Tuesday, September 14, 2010

McGrew versus Babinski on the reliability of the New Testament

Tim was having trouble getting his rebuttal to Ed Babinski up onto Blogger, so I am reproducing the dialogue here. 

EB: What exactly did their eyes witness?

TM: More or less what they said they did.

EB: 1 Cor. is the earliest and also the most sparse example. All it tells us is that "Jesus appeared."

TM: ... to Peter, and to the twelve, and to five hundred people at once, and to James -- all of which means just what it sounds like it means. It isn’t the point of a creed to give a lengthy description of all that Jesus did and said after his resurrection. This one circulated in the 30s; one of the purposes, plainly, was to list the people of whom one might inquire.

EB: As for Jesus "speaking" that story builds as any legend might, from no words related by Paul,

TM;... which we would not particularly have expected, given the sort of work Paul is writing and the nature of the creed he is quoting

EB: ... to no words related by Mark, ...<

TM: Arguments from silence are almost always lousy, but you cannot build one here at all since the ending of Mark’s Gospel is lost.

EB:... to a few sentences in Matthew ...

TM: ... whose account becomes so compressed in the final chapter that it is very likely he was running out of scroll, in which case it is not possible to press any inference very hard here ...

EB: ... to hundreds of words and allusions to entire speeches and 49 days of meeting with Jesus in Luke-Acts and John.

TM: What else would you expect? With Luke, you have someone who set out to collect reminiscences of Jesus; with John, you have someone who was perhaps the only disciple personally to accompany Jesus on his earlier trips to Judea and who set out to fill in the gaps left by the previous Gospels.

EB: The legend grew.

TM: This conclusion is not well supported by the evidence you have presented. It is antecedently improbable, it is contradicted by numerous other facts about the text, it flies in the face of the testimony we have regarding the origin of these documents, and there is an alternative explanation that covers more of the facts better.

EB: Singh and Sevi are NOT beside the point.

TM: They are completely irrelevant to the point under discussion. I personally know a guy who claims that Jesus came and lived with him for a few weeks. This proves nothing. Good grief.

EB: As for the Gospel of John's description in chapter 3 of meeting with Nicodemus, it's in Greek and contains a pun that confuses Nicodemus which is shouldn't have happened since they were mostly likely speaking Aramaic, not Greek to one another, ...

TM: Please read what I wrote above. It is very plausible that they were speaking Greek, a language that Jesus, as a tradesman working in Galilee, would have had to acquire.

EB: The previous Gospels have Jesus teaching many plainly Jewish things about "how to inherit eternal life" during the day in front of other people.

TM: ... and not using the phrase “born again.” Yes, quite. But what of it? The entire premise of your objection here is based on a careless reading of John 3. John doesn’t say that Jesus spoke with Nicodemus by night to hide His true teaching from the Jews; it says that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night for fear of the Jews.

EB: Interestingly, only in the Gospel of John do you find the continual depiction of Jesus as the Lamb of God, right from Jesus' first meeting with John the Baptist and put on the lips of John the Baptist, to the "secret nighttime meeting" with "Nicodemus," ...

TM: Right: John uses a phrase not found in the other Gospels. (Yawn.)

EB: ... to the end of the Gospel of John which (unlike the other Gospels) has Jesus slaughtered on the same day they are slaughtering the "lambs" for the Passover Feast.

TM: Another misreading: John has Jesus crucified on the same day as the Synoptics.

EB: My conclusion is that YES, people were making stuff up about Jesus.

TM: People certainly did make up stories about Jesus; we just disagree as to whether the Gospels are instances of that genre.

EB: And I think any religion that wants me to believe in made up hints of stories that continued to be passed along and flourish as legends via a game of "telephone" ..

TM: It wasn’t a game of telephone. Even Bart Ehrman, when he is speaking with serious scholars instead of selling soap to the masses, doesn’t try to pretend this.

EB: ... (played out from Palestine to the Greek speaking world where the stories took root and became "Gospel") ...

TM: Memo to Ed: Palestine was part of the Greek speaking world.  

EB:  ...is equivalent to asking me to turn in my questioning brain.

