www.catholic.org.nz/statements
/9805_obligation.php

#2: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father
/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents
/hf_jp-ii_apl_05071998_dies-domini_en.htm

akakiwibear said...

Neil, I came across another letter - combined Bishops of NZ - again no references to 'words & works' - so my sample has doubles with no change in conclusion.

Perhaps when writing to those of the faith and when confident of ones own authority it is not necessary to bolster ones position with referential authority from a source the reader is already familiar with?

While I doubt this answers your real concern, it gives me time to seek out a better response if one is to be found.

Hamba kahle

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"Can you give me a quick recap on why you see this an important. You referred earlier to the Jesus puzzle and said that it presented you with the only explanation for the omissions."

Christianity and its theology can be viewed as a search for truth, but in the most part that search is conducted within the assumption that the life and death of Jesus and the acts of the apostles are basically true in a historical sense. I'm challenging that assumption.

Does it matter if that assumption is false? It doesn't matter to me either way. I don't know if it matters to you. It certainly matters to a good proportion of the population of the USA. Perhaps another discussion we could have is what it would mean to be Christian but not believe that Jesus was on earth.

"I suggest that there is no evidence of anyone debunking the myth - certainly at the time of writing at least Jewish writers should have been there to respond."

Why would they debunk it? My view is that the Christians were initially talking about Christ Jesus being crucified in a spiritual realm as revealed through scriptures (the Old Testament). They then wrote the Gospel accounts as allegories of the spiritual events. Later, the Gospel accounts came to be viewed as historical rather than allegorical in nature. Only at that stage would anyone have anything to debunk, but that was in the second century by then nobody was in any position to debunk it.

The reference in the Talmud does seem to support the idea of a historical Jesus, but perhaps it was written in response to the early church rather than being written based on Jewish witness of Jesus.

Your points about the pastoral letters are interesting. I hadn't thought of that possibility, so thank you for challenging my. I'll give a full response later, but for now I'll just say that I think the key question is this: "Which words and works would we expect to be quoted given the subject?"

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

For the lazy, the letters are #1 and #2.

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil, thanks for the restatement - I will get back to it later.

As for "Which words and works would we expect to be quoted given the subject?" with the topic of Sunday observance I would have thought there were plenty of examples to choose from. The thrust of the letter was 'specially do good' in the community on Sundays. Incidents from which references could have been extracted include:
Matt 12:10
Mark 2:23
Luke 13:16

Peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"The thrust of the letter was 'specially do good' in the community on Sundays. Incidents from which references could have been extracted include:
Matt 12:10
Mark 2:23
Luke 13:16
"

Two of these are referenced in JPII's letter, paragraph 63. Well, two out of three isn't bad.

I'm not sure why you distinguish between the pre-resurrection works of Jesus and the post-resurrection works. Both are absent from the epistles. The early epistles only include the Eucharist account. They don't include stories like the meeting on the road to Emmaus like JPII does (paragraph 20). They just have vague references to the Christ appearing to people.

JPII also references the following verses: Lk 4:18-19, Mt 5:23-24, Jn 14:26, Jn 11:52, Jn 16:20, Jn 17:13, Jn 15:10-12, Jn 14:27. I haven't checked to see if he's referring directly to Jesus, but they all form part of the pre-resurrection narrative.

Now, it's true that the NZ Bishops don't reference Jesus' words and works directly, but they do indirectly. They leave not doubt that they are writing in order to bring JPII's letter to light and they rest their authority on it. Reading the NZ Bishops' letter, I can't see any point where a reference to Jesus' words and works would have been appropriate.

The Epistles are different; they speak in their own authority and rest on the authority of the old testament.

Peace, Neil.

J.L. Hinman said...

Paul knew a lot of teachings of Jesus . Helmutt Koester is convened that he had a saying source, one that contained many synoptic sayings.

