“Misquoting Jesus”. Really? A refutation to Bart Erhman. / “Διαστρεβλώνοντας τα λόγια του Ιησού”. Πράγματι; Μια απάντηση στον Bart Erhman.

Bart Ehrman is a renown New Testament scholar. Many people quote his books in order to back their statements up, that the Gospel narratives, and the New Testament in general, is nothing more than human stories full of mistakes, contradictions and inconsistencies. Some of my blog readers too, have “informed” me that he is a scholar that doubts the reliability of the gospels (see e.g. the comments under my post entitled “How much force does the statement of the atheist that “there is no God” have?”).

So, the time has come for a critical evaluation of Bart Erhman’s scholarship. How valid are his arguments?

The following excerpt is from the new book entitled The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible: Discoveries That Confirm the Reliability of Scripture, by Joseph M. Holden and Norman Geisler to whom I am indebted.

A second critical post about Bart Erhman will soon follow. That too, will be based upon this great book.

Ο Bart Ehrman είναι ένας φημισμένος λόγιος της Καινής Διαθήκη. Πολλοί άνθρωποι αναφέρουν τα βιβλία του, με σκοπό  να υποστηρίξουν τις δηλώσεις τους, ότι οι Ευαγγελικές αφηγήσεις, και η Καινή Διαθήκη γενικότερα, δεν είναι τίποτα περισσότερο από ανθρώπινες ιστορίες γεμάτες αντιφάσεις, λάθη και αντιφάσεις. Μερικοί από τους αναγνώστες του blog μου επίσης, με έχουν «ενημερώσει» ότι αυτός είναι ένας λόγιος που αμφισβητεί την αξιοπιστία των Ευαγγελίων (βλέπε για παράδειγμα τα σχόλια κάτω από την ανάρτησή μου με τίτλο “Πόση ισχύ έχει η δήλωση ενός άθεου «δεν υπάρχει Θεός»;“).

Έτσι, έχει έρθει η ώρα για μια κριτική αξιολόγηση της λογιότητας του Bart Erhman. Πόσο έγκυρα είναι τα επιχειρήματά του;

Το παρακάτω απόσπασμα είναι από το νέο βιβλίο με τίτλο The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible: Discoveries That Confirm the Reliability of Scripture, από τον Joseph M. Holden και τον Norman Geisler στους οποίους είμαι υπόχρεος.

Θα ακολουθήσει σύντομα μια δεύτερη ανάρτηση για τον Bart Erhman. Και αυτή θα βασίζεται σε αυτό το εξαιρετικό βιβλίο.

The most current attacks on the reliability of the New Testament have come almost entirely from one person, renowned New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has argued against the reliability of the New Testament from just about every angle in a series of recent books. The next two chapters will be devoted to engaging his most significant claims.

Contradictions in the Gospels?

Numerous liberal scholars throughout the history of biblical interpretation have sought to identify contradictions within the Bible. Many of these attempts can be regarded as popular-level propaganda pumped out by atheist and skeptic organizations, and most of them do not deserve serious consideration.

Recently, however, Bart Ehrman has been responsible for several New York Times bestsellers and so is worthy of a lengthy response here. Unlike many critics who find conspiracies involving the Bible and who do not warrant much attention due to their lack of credentials and poor research (such as Dan Brown), Bart Ehrman is a fine historian who is widely respected within his field of biblical scholarship. While other interpret-m may propose similar kinds of things, Ehrman has been the most influential, consistent, and thorough in these allegations so we will engage the form of the arguments found in his works.

Continue reading

Advertisements

About the origin and composition of the Gospel according to John / Περί της προέλευσης και συγγραφής του Ευαγγελίου κατά τον Ιωάννη

However, while the Evangelist drew upon terminology which was also current at Qumran, it is clear that he was at variance with a good many of the interpretations and doctrines characteristic of the sectaries. Thus, whereas John could speak of the “children of God” and the “children of the devil” as well as the “spirit of truth” and the “spirit of error” there were many other occasions on which he was obviously not in theological agreement with the Iranian dualism so typical of the Rule of the Community. His divergence from the funda­mental tenets of Qumran thought is evident from the fact that his propositions were firmly rooted in the Hebrew religious tradition, which upheld metaphysically a monistic concept of reality whose ultimate principle was transcendently good rather than evil. Furthermore, John exhibits a characteristic difference from the theology of both Judaism and Essenism in emphasizing Divine grace as revealed in the Cross, rather than sup- porting a mechanical adherence to the works of the Law as the sole means of human salvation.