TM: I would have a good deal more sympathy for you if you showed any willingness to question some of the lousy arguments you have posted on your own website. Skepticism need not be reserved for the Gospels and the creed, Ed. Try doubting something else.

*****

24 comments:

terri said...

Arguments from silence are almost always lousy, but you cannot build one here at all since the ending of Mark’s Gospel is lost.

Do you have any evidence that the ending to Mark's gospel was lost? I mean, other than speculation that suits your argument?

whose account becomes so compressed in the final chapter that it is very likely he was running out of scroll, in which case it is not possible to press any inference very hard here

DO you have any evidence that Matthew compressed his ending because he just happened to underestimate the length of his scroll? I mean, other than advancing the theory because it suits your argument?

with John, you have someone who was perhaps the only disciple personally to accompany Jesus on his earlier trips to Judea and who set out to fill in the gaps left by the previous Gospels.

Any evidence that John was the only person to accompany Jesus on his trips to Judea?

I am being kind of snarky....but holding together a theory with bald speculation and theories that aren't advanced by the actual texts you are trying to defend is very weak, shaky ground.

You are basing an awful lot on "fill in the gap" ideas that have no basis in anything remotely supported by the texts of the gospels themselves.

terri said...

One other thing...when we take part in "fill in the gap" apologetics, we wind up doing the very same thing that you seem unwilling to admit the gospel writers and collectors might have done....adding to the initial story, explaining things that might seem contradictory, trying to make a cohesive whole out of several different traditions/pieces of information.

Is it so unbelievable to think that we are not the first people to do such "fill in the gap" explaining?

Tim said...

Terri,

None of these points is my invention. All have able defenders; each is based on public evidence, both internal and external. Even a casual search through a few decent commentaries would have answered your questions. If you've really never heard any of this before, it might be more prudent to dial back the aggression a bit and do some reading. I'll give one suggestion apiece for each of the points you raise.

1. If your question arises from a desire to defend the Textus Receptus and the long ending, that's one thing; if you're asking a broader question about textual critical methods, that's another. That the long ending of Mark is inauthentic and the original ending is lost is the judgment of most professional textual scholars, including Bruce Metzger. The text would have to end with εφοβουντο γαρ, which would be curious and unprecedented; various MSS either break off there (some with a blank space following) or give us one of four different endings. See Metzger's discussion in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, in loc.

2. The evidence here is partly internal (Matthew's treatment of every topic becomes much briefer at about the beginning of ch. 28) and partly external (we know that his gospel is about the maximum length that fit on a standard cut scroll). See, e.g., the classicist E. M. Blaiklock's Commentary on the New Testament, in loc.

3. This has been noted repeatedly as an explanation for the fact that in several of the Jerusalem visits recorded in John, there is no trace of the other disciples. We know independently that they had jobs and, in Peter's case, a wife. For a simple, clear exposition of the case, you might want to have a look at Frederic Seebohm's little book The Facts of the Four Gospels.

Walter said...

Terri hit on a couple of points that I was going to. I posted in another thread that I do not believe that the gospels were truly written by eyewitnesses due to the serious discrepancies in the post-resurrection accounts concerning whether the disciples saw the risen Jesus in Galilee or Jerusalem.

From a Jewish apologetic site quoting Father Raymond Brown:

In an essay carrying the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur (official declarations by the Catholic Church that a book is "free of doctrinal or moral error"), Brown admits that the apparent contradiction in records of the post-resurrectional appearances is real. "It is quite obvious," Brown writes, "that the Gospels do not agree as to where and to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection."[1] "Just as the Jerusalem tradition leaves little or no room for subsequent Galilean appearances," explains Brown, "the Galilean narratives seem to rule out any prior appearances of Jesus to the Twelve in Jerusalem."[2] Citing immense textual evidence, Brown then declares his disapproval of the simples solution to the contradiction: "We must reject the thesis that the Gospels can be harmonized through a rearrangement whereby Jesus appears several times to the Twelve, first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee."[3] Rather, concludes the Church spokesman, "Variations in place and time may stem in part from the evangelists themselves who are trying to fit the account of an appearance into a consecutive narrative."[4] Brown makes clear that the post-resurrection appearance accounts are creative, substantially non-historical attempts to reconstruct events never witnessed by their respective authors.

