Saturday, August 30, 2008

Pray for Brant's Family

Please pray for Brant Pitre, his wife, Liz, and their four little children who live in Louisianna. Hurricane Gustav is headed right for them and it looks like it could be very, very bad.

Hurricanes are rated in five categories of strength. For some perspective, Katrina, which was one of the five deadliest storms in American history, was a category 3. Gustav is now at category 4 and it still has a ways to go before it makes landfall--which means it will in all likelihood continue to gain strength as it is fed by the waters of the gulf.

The storm is expected to make landfall around Monday night. That means there is plenty of time to pray for them.

If you could say a few prayers, psalms, rosaries, litanies, Masses--whatever you can do!--over the next few days I know they would greatly appreciate it. And let us keep all those in the path of the storm in our prayers as well.

"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Phil 4:6).

Heard from Brant tonight--the Pitres are just fine.

Thanks be to God!

Now, keep your eye on Ike (as well as Josephine?!), and, if you will, please offer another prayer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's a Wondeful World

Little Michael Jr. in his crib, watching his newly installed mobile for the first time. This speaks far more eloquently about Divine Beauty than anything I could ever write. Thanks be to God!

"Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Luke 18:15-17).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

St. Paul Conference This Weekend!!!

For anybody interested, just a reminder:

Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre, Steve Ray and I will be speaking in Dallas this weekend at a conference put on by the people at Fullness of Truth. The conference title is The Gospel According to St. Paul.

Here are the titles of the presentations:

"From Saul to Paul: Called or Converted?"--Scott Hahn
"St. Paul and the Mystery of the Church"--Michael Barber
"The Eucharist in St. Paul"--Steve Ray
"St. Paul and the Mystery of the Angels"--Brant Pitre

"The Catholic Paul"--Scott Hahn
"Justification: Faith and Works of the Law"--Michael Barber
"Resurrection of the Body"--Brant Pitre
"Following in the Footsteps of St. Paul"--Steve Ray

I couldn't be more excited--I'm especially eager to give the talk on Paul's understanding of the Church.

Come on out and join us if you're in the area. For more information go HERE.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Resurrection of the Lost Ark and the Assumption of Mary

In honor of the feast of Mary’s Assumption (today, August 15), I thought I would post something I recently discovered regarding the Jewish roots of the ancient Christian belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into Heaven. In an a first-century writing known as the Lives of the Prophets, there is an ancient Jewish tradition that the lost Ark of the Covenant would be the first to be resurrected. Here’s the exact text:

[The prophet Jeremiah said:] "The Lord has gone away from Zion into heaven and will come again in power... And in the resurrection the Ark will be the first to be resurrected and will come out of the rock and be placed on Mount Sinai, and all the saints will be gathered to it there are they await the Lord… (Lives of the Prophets 2:15; trans. Charlesworth, OTP 2:388).

What is the meaning of this mysterious oracle? And what does the “resurrection” of the lost Ark have to do with the Assumption of Mary? Allow me to explain.


Many people wonder: Where is the lost Ark of the Covenant? What happened to it? Is it somewhere in Egypt, as the Discovery Channel would have us believe? Or perhaps in a government warehouse, as Harrison Ford clearly showed us all those years ago?

The answer to this question is actually quite simple. According to the Bible, the location of the Ark is no mystery: it was hidden in Mount Nebo, east of the Jordan, where the prophet Jeremiah put it. Although little known by readers unfamiliar with the Catholic Old Testament, 2 Maccabees not only gives an account of where the Ark is hidden, but a prophecy of when it will be found again:

It was also in the writing that the prophet [Jeremiah], having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and seen the inheritance of God [Mount Nebo]. And Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense, and he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: “The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked…” (2 Maccabees 2:4-8)

As anyone familiar with this blog will know, what Jeremiah is saying here is that the Ark of the Covenant will remain hidden until the eschatological restoration of Israel (“when God gathers his people”) and the return of the Glory-cloud, known as the Shekinah (“the glory of the Lord and the cloud”), to God’s Temple. But when does this happen?