These conclusions will ultimately have an important bearing upon critical theories regarding the origin of the Johannine traditions. Already it is increasingly apparent that there is less evidence than was formerly imagined to support the claims of Gnostic influence upon John. The same holds good also for the view that the Johannine writings generally took their rise within the Philonic dualism of Alexandria. As Montgomery remarked nearly half a century ago concerning the Fourth Gospel:

“…the Gospel of John is the composition of a well-informed Jew, not of the Pharisaic party, whose life experience was gained in Palestine in the first half of the first century, and whose mother-tongue was Ara­maic; and that this conclusion alone explains the excellence of the historical data and the philological phenomena of the book.”

R. K. Harrison, Archaeology of the New Testament, σελ. 75, 76.

How probable is the hypothesis that the Gospels have been “tampered with”? / Πόσο πιθανή είναι η υπόθεση ότι τα Ευαγγέλια έχουν «πειραχτεί»;

The school of Bultmann took as its departure point the assumption that in the Christian communities during the first century of our era—since the community itself in the collective would have been patently unable to act except through its individual members—anyone at all could revise or alter the basic message accepted in the community, including the words reported to have been on the lips of our Lord himself. Indeed, anyone at all could improvise or invent his own version of the Gospel, his own parables, his own teachings; and the community, in the midst of which they lived, was supposed to have been totally accepting of whatever changes or alterations they might happen to have come up with. This assumption seems highly unlikely on its face, especially considering the respect with which the average Jew treated the sacred Scriptures. It is well established that no one had the right to alter in any way whatsoever the sacred writings that had been handed down.

It will be replied, of course, that there were not as yet any Christian Scriptures to treat with respect. But that is precisely the point that remains to be proved! Even if we accepted for a moment the hypothesis that there was a long tradition of oral preaching before our existing Gospels were finally set down in writing, we would still have no evidence or indication that the early Christians permitted members of their churches to alter or manipulate or change the message regularly preached to them concerning the words and acts of Jesus. It is quite unlikely that anyone was permitted to add to or take anything away from the basic message that was known to all. What we know for certain about the earliest Christian churches, we know mostly from the Letters of St. Paul. And St. Paul wrote that “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (1 Cor. 11:23). It is more than probable that this rule of the rabbi Paul was the rule observed throughout all the churches in the Mediterranean basin. The hypothesis put forward by scholars that there was a period of “creative evolution” during which numerous “literary transformations” took place which were ultimately incorporated into the text of the Gospels as we now have them is a highly fanciful hypothesis. There is no real objective or scientific basis for this hypothesis. It contradicts everything we know about the Judaism of the first century. The founders and members of the very earliest Christian churches were, at the outset, all Jews who came out of the world of the synagogue. That all these practicing Jews were suddenly transformed when they adopted the good news of Christianity, and henceforth allowed members of their communities to embelish or elaborate upon the basic message as they pleased, inventing a parable here, or a new miraculous episode there, is an improbability of the highest order.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 202, 203.

(Updated) What can a long oral tradition produce (in connection with the Gospels)? / Τι μπορεί να παράξει μια μακρά προφορική μετάδοση (σε σχέση με τα Ευαγγέλια);

Bultmann’s school presupposes what it ought to be obliged to prove, namely, that the four Gospels are late documents based upon a long tradition of oral preaching. It was in the course of the development of these long oral traditions that the episodes narrated in the Gospels were supposedly invented, and the parables of our Lord composed.

Quite apart from the fact that nobody has ever witnessed whole communities producing what the early Christian communities are supposed to have produced, it seems clear that different “traditions” existing in different places would never have resulted in anything but wide diversity and incoherence. A homogeneous result would have been impossible in the case of materials developed in this fashion. Different communities operating under different influences would undoubtedly have produced four gospels as different from each other as are the various gnostic pseudogospels in which all kinds of materials have been indiscriminately thrown together.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 199.

We can always take the easy road of accepting the reigning fashionable opinion. But on the hypothesis of a plurality of independently evolving gospel traditions which resulted in our existing four Gospels, we would never have arrived at usages so precise and consistent. If this hypothesis of plurality of gospel traditions were true, the result would rather have been four gospels that were incoherent and divergent and impossible to reconcile with one another, gospels that were filled with mutual inconsistencies.

If four different traditions had really issued in four different written gospels, they would have been the sort of writings that would have been produced by four different sects, if not by four different religions.