Excerpted from http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christian_Credibility.htm

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,

Thanks for introducing me (and my questions) to Dr. McGrew. I have composed a reply to only his first few lines on my own blogsite

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/09/timothy-j-mcgrew-versus-edward-t.html

Peace, and goodnight!

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Thank you for taking the time to reproduce Tim's comments. I have greatly enjoyed his contributions to this blog.

John I. said...

Re the descrepancies in the gospels

From a historian's standpoint, the descrepancies between the gospels indicate early and independent origin and sources of the various stories. One would expect perfect harmony if the gospels were merely inventions of the later church. Real eyewitness stories are seldom the same, as any (legal, psychology, historiological) text on the issue of witnesses will attest.

regards,
John I.

Walter said...


One would expect perfect harmony if the gospels were merely inventions of the later church.


I know of almost no skeptics that think the gospels are pure literary creations coming from one institution. (I do know at least one radical skeptic who maintains that Christianity is a fourth-century fraud promulgated by Constantine and Eusebius)

From a historian's standpoint, the descrepancies between the gospels indicate early and independent origin and sources of the various stories.

The discrepancies can also be explained by oral traditions that are diverging in their successive retelling. This would, of course, assume a later date of authorship for the gospels than the far-right views that many here espouse.

terri said...

1./2. I'm not trying to defend the long ending of Mark, as I have pointed out on other threads that the long ending was obviously a later addition to Mark meant to harmonize the various gospel endings.

I am pointing out that it's impossible to say that there was an Markan ending that somehow got lost. How exactly would that work? Knowing that Mark is shorter than Matthew, which you argue is about the length of a typical scroll, how could the ending be lost? I guess you could argue that Mark wasn't written on a scroll , but instead came on separate pieces of paper and the last one just happened to get lost, but that would undermine your theory about Matthew and having to fit it on a certain length scroll.

If Matthew was worried about length he could have written on separate pieces like Mark! :-)

I am being silly, but do you see how these arguments can work against each other!?

There is no reason to assume that there was a Markan ending that got lost. If you give early dates to the gospels, then you assume that very early on the stories and sayings of Jesus began to be collected and preserved and revered which doesn't leave much time for a Markan ending to be lost beyond recovery, because an early date would mean that there would be people around who knew Mark, knew the ending, and could reunite any "lost" endings with the text.

On the other hand if the dating of Mark comes much later, than you also have a problem for the very same reason. Why would anyone need to add on the longer ending to Mark if the gospel was still fresh within the minds of those who read it?

It makes more sense to believe that the ending of MArk is exactly as it is written and that MArk chose to end his gospel that way for a reason known only to himself.

One they proposes that he died before he completed it. Nice theory....but it's still just reaching for an explanation for the conflicting accounts we have in the gospels.

3. This has been noted repeatedly as an explanation for the fact that in several of the Jerusalem visits recorded in John, there is no trace of the other disciples.

To use one of your arguments....the argument from silence is a weak one. Just because the disciples aren't specifically mentioned doesn't mean that they weren't there. Just as you said earlier about Paul not having to go into detailed explanations about Jesus' appearing and speaking, why is there an assumption that if John doesn't list the disciples each and every time, that they are not there?

I put forth that the reason this argument exists is to recover John as factual even though so much of what happens in John doesn't show up in any of the other gospels. If John happened to have lots of one-on-one time with Jesus, then we would expect him to know more than the other apostles.

But that isn't consistent with the other gospels or even John. Jesus' inner circle consisted of the Three, not the One.

Manuel Labor said...

The discrepancies can also be explained by oral traditions that are diverging in their successive retelling. This would, of course, assume a later date of authorship for the gospels than the far-right views that many here espouse.

Hi Walt,

All of these objections hinge on the premise that you had Jesus and one point in time and then years later you had Scripture and then believing Christians.