When the New Testament is read in light of the Old, a case can be made that the Ark is in fact an Old Covenant type that points forward to a new Ark, and that this new Ark of the Covenant is the Virgin Mary. Although we don’t have the space to go into detail here, suffice it to say that numerous Catholic commentators have noted that Luke’s account of the Annunciation bears striking parallels with the Old Testament accounts of the consecration of the Ark (Exodus 40) and the bringing of the Ark by David into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 15). Compare the following:

1. The Descent of the Glory Cloud
The glory of the Lord and the cloud cover the Tabernacle (containing the Ark) and “overshadow” (episkiazen)them (Exod 40:34-35, cf. v. 3).

The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and the power of the Most High “overshadows” (episkiasei) her (Luke 1:35).

2. The Ark Goes into the Hill Country
David “arose and went” to the hill country of Judah to bring up “the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:2).

Mary “arose and went” into the hill country of Judah to visit Elizabeth (Luke 1:39).

3. How Can the Ark Come to Me?
David admits his unworthiness to receive the Ark by exclaiming: “How can the ark of the Lord“ come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9)

Elizabeth admits her unworthiness to receive Mary by exclaiming: "And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

4. Leaping and Shouting Before the Ark
David “leaped” before the Ark as it was brought in “with shouting” (2 Samuel 6:15-16)

John “leapt” in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice and Elizabeth cried “with a loud shout”: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed in the fruit of your womb!" (Luke 1:41-42)

5. The Ark Stays for 3 Months
The Ark remained in the hill country, in the house of Obed-Edom, for “three months” (2 Samuel 6:11)
Mary remained in the hill country, inElizabeth's house, “three months” (Luke 1:56)

In light of these startling parallels, it is reasonable to conclude that Luke is highlighting the parallels between Mary and the old Ark of the Covenant to suggest that she is New Ark. Just as glory cloud had overshadowed the Tabernacle in the Old Testament, so that God might dwell among men, so now the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, so that the Word becomes flesh and “tabernacles” among us (John 1:14). The New Ark is Mary's body. Just as the old Ark housed the 10 Commandments, the Manna, and the Priestly Rod of Aaron, so too the New Ark houses the Word of God, the Bread of Life, the True Priest.

Now, should there be any doubt that these parallels between the Old and New Testaments in the Gospel of Luke are drawing a connection between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, it should be recalled that these are not the only texts in the New Testament that connect the Ark and Mary. In another famous text, the revelation of the location of the Ark—in heaven—is juxtaposed with a vision of the Mother of the Messiah—also in heaven:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… (Revelation 11:19-12:2)

Clearly, there appears to be some connection between these two figures: both the Ark and the Woman appear in God’s Temple “in heaven.” Moreover, a strong case can be made that the woman—who is an individual, just like the “child” (Jesus) and the “dragon” (Satan) mentioned in the same passage are (Rev 12:3-4)—is indeed Mary, the Mother of the Messiah.

In light of passages such as these, Mary was revered in the ancient Church—and continues to be revered today in the Catholic Church—as the new “Ark” of the Covenant.


But what does any of this have to do with the bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven? And how does Mary’s identity as the New Ark illuminate the Jewish tradition about the resurrection of the Ark that I cited at the beginning of this post?

In short, the evidence suggests to me—others may differ—that one reason ancient Christians may have believed in the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven is that they recognized her as the New Ark of the Covenant.

The Church continues to teach that “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 966). The resurrection, our hope, is at the heart of this dogma. If ancient Christians identified Mary as the Ark and knew about the Jewish tradition that the Ark would be the first to be “resurrected,” then it may have provided theological support for their belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into the heavenly Temple. In fact, they would not even have had to know the Jewish tradition, since the Psalms themselves describe the “ascent” of the Ark into the Temple alongside a prophecy that was interpreted by ancient Christians as referring to the resurrection of Jesus:

Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place,
You and the Ark of your might

For your servant David’s sake,
Do not turn away the face of your messiah. (Psalm 132:8-9)

With these words, our reflection comes full circle: Where else could the Ark belong, but in the Heavenly Temple?