What has to be explained by any viable working hypothesis is the unity of thought among the four Gospels. With the New Testament documents that we in fact have—the four Gospels, the Letters of Paul, the Acts of the Apostles, the Book of Revelation—it is possible to derive a consistent doctrine about God, about Christ, and about the relationship between God and Christ. Why is this possible? It is possible only because all of the different elements of information provided in the various  New Testament sources belong to a coherent and homogeneous logical whole. However, if a number of different Christian communities had each produced its own individual gospel, we would have seen a different Christology issued from each of these divergent sources. But a careful examination of these documents—an examination such as the one we have conducted up to now—resulted in no such thing. The various elements provided in the different documents that make up the small library that has been named, because of a faulty translation, the New Testament, instead give a highly coherent and consistent account of their common subject matter. It is hardly the Christology of a Noetus, or a Praxeas, or a Sabellius that leaps to the eye from the pages of the New Testament; nor is it that of Theodore of Byzantium called “the Currier”. Toward A.D. 180, Noetus of Smyrna taught that Jesus Christ was quite simply God; his was a Christology in which “man” was not involved. When Christ suffered, God suffered; the incarnation was an adventure of God, which did not include any role for man. So much for Noetus.

Theodore the Currier, excommunicated by Pope Victor around A.D. 190, taught the converse. He taught that Christ was merely a man, psilon anthropon. These are the kinds of results obtained by leaving “traditions” to themselves. The various elements which make up the books of the New Testament do not in fact go off on their own. The Christology formulated by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles is wholly consistent with the total message of the New Testament; it is the same Christology the successors of Peter, the popes of Rome, would profess; it is the Christology of such popes as Damasus and Leo.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 200, 201.

What are the sources of the Gospels, and when can they be dated? / Ποιες είναι οι πηγές των Ευαγγελίων, και πότε μπορούν να χρονολογηθούν;

We know that crowds of people, common people, flocked to see our Lord and to hear him speak; many of these people no doubt knew neither how to read nor how to write. Nevertheless we also know that some of the disciples of Jesus were learned men, students of the Book. The author of the fourth Gospel depicts some of these educated disciples. It is a priori impossible that those disciples who did know how to read and write, and who spent their lives in the study of the sacred Hebrew Scriptures, would never have taken notes on what Jesus said, or written down what he did. The sayings of the ancient Hebrew prophets had, after all, been set down in writing. And the disciples of Jesus considered him to be much, much greater than any of the earlier prophets. Thus they would surely have written down his words, his teachings and his actions almost as soon as they had issued from him.

It is the opposite hypothesis that is unthinkable and absurd, namely, that nothing was ever written down about Jesus by his contemporaries, especially when we take into account the milieu in which our Lord lived and worked. He did not appear among some primitive Amazon tribe; the Jewish people probably boasted the highest literacy rate of antiquity when we consider the seriousness with which the Jews studied the Hebrew sacred Scriptures.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 192, 193.

In asserting that documents written in Hebrew lie behind the present Greek text of our four Gospels, we are, of course, proceeding by way of a hypothesis. Here, however, we are dealing with a hypothesis that has to be true-indeed, has to be considered certain-because it is the only hypothesis capable of explaining all the features that we find in the Greek text of the Gospels. The contrary hypothesis is that a long tradition of oral preaching and transmission preceded the setting down in writing at a comparatively late date of the Greek text of the four Gospels as we presently possess it. This contrary hypothesis is the one preferred by a majority of biblical scholars today, as has been the case for more than a century. But this hypothesis appears absurd on its face, especially when we consider the total milieu within which our Lord lived and taught. Why would the scribes and rabbis and people educated in the Hebrew Scriptures included among those who heard and followed Jesus have abstained or somehow forbidden themselves from ever noting down in writing anything about the remarkable personage with whom they were dealing? Why would they have waited so long-many say until the end of the first century-before setting down in writing their “traditions”? And how could those oral “traditions”, which by definition constituted separate strands of the original proclamation of the Good News preserved in different local churches, ever have resulted in the kind of textual results in the Gospels that we have been examining here with some care? Our analysis points rather to under1ying Hebrew texts that were themselves closely related.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 197.

About the date of composition of the Gospel according to Luke / Περί του χρόνου συγγραφής του Ευαγγελίου κατά τον Λουκά

We come now to the prediction of Jesus of the destruction of the Temple as it is found in Luke:

And as some spoke of the Temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said: “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Lk 21:5-6).

If the Gospel according to Luke had truly been composed in the Greek language sometime toward the end of the first century A.D., as practically all contemporary studies on the New Testament affirm, whether they are written in English, French, or German, then a text such as this one could not have been set down on paper without some remark or comment on this remarkable prophecy. By the end of the first century, Jerusalem had already been destroyed; it had occurred some thirty years earlier; the Temple had been burned and razed. It was simply not possible for an author or redactor to pass over this enormous fact in silence, without a single word or sign that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was a known and accomplished fact.