I've stated before, but here's the problem - Jesus didn't come to establish a set cannon of Scripture. He didn't hand out Bible with a table of contents.
He came an established a Church - a Church which the Bible refers to as the bulwark and manifold of truth.

Paul's various writings deal with him going out and either establishing churches in particular areas or guiding and reprimanding churches that were already in existence.
You had an active body of Christians who were hearing the stories as well as following the sacramental actions well before a set cannon of Scripture was even established.

So I guess I have to say "so what?".
So what if the Bible has an earlier date or a later date of origin.
You already had a body of believing Christians. If some element were to be entered in Scripture that none of them where even familiar with I can assure you of this - there would have been revolt. There would have been splitting among churches with people saying "Heyyyyy wait! None of that is what we were taught".

And if you doubt this.... just look at the big headache caused by the little Filioque distinction.

Walter said...

I've stated before, but here's the problem - Jesus didn't come to establish a set cannon of Scripture. He didn't hand out Bible with a table of contents.

Agreed!

He came an established a Church - a Church which the Bible refers to as the bulwark and manifold of truth.

Some would claim that Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God in what he mistakenly thought to be an imminent eschatological event. I also believe that there were many Christianities that spawned off of the original sect of Jesus' followers. Catholic Christianity is simply the Christianity that emerged victorious among the many factions of the second century. You may choose to believe that God providentially guided history to allow his One True Church to survive. I am not so sure.

Tim said...

Terri,

I am pointing out that it's impossible to say that there was an Markan ending that somehow got lost.

It is not impossible to say: it is the position of the best textual scholars. The ends of scrolls are the parts most liable to damage; looking at the Dead Sea scrolls, even the ones that are nearly complete are damaged on both ends.

How exactly would that work?

Terri, you seem to have an abundance of energy. I have given you some references to get you started. Instead of asking me to recapitulate in a combox the evidence for every claim, would you please channel some of that energy into going to a good library -- or even just doing a Google search -- and doing a bit of research for yourself? If, after that, you have some specific things you want to discuss, we can do that much more efficiently.

Knowing that Mark is shorter than Matthew, which you argue is about the length of a typical scroll, how could the ending be lost?

You can cut a longer scroll short, but you can’t cut a shorter scroll long.

If Matthew was worried about length he could have written on separate pieces like Mark! :-)

I am being silly, but do you see how these arguments can work against each other!?


No. The codex was used rather early by Christians as an alterantive to scrolls; but as far as I know, we do not have evidence that it was in use, or at least in wide use, in the 60s.

There is no reason to assume that there was a Markan ending that got lost. If you give early dates to the gospels, then you assume that very early on the stories and sayings of Jesus began to be collected and preserved and revered which doesn't leave much time for a Markan ending to be lost beyond recovery, because an early date would mean that there would be people around who knew Mark, knew the ending, and could reunite any "lost" endings with the text.

Time and weather are unkind to ancient written documents, not often preserving for us what was perfectly accessible to people at the time. The internal evidence very strongly suggests that there was more to the account; terminating at Mark 16:8, which is not the end of the length of a standard scroll, leaves so many loose ends and unanswered questions that the early church felt the need to fill in the gap in four different ways.

Tim said...

Terri,

On the other hand if the dating of Mark comes much later,...

Not my position.

... than you also have a problem for the very same reason. Why would anyone need to add on the longer ending to Mark if the gospel was still fresh within the minds of those who read it?

Only if the text as it came down to them seemed manifestly incomplete.

It makes more sense to believe that the ending of MArk is exactly as it is written and that MArk chose to end his gospel that way for a reason known only to himself.

I realize that this is how it seems to you, but reiterating your position is not the same thing as arguing for it. The manifest incompleteness of the narrative terminating at Mark 16:8 has been noted by most people throughout history.

One they proposes that he died before he completed it. Nice theory....but it's still just reaching for an explanation for the conflicting accounts we have in the gospels.

Actually, that theory is not an attempt to explain conflicting accounts but rather an attempt to explain why we have so many MSS of Mark with nothing beyond 16:8, why there are so many different attempts to fill it in, and why the text cuts off at a point that is obviously not the end of the narrative.