Before closing, I should make one final point. Guess what the biblical readings are for today’s Feast of the Assumption?

1 Chronicles 15 (David’s Bringing of the Ark Up to Jerusalem)
Psalm 132 (The Arising of the Lord and His Ark)
Revelation 11-12 (the Ark and the Woman Clothed with the Sun)
Luke 1 (The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth)

The Church remembers, even when we forget. Happy feast of the Assumption!

Foederis arca,
Ora pro nobis!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Christian Prophecy, the Jesus Tradition and Epicycles

I am very grateful for the response the previous post on the role of Christian prophets in the transmission of the Jesus tradition received. The post was picked up by other bloggers, including Metacatholic, Sean the Baptist, Exploring Our Matrix and Thoughts and Russellings.
I especially also appreciated the comments in the com-box, particularly those by Vinny, Kyle and Brant who had some very well-considered things to say.

When I wrote the post I wasn't really writing an in-depth treatment, but was rather highlighting some works that have raised key problems with the theory at hand. That theory, again, being that the Gospels contain not only the words spoken by Jesus but also sayings which came through Christian prophets which were placed on the lips of Jesus in the Gospels because such figures were truly believed to "speak in the name of the Lord." Again, some of those key discussions are found in Aune, Dunn, Hill, Bauckham, Hengel, Burridge, and Byrskog.

I simply quoted from the conclusions of these various scholars without really re-presenting their arguments. This is particularly true of Aune and Dunn.

In response to others who have commented, I'd like to raise a few of the following issues with the theory at hand, which are flushed out more in Aune and Dunn's discussion. For clarity's sake, let me restate the theory we are dealing with here briefly:

--Since early Christian prophets were believed to "speak in the name of the Lord" sayings which were believed to come from him through them were gradually incorporated into the Jesus tradition.
--When the Gospels were written the words of the prophets were placed back onto Jesus' lips.

Non-Prophet Statements: Distinguishing Between Prophetic Word the Jesus Tradition

First, while some may think the scenario regarding the inclusion of the sayings of Christian prophets is possible even plausible there is absolutely ZERO evidence to support such a claim. I realize that some point to the prophecies in Revelation or passages in the Odes of Solomon as examples, but, as Aune explains, such passages clearly identify such sayings as coming from the Risen Lord. Such passages could be considered the exceptions that prove the rule, for they are very clearly not presented as the words uttered by Christ during his public ministry. Moreover--and this point must also be stressed--it is very clear that the Apocalypse is of a different genre than the Gospels. The significance of this cannot be understated.

In short, there is really no indication that Christians failed to distinguish between the words of Jesus and the words of such prophets.

In fact, as many have observed--and as Doug Chaplin mentions on his blog--the evidence from Paul seems to show that distinction was made between words received in prophecy and words spoken by the Lord during his ministry. Take 1 Corinthians 7. In first 1 Corinthians 7:10 Paul explains the charge given by Jesus:

"To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife."

Here Paul is restating what had been passed down in the Jesus tradition, as reported in Matthew 5:32 and Mark 10:11-12.

But later Paul explains:

"A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God."

Notice that Paul believes he is prophesying--"I think that I have the Spirit of God"--but he does not present this teaching as being on equal ground with the commands of the Lord which he had received.

Indeed, facts are stubborn things--and the fact is, there is no indication that the early Church confused the teachings of Jesus with the words uttered by prophets.