The Epistles don't include a lot of the epiphanies because they had either not been collected into a single work like a gospel, yet, or because the authors weren't in the communities that had those sources. There was no single unified source for them to turn to.

I have a page where I put together the passages where Koester thinks Paul either alludes to teachings of Jesus or to teachings from saying suorce that became Gospels: two lists; Jesus teachings, and narratives about Jesus, alluded to in Paul.

http://www.doxa.ws/Myth/Paul_Jesus.html

J.L. Hinman said...

"Why would they debunk it? My view is that the Christians were initially talking about Christ Jesus being crucified in a spiritual realm as revealed through scriptures (the Old Testament). They then wrote the Gospel accounts as allegories of the spiritual events. Later, the Gospel accounts came to be viewed as historical rather than allegorical in nature. Only at that stage would anyone have anything to debunk, but that was in the second century by then nobody was in any position to debunk it."


sorry, don't wish to be rude but that's Doherty's little fantasy world.see my pages

http://www.doxa.ws/Myth/myth_template.html

akakiwibear said...

Hi Joe,
Thanks for the link - interesting!

Neil,
I hope you get more out of Joe on this than you were getting from me. As you could see I was learning as I went along.

Hamba kahle - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi Joe,

You wrote:
"I have a page where I put together the passages where Koester thinks Paul either alludes to teachings of Jesus or to teachings from saying suorce that became Gospels: two lists; Jesus teachings, and narratives about Jesus, alluded to in Paul."

Some of those are quite weak. The parable of the sower isn't much like 1 Cor 3:6. Even so, all this argues is that there is a common source. There's no reason to conclude from this that the common source is a historical Jesus.

Anyway, if Paul knew enough to allude to Jesus' teachings, why didn't he know enough to quote him as an authority? Akakiwibear has already solved this by saying that Paul didn't know enough to quote Jesus. Are you saying this too?

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Neil, "Christianity and its theology can be viewed as a search for truth, but in the most part that search is conducted within the assumption that the life and death of Jesus and the acts of the apostles are basically true in a historical sense. I'm challenging that assumption."

I am not really up on the historical Jesus research, but when even John Loftus at DC is accepting of the historical Jesus, the question does not raise enough of an alarm bell for me.

On reflection I don't think that much can be concluded from the missed references. Certainly one can't compile a convincing conspiracy theory that does not have a reasonable explanation.
Let me pass on some comments from Bill Gnade on the topic.
Well, if it does, then a simple question must be asked. What sort of conspiracy (accidental or intentional) is this? Are we expected to believe that the writers of the Epistles would intentionally omit Christ's teachings solely to lead various churches towards the acceptance of something historically fabricated? Would not INCLUDING the statements of Jesus, even if manufactured, have given the epistolary writers even more credibility, or at least the appearance of some authority?
I mean, I can hear dozens of listeners to Paul's epistles ask, "Who the HELL is this Jesus Paul keeps talking about?"


If we are to take any part of Paul's epistles as historically accurate, one viable contender for historicity are those passages wherein Paul does indeed confront his detractors and deniers. Much of Paul's time is spent defending his own authority, his own legitimacy as an apostle, teacher and convert. In short, Paul expends much effort in establishing authority; and not one ounce of his time is spent on the authority of the Christ he is allegedly manufacturing.

Why is that? Surely the Corinthians, a more recalcitrant bunch one cannot find, would struggle with authority. Why then do they not seem to struggle at all with Christ's authority, for He's the issue; even Paul says as much, and yet Paul is always the object of scorn. Or does this not all imply that the members of the early Church already accept the authority of Christ (at least mostly) and that He's the reason they even exist -- as a Church?


What do we know about Paul's ministry? Well, if we can accept that Paul's teachings are reliable -- they are to Neil, or else Neil would not use them even to bolster his own case -- then we know that Paul -- in every instance he posted a letter -- addressed that letter to men and women who were already converted. Paul -- and others -- report that the disciples first travelled everywhere and preached Jesus the Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.