3. This has been noted repeatedly as an explanation for the fact that in several of the Jerusalem visits recorded in John, there is no trace of the other disciples.

To use one of your arguments....the argument from silence is a weak one.

It is not an argument from silence alone; we know of reasons that some of the others would have had to remain in Galilee. I noted some of those, above. Still, there is a component of the argument from silence in it, and that is why I advance it only as a conjecture. Note my use of the word “perhaps” in my initial response to Ed.

But that isn't consistent with the other gospels or even John. Jesus' inner circle consisted of the Three, not the One.

This is true, but it does not follow that all three must have traveled everywhere with Jesus at all times.

Tim said...

Walter,

I have read Brown's work, and I am familiar with this passage from his book on the virgin birth and the resurrection. He is a great source of information, but I am not impressed with his arguments on this point. His attempt to generate a contradiction between Luke 24 and Acts 1 (pp. 102-03) strikes me as particularly poor; he ought to have reconsidered his interpretation of Luke 24 instead.

terri said...

"Terri, you seem to have an abundance of energy. I have given you some references to get you started. Instead of asking me to recapitulate in a combox the evidence for every claim, would you please channel some of that energy into going to a good library -- or even just doing a Google search -- and doing a bit of research for yourself?"

Well, I'll ignore the condescending tone because I was being snarky, but I don't know what the comment about having an "abundance of energy" is supposed to mean especially considering how many commenters on this site spend much more time and energy composing responses than I usually do.

Whatever. You make too many assumptions about me. I have "googled" and read and actually found this earlier:

Thus, on the basis of good external evidence and strong internal considerations it appears that the earliest ascertainable form of the Gospel of Mark ended with 16.8. At the same time, however out of deference to the evident antiquity of the longer ending and its importance in the textual tradition of the Gospel, the Committee decided to include verses 9-20 as part of the text, but to enclose them within double square brackets to indicate that they are the work of an author other than the evangelist.

That is from Bruce Metzger, the scholar you referenced in your response to me, and in the very book you mention. He seems to agree with the viewpoint that Mark just ends at 16:8, strangely or not.

Here's a page where you can find that:
http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html

Now, from my perspective, you used a reference that didn't even support your point about Mark having a "lost" ending and you supposed that I was too dull to read it myself or to have any knowledge, limited though it may be, about the subject at all.

Not cool.

Alex Dalton said...

terri -

p. 126 of the revised version of the work by Metzger in this thread:

"Thus, on the basis of good external evidence and strong internal considerations it appears that the earliest ascertainable form of the Gospel of Mark ended with 16:8. Three possibilities are open: (a) the evangelist intended to close his Gospel at this place; or (b) the Gospel was never finished; or, as seems most probable, (c) the Gospel accidentally lost its last leaf before it was multiplied by transcription."

So we can see Metzger thinks a lost ending is most probable. In the page you link to, he's arguing for the shorter ending vs. other options, as the earliest manuscript. That doesn't conflict with his statement above (which does agree with what Tim is arguing).

Tim said...

Alas! Blogger is acting up again. I posted a response to Terri, quoting the same passage that Alex did, and it appeared momentarily but is now gone again. I'll try to repost it.

Manuel Labor said...

Catholic Christianity is simply the Christianity that emerged victorious among the many factions of the second century.

Hi Walt,

To some extent this is obviously true.
But this isn't the same as saying "catholicism isn't true - they just got lucky".
We can look at the writings of the Church Fathers.
Take Pope Clement - Bishop of Rome at the end of the 1st century.
He wrote a letter to the Corinthians pleading with them to cease with a sedition that had risen.
Elders with in the church in Corinth were being overthrown by younger members of the church.
Clement, writing as Bishop of Rome, pleaded referencing their common faith and goals for reasons to stop the revolt.

We have writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch (3rd Bishop of Antioch: 70-107 - the date of his martyrdom).
Of Ignatius, Eusebius writes "he fortified the parishes in the various cities where he stopped by moilies and exhortations, and warned them above all to be especially on their guard against the heresies that were then beginning to previal, and exhorted them to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles."