Test Everything... Including the Prophets

Moreover, it seems clear that the words of the prophets were not simply accepted blindly, but were tested (cf. 1 Cor 12:3, 14:29; 1 Thess 5:20-22; 1 John 4:1). Even after Paul receives a revelation he recognizes the need to go up and meet with the apostles about it (Gal 2:1-10). Dunn writes:

"It could indeed be said that Paul's own claims to be an apostle, with a distinctive new or different emphasis in his gospel, had to be put to the same test and had to pass it if his apostleship and missionary work were not to be judged unacceptable variations of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the clear implication of Galatians 1-2, where Paul, having insisted on the independence of his apostolic authority from the Jerusalem apostles, nevertheless found it necessary to go up to Jerusalem to lay his gospel before the leading apostles, 'lest somehow I was running or had run in vain' (2:2). Despite his confidence that he was called by Christ, Paul recognized the necessity that his claim to exceptional revelation (Gal 1.12) had to be tested and accepted by those who represented the temporal continuity with Jesus. Which also implies that Paul's repeated insistence that he was indeed an apostle was in effect a claim to belong to that body which had responsibility to authenticate as well as to preach the gospel (1 Cor 15.8-11). In the light of all this, it must be judged unlikely that Paul for one woul dhave accepted any prophetic utterance as a word of Jesus simply because it was an inspired (prophetic) utterance."

There was a standard then that the words of the prophets had to be measured against--they did not themselves set the standard. In addition, if one reads Paul's understanding of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14 one does not give to prophecy the kind of weight one would expect had he believed that their words should be placed on equal footing as those uttered during Jesus ministry.

Generic Issues: Genre Matters

In the end, it seems to me that the idea of an annonymous transmission process is solely based on the speculation of scholars who, under the influence of Bultmann and the early form-critics, see the Gospels as related to folklore. The fact is, as Burridge and others (e.g., also Aune) have shown, the Gospels are bioi. The similarities between the Gospels and bioi are too numerous to be recounted here. Suffice it to say, Burridge highlights several points of contact, including: Subject (e.g., Verbal Usage; “Allocation of Space”), “External Features” (“Meter,” “Size and Length,” “Structure or Sequence,” “Literary Units”), “Internal Features” (e.g., “Style,” “Tone/ Mood / Attitude / Values”).

It is irresponsible to simply chalk these similarities up to coincidences. In fact, the vast majority of scholars have responded favorably to Burridge's work.

Again, the implications here are huge--the Gospels are written to tell us what Jesus himself taught. They were not written to simply describe the theology of the early Church.

Is That Kosher? The Absence of Sayings Addressing Early Christian Disputes

One of the key observations made by those who think the Gospels contain words spoken by Christian prophets is that they reflect the situation of the early Church. But I wonder about that as well. If the Gospel writers felt free to incorporate words from early Christian prophets who "spoke in the name of the Lord", you have to wonder: why didn't they ever put to rest some of the key controversies of the early Church.

The following is an obvious statement and everyone knows it to be true, but I think few have considered the implications of it: in the Gospels Jesus never speaks about circumcision. By all accounts this was a HUGE issue in the early Church. The fact that Jesus never speaks about it in the Gospels cannot simply be an oversight--especially given Luke's closeness to Paul. One would certainly expect something in Luke about it. And yet, there is nothing.

Moreover, there is really only one saying of Jesus in the Gospels on the kosher laws (Mark 7:18-23 (parr. Matt 15:17-20):

"Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”

Not only is the paucity of sayings on this issue striking, notice that it does not appear in Luke. Nor does it contain an explicit lifting of the kosher laws. In fact, it might be possible to read this without concluding the kosher laws could now be violated.

Other things could also be pointed out: the language of grace is absent in the Gospels, the explicit mention of Church offices, etc. Were there no prophetic utterances about such things? Or is it perhaps best to explain the absence of sayings about such things by recognizing that the Gospel writers distinguished between what Jesus said during his public ministry and what the prophets were saying in his name?

Naming Names: The Problem of the Annonymous Model

It should also be noted that the New Testament always links names with prophetic utterances (see Acts 11:27-28; 13:1; 21:9-14)--prophetic words do not come down annonymously. To simply assert that prophetic utterances were confused with words from Jesus' public ministry seems to me to be completely without warrant.

In addition, because form-critics assumed the Gospels were akin to folklore they had to make the case the titles of the Gospels--e.g., The Gospel According to Matthew--were later additions. Of course, this is pure speculation. As far as I know, there is not a shred of manuscript evidence to support such a claim. The fact is, the early Church was universally aware that the Gospels were associated with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--four figures who were either eye-witnesses to Jesus' ministry themselves or associated with such witnesses.