It was this gospel that converted souls; it was these evangelical and pedagogical events, some which lasted weeks and weeks, that brought people into contact with the words and teachings of their Lord. Moreover, converts experienced an intense and empirical manifestation of God's presence via the Holy Spirit; there was something that happened that verified the power of "pretending to know nothing other than to preach Christ and Him crucified."


The Epistles follow these evangelical outreaches in some cases by several years. No wonder, then, that Paul did not feel it necessary to use the teachings of Christ in his letters. Like the author of Hebrews, who said that his readers should move "beyond the elementary teachings of Christ," Paul's letters are meant as the meat and potatoes of Christian faith (insofar as it was lived up to that point). The letters are not interested in revisiting what had already been shared and discussed in person. These were follow-up letters addressing specific issues that were often unique to certain congregations. They were not evangelical in and of themselves; that is why they are not called gospels.


Lastly, I think that, because Jesus spoke Aramaic (most likely), it took some time for the oral tradition to translate the teachings of our Lord into Greek. That this means that most of Jesus' original words MUST be lost to us is unarguable; but it also makes things so very interesting, exciting and, well, believable.


From what I have read I am happy with the view that there was a convergence of Paul's revelation based teaching and the "words & works" of the early Christians. Bill’s comments relating to the tensions between the groups are interesting and tend to confirm

It is also interesting to ask who Paul was persecuting prior to his conversion. He was persecuting the Christ's followers - not of a "Christ Jesus being crucified in a spiritual realm as revealed through scriptures (the Old Testament)." which not have got the Jewish authorities quit so excited.

My thanks to Bill for his input!!

Hamba kahle - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you; I've been pretty busy.

Yes, John Loftus hasn't questioned the historical Jesus. I'm afraid I don't see how that's relevant. Loftus doesn't know all the arguments you know... What matters is whether the argument makes sense.

Thanks for forwarding Bill Gnade's comments.

He wrote:
"Are we expected to believe that the writers of the Epistles would intentionally omit Christ's teachings solely to lead various churches towards the acceptance of something historically fabricated?"

I don't think so, no. I don't think that the Epistle writers were attempting to present Jesus as an historical figure at all, quite simply because they completely failed to do that. So, what were the Epistles referring to? I think it's best to look to the Epistles to answer that question.

In common with the Gospels, the Epistles speak of a Christ who was born of a woman, of the line of David, who was crucified, died and was raised. The death and resurrection of Christ Jesus was central to Paul's gospel. However, the Epistles deviate from the Gospels in a few places.

Ephesians 3:4-6
"[3] that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. [4] In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, [5] which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. [6] This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."

This doesn't talk about historical events but rather about a mystery revealed by the Spirit.

2 Timothy 1:9-10
"God, [9] who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, [10] but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."

This isn't saying that grace was given through events in first century Palestine but that it was before the beginning of time. It was revealed through the appearing of Christ to Paul and the other apostles.

Hebrews 8:4:
"[4] If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law."

I find this verse to be very striking. It seems to be saying that Jesus was not on earth when he made his sacrifice.

Bill asks why the Corinthians didn't struggle with Christ's authority. Isn't Paul defending that in 1 Cor 15:27 where he quotes Psalm 8:6?

"For he 'has put everything under his feet.'"

I certainly agree that Paul was preaching about the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. The question is where the death and resurrection occurred.

Bill wrote:
"No wonder, then, that Paul did not feel it necessary to use the teachings of Christ in his letters."

I'm afraid that doesn't address the particular cases I have outlined previously where there would have been a case for the Epistle writers to refer to particular bits of teaching, just to jog the reader's memory.

"Lastly, I think that, because Jesus spoke Aramaic (most likely), it took some time for the oral tradition to translate the teachings of our Lord into Greek."

An interesting point which many people overlook. However, this would be a reason for the Epistle writers not giving a word-for-word quotation of Jesus. It wouldn't stop them from giving a summary in their own words.

Peace, Neil.