Walt, your comment isn't even the half of the truth of the matter.
These weren't blood thirsty maniacs wielding swords - they were begging their Christian brothers and sisters to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles. Doing this out of love.

Walter said...

Mark's ending could very well have been lost, but we can only speculate about what that ending actually contained.

Mark 16:7 has the young man at the tomb telling Peter and the disciples to head to Galilee where Jesus said he would meet them. So even without the original ending this places Mark's post-resurrection story at odds with Luke's Jerusalem tradition.

Jason Pratt said...

Tim: {{I would have a good deal more sympathy for you if you showed any willingness to question some of the lousy arguments you have posted on your own website.}}

I would have a good deal more sympathy for Ed if he would just acknowledge corrections to data he tries to argue about and wouldn't keep memetically regurgitating it year after year as though no one had ever said anything about it. Or if he read the texts to check before commenting on them. Whichever.

These are all points we've mentioned to him before for years and years. When someone keeps repeating that Jesus is "continually" called "the Lamb of God" all through a Gospel, despite people demonstrably showing him this fact is wrong--and this is only on a small point, the correction of which would hardly seem to dent his non-faith!--then that person is not interested in real discourse, or even in real questioning. He's only talking to hear himself talk.

(Jesus is called the Lamb of God exactly twice in any Gospel, namely in the first chapter of GosJohn, by the same character JohnBapt, in quick succession of immediately subsequent scenes. Never again in GosJohn, including during the crucifixion when it would seem the most appropriate, and including when JohnBapt gives his final testimony in that text. That includes the Nicodemus scene. In fact, the figure of Jesus as a lamb doesn't even show up as an implied image again in GosJohn between John 1 and the crucifixion, and doesn't show up again afterward either. So much for "continually"! RevJohn, yes, Jesus is continually the little Lamb there; GosJohn, no--that's reserved for how John the Baptist spoke of Him once, which eventually impresses the beloved disciple at the crucifixion years later. The end, period.)

JRP

terri said...

Alex and Tim,

OK. Not having come upon a "revised" version of the idea from Metzger, I can see what led to the confusion, though I went through many different levels of sites and only seemed to find the same quote from his 1971 version over and over agin, in many different contexts, those which made the case that he was only arguing against the longer ending, and those which took his statement as a presumption that we have Mark as it was written.

So...I am less annoyed now! ;-)

Still, though, I think the overall attempt at creating and perpetuating explanations that have nothing but speculation and informed imagination to support them is a bad move.....because humans are so good at imputing motives and creating scenarios that suit their opinion's best.

WHich is not to say that there isn't a place for trying to personally reconcile things in one's own mind. I just think the case is too shaky in these instances to be used for any definitive statements.

Tim said...

Terri,

The quotation from Metzger is in the Wikipedia article on Mark 16. I'm not a big fan of Wikipedia, but here it did get one thing right.

I hope your estimate of my "coolness" has been revised accordingly. ;)

Alex Dalton said...

Hi terri,

Just to be clear, I think Mark ended at 16:8, and have done quite a bit of reading on it. In fact, if we are talking about the consensus, according to at least one expert on Mark who argues *for* a lost ending (Robert Stein), the (overwhelming) majority of scholars held to a lost ending in the first half of this century, but now that has shifted and the majority probably hold to it ending at 16:8. This, IMO, doesn't really matter that much as most of the ways scholars have chosen to make sense of the Gospel's abrupt ending are, quite frankly, anachronistic and off the wall. However, even though I do think there is good explanation for it ending at 16:8 (I like Larry Hurtado's analysis here), I would not for a moment call arguments for a lost ending "speculation and informed imagination". On the contrary, there are some very good arguments (even if we allow that the autograph was indeed written on a codex that early), and I hold my view tentatively in light of them. In fact, with Clayton Croy's recent work _The Mutilation of Mark's Gospel_, that several scholars find convincing, we may see a shift in the consensus once again.

terri said...

" I would not for a moment call arguments for a lost ending "speculation and informed imagination"."

Don't you know that blog comments are meant for over-statements and broad generalizations that might not always hold up without qualification?

;-)