As I mentioned before Martin Hengel--no slouch!--in particular has made a very compelling case the titles are original. Hengel highlights the fact that they are universally attested from the earliest times. How did this universal agreement come about? Why is there absolutely no evidence that the Gospel of Matthew was ever, in any place or in any work, attributed to, say, James? How could such titles emerge as universally attested if they were simply later additions? Keep in mind--there was no blogosphere back then!

Moreover, there is no evidence in any of the earliest manuscripts (including the pre-Constantinian codices!) that these titles were ever omitted or that they ever were associated with other figures. In light of all this it is difficult indeed to imagine that the titles were added after the fact and quickly disseminated. [See Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ [trans. lohn Bowden; London: SCM, 2000]), 34-57; idem., Studies in the Gospel of Mark (trans. J. Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985; repr., Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 64-84; Theo K. Heckel, Vom Evangelium des Markus zum viergestaltigen Evangelium (WUNT 120; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999). One should also see the important exchange between T. C. Skeat, “Irenaeus and Four-Gospel Canon,” NovT 34 (1992): 194-99 and Peter M. Head, “Is P4, P64 and P67 the Oldest Manuscript of ‘The Fourfold Gospels: A Response to T. C. Skeat,” NTS 51 (2005): 450-7.]

So then, the Gospels appear not only to be biographies about what Jesus said--not simply what the Church later believed about him--but were also associated with specific individuals who would have been recognized as authorities on the matter.

Interestingly, the only major element of bioi that Burridge finds lacking in the Gospels are titles, which he assumes are later additions. Hengel's work would seem to solve that mystery.

Epicycles and Non-Prophet Conclusions

At the end of the day, I would argue that all of these pieces of evidence should give us very serious pause when it comes to simply accepting the idea that the utterances of the early Christian prophets were (1) not distinguished from what Jesus said during his public minsitry and (2) were placed on the lips of Jesus by the evangelists.

It seems to me that many scholars allow their own presuppositions about who Jesus was and what he could and could not have said to shape the way we actually interpret the evidence we have available to us. In fact, it seems to me that while there is absolutely no external evidence to support the form-critical model of a long annonymous transmission process scholars simply accept it because they can imagine something like that happening in the early Church. At the same time, where there is clear external evidence for how the early Church transmitted the teaching of Jesus that evidence is ignored or explained away.

Ultimately, it seems it has to be explained away because it doesn't fit the view preconceived model.

In the end, the whole situation reminds me of "epicycles." When Ptolemaic astronomy which held the earth to be the center of the universe began to run into problems calculating the movement of the stars Ptolemaic astronomers figured out a solution--there were cycles within cycles. As time went on astronomers had to incorporate more and more complicated cycles into their system to account for the way the stars moved. By the time of Copernicus such models were outrageous.

Copernicus explained that these extra cycles could all be eliminated if one recognized the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. What followed was the Copernican revolution.

When one looks at the form-critical models at work today and complicated theories suggested about the transmission of the Jesus tradition, I'm starting to wonder if we're looking at more epicycles.

Christian prophets might have said...

Their teachings might have been placed on equal footing with...

After a period of time, the Christians then came to believe...

Or perhaps the distance between Jesus and the evangelists is not as far as some have thought.

Perhaps all of these theories are epicycles which are propping up a failing dogmatic theory which is contradicted by evidence people are simply explaining away; perhaps the earth does not revolve around Bultmann and form-criticism.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Possible and Plausible: Criteria of Authenticity, Christian Prophets and the Jesus Tradition

I've been re-working a section in my dissertation on the so-called "criteria of authenticity" in historical Jesus research. I thought I'd do a series of posts on the topic here as I flush out some ideas. I am quite interested in any feedback--especially from anyone whose done any work in this area already. For those who are not familiar, perhaps this will be a helpful introduction. This post will serve as a kind of introductory discussion.

The use of "criteria of authenticity" really came into its own in the middle of the 20th century, in large part as part of a response to the work of Rudolf Bultmann who had essentially denied the possibility of establishing a historically viable portrait of Jesus' ministry. Bultmann believed that the early Christianity community itself was responsible for many of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels. (Incidentally, it has really only been relatively recently that scholars have come to consider the problem of ignoring the deeds of Jesus.)

The common term used to describe the historical Jesus research which responded to the skepticism of Bultmann is the "New Quest," i.e., as opposed to previous "quests"--particularly the work of Albert Schweitzer--to establish the truth about the historical Jesus.

While some disagree with the idea of identifying different categories of Life of Jesus research (e.g., the Old Quest, the New Quest, the Third Quest, etc.)--a position to which I have been sympathetic myself--I have found myself in total agreement with Michael Bird's assessment [cf. his outstanding article, “Is There Really a ‘Third Quest’ for the Historical Jesus?” in Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 24.2 (2006): 195-219] that such taxonomies are helpful in identifying various trends in research.

And there is no doubt in my mind that the "New Quest" marked a new trend in Jesus research in which writers placed great confidence in the use of the "criteria of authenticy" in the hope of distinguishing those teachings of Jesus in the Gospels which actually originated with him.

But before going further, let's address another question: According to such scholars, how was it that teachings not uttered by Jesus found their way into the Gospels? How was the historical memory of Jesus' public ministry so muddled? How did statements not made by the historical Jesus wind up being accepted as teachings of Jesus?

Some such as Bultmann have suggested that the answer may lie in the early Christian prophets. Such scholars suggest that in the early Church Christian prophets were believed to be able to speak "in the name of the Lord Jesus". In other words, somehow it came to be accepted that the risen Lord was speaking through certain individuals. Since it was believed that Jesus was speaking through them, the words the Christian community ended up giving equal status to such prophetic utterances as those words Jesus spoke during his earthly ministry. When the Gospels were written, the evangelists incorporated these teachings in their portraits of Jesus.

The most famous supporter of this position is M. E. Boring [Sayings of the Risen Jesus: Christian Prophecy in the Synoptic Tradition (SNTSMS 46; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); idem., The Continuing Voice of Jesus: Christian Prophecy and the Gospel Tradition (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991)].

The theory, however, has difficulties.

Is it possible that the early Christians believed certain prophets spoke in the name of the Lord Jesus, and that they accepted their words as being equal to those words spoken by Jesus himself?


And is it possible that they made no distinction between what Jesus said during his public ministry and what such prophets said in his name?


And is it possible that the names of these prophets who greatly influenced what the Church knew from the Lord would have been completely forgotten as irrelevant to the rest of the Church?


And is it possible that when the Gospel writers wrote their works they felt it acceptable to take such sayings and place them back onto the lips of Jesus, making it seem as if these were things he had said during his ministry?


And is it possible that this practice was seen as acceptable by those who had been eye-witnesses to Jesus' ministry, who offered no protest to this practice?

Why not?

And is it possible that if it wasn't acceptable to those who lived within the living memory of Jesus' minsitry that they did not launch a protest or if they did, it was successfully eradicated from historical memory?

Well, I guess, why the hell not?

But possibility and plausibility are two very different things.
Indeed, although many scholars have simply accepted the above reconstructed scenario as irrefutable historical fact--how dare you question a scholarly consensus?!--there is not a shred of evidence that this ever happened?! Not a single shred!

In particular I have been reading David Aune's discussion of the theory in Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 233-45. He concludes:
“German NT scholars, it appears, have seized the hypothesis of the creative role of Christian prophets because it both accounts for the additions to the sayings tradition and absolves the early Christians from any culpability in the forging of inauthentic words of Jesus. In spite of the theological attractiveness of the theory, however, the ahistorical evidence in support of the theory lies largely in the creative imagination of scholars” (245).
Likewise, see the discussion in James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, (CIM 1; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 186-92, in which he concludes:
“…[the] assumption of a vigorous prophetic activity in the earliest churches adding substantially to the Jesus tradition is hardly borne out by what we know about such prophetic activity. And our knowledge of how prophecies were received in the earliest churches raises a substantial question mark against any claim that distinctive or characteristic features of the Jesus tradition originated in prophetic activity. On the contrary, the likelihood is that the first Christian churches would have been alert to the danger of diluting or contaminating their vital foundational tradition by incorporating into it any material incoherent with its principal emphases” (192).
Moreover, see the work by David Hill, New Testament Prophecy (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott; Richmond: John Knox, 1979), whose work also poses problems for the theory.

The theory is rendered even less probable in the light of the work of three contemporary scholars whom I have discussed here before: Bauckham, Byrskog and Burridge. Richard Bauckham, particularly his recent work, Jesus and the Eyewitness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006), has raised serious questions about the belief that the Jesus tradition was passed on and ammended annonymously. While certain elements of Bauckham's book has been criticized, what is most compelling about it is his discussion of the work of Papias. Papias, a first-century Christian whose words survive in the writings of Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4), recounts his insistence upon hearing the actual commandments of Jesus from those who were eye-witnesses to Jesus' ministry--eye-witnesses whom he specifically identifies as Jesus' disciples:
"And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elder―[that is,] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice."
Moreover, Bauckham draws on other studies such as that by Samuel Byrskog [Story as History, History as Story: The Gospel Tradition in the Context of Ancient Oral History (Leiden: Brill, 2002)] who has also highlighted the fact that eye-witness testimony was a key part of ancient historiography. Luke, in particular, makes a point to mention his dependence on them in the introduction of his Gospel:
Luke 1:1-4: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2 just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-ophilus, 4 that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.”
And while Luke is the only one who mentions the use of eye-witnesses in his text, it is important to note that the Gospel titles themselves are linked with eye-witnesses: the early Church understood that Matthew and John were apostles and Mark was believed to have recorded Peter's eye-witness testimony. While these titles are assumed to be later additions by most scholars today, Martin Hengel has made a persuasive case for their authenticity (cf. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ [trans. John Bowden; London: SCM, 2000]). For one thing the universal attribution of the Gospels from the earliest times to these four figures--there is not a single case of one of them being associated with someone else!--is indeed difficult to explain.

Finally, there is the work of Richard Burridge on the genre of the Gospels. Burridge’s work has been extremely well-received by the academic community. His argument is that contrary to the assumptions made by Bultmann and the New Questers, the Gospels are not sui generis--unlike all other literature--but that they clearly fall within a particular type of literature known to the people of the first-century world. In fact, comparing the Gospels with other ancient works (e.g., Plutarch, Seutonius, Lucian) it becomes strikingly apparent that they fit well within the genre of Graeco-Roman biography (bios). The Gospels therefore are NOT written to simply reflect the theology of the early Church―they are meant to convey to us about what Jesus taught.

If this is the case, it is hard to imagine--though not impossible--the evangelists retrojecting the words of later Christian prophets onto the lips of Jesus. Given what was stated above, it is hard to imagine that the Jesus tradition was passed on annonymously. There is no way we can be sure the evangelists would not have known the names of those who had received further words from the Lord through prophetic utterances. The tradition was not an annonymous amalgem of sayings--it was associated with authoritative witnesses.

Again, let me make the point one more time--we need to distinguish between possibility and plausibility. And given what we know about the early Church, it seems to me the idea that the early Church made no distinction between the words of later Christian prophets and the words spoken by Jesus during his public ministry just isn't plausible.

Next up, I will look at the various criteria used by historical Jesus scholars. Up first: dissimilarity.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

For unto us a child is born...

The last couple of weeks has been a period of extremely slow posting. Why?

On Friday, July 18 at 4:53am my son, Michael Patrick Barber, Jr., was born after 33 hours of labor. He was 8lbs. and 11oz.

Of course, I will never be the same. The experience was nothing short of mystical. I came to know and love my wife so much more deeply and profoundly than I could have ever imagined possible.

It has all been so amazing.
I could write volumes on the experience. However, since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll just leave you with these...

Posting will resume soon...