When anyone speaks to us today about the destruction of Berlin or the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, we can usually gather, if only through a word, a sign, or a turn of phrase, where that person stands in relation to those events. A writer who mentions or alludes to these cities betrays the fact that he is aware of the fate that befell them. In the case of this prophecy of our Lord, however, reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all three, we get not the slightest indication or hint anywhere in the gospel text that it could have been written after the cataclysmic event it prophesies. Yet there can be no doubt that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was a cataclysm of the first order, not merely for the Jewish communities, but also for the Christian communities that, after all, had originally issued from them. The objection can be made that, by the end of the first century, Christians were no longer interested in the fall of Jerusalem. By then most of the Christians were of pagan origin anyway. No mention was made of the events of A.D. 70, it can be argued, because Christians no longer had the slightest interest in these events.

This objection is a prime example of the logical fallacy called the petitio principii: begging the question. It assumes what it needs to prove, namely, that all the Gospels were written in the Greek language late in the first century. This, precisely, is what still remains to be proved, however. In any case, it is not legitimate to assume that the Christian communities were indifferent to the fate of Jerusalem and the Temple by the end of the century. Most of these Christian communities had originated within Jewish communities, splitting off from them in the way that a cell divides. It is also quite implausible to imagine any author or redactor reporting a prophecy by our Lord himself without going on to mention the spectacular way in which this particular prophecy had been fulfilled.

In Luke, however, just as we saw was the case in Matthew and Mark, there is no mention or comment whatsoever on this remarkable prophecy. This lack of any mention or allusion to the fate of Jerusalem is a real thorn in the side of those scholars holding the current majority opinion about the date of the composition of the Gospels. Nevertheless, they usually refrain from falling back on what they really think about the matter. If they did, they would show their true colors at last. What they really think is: this so-called prophecy of Jesus cannot really be a prophecy for the simple reason that there isn’t any such thing as prophecy; prophecy of any kind is an impossibility. Therefore, this passage in the Gospels has to be a late fabrication, an invention of the Christian community. The very fact that the destruction of Jerusalem could be reported as something that was going to come about means that the passage had to be written after Jerusalem had already been destroyed. If any prophecy at all is an impossibility, Jesus could obviously not have prophesied the destruction of the Temple: the passages to the effect that he did this had to have been written after the catastrophe.

This is the true logic of the situation we are dealing with here. Some scholars are more candid and frank about it than others; some are not candid and frank about it at all. But even if we were to accept their premise, in order to see if their conclusion indeed followed from it, we would still discover that their argument is grossly defective. For if this prophecy, reported in all three Synoptic Gospels were in fact written after the fact, then the lack of any explanation or comment about what would then be a pseudoprophecy would still be telling. Why attribute to Jesus a prophecy he never made, and then fail to exploit it to the full by pointing to its fulfillment? Why not mine the rich vein to the full?

As we have seen, however, there is not so much as a single word or comment in Matthew, Mark, or Luke about the spectacular fulfillment of this prophecy. The inventor of the pseudoprophecy who went to the trouble of fabricating it and placing it in the mouth of Jesus seems to have been totally unaware that the pseudoprophecy had in fact been fulfilled twenty or thirty years before he fabricated it! The supposed fabricator was thus totally incapable of exploiting his fabrication properly in order to reap the benefits from it for the sake of which he presumably authored the fabrication in the first place. All this evidences great caution and discretion for someone who was nevertheless supposedly bold enough to resort to fabrication.

Let us proceed now to examine some of the other sayings of our Lord bearing upon the future:

And they asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place? … Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom … But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons…” (Lk 21:7, 10, 12).

In this passage, Jesus envisioned the coming persecutions as being brought about by the high authorities of Jerusalem. Did the Christians have anything to fear from the Jerusalem authorities or from the synagogues at the end of the first century? Which synagogues? Certainly not those of Jerusalem or of Judea. Luke spoke of the Christians’ being delivered up to the synagogues and prisons, but nowhere did he speak about any persecutions coming from the Roman authorities. Yet the latter had already begun by A.D. 64 or 65. Luke seems never to have heard anything at all about these persecutions instigated by the Roman emperors. It is a curious fact indeed that an author writing as late as A.D. 100 would seem to be oblivious to the cataclysmic events that had occurred forty years earlier, engineered by the notorious Emperor Nero. This is an especially curious act when we consider that the author in question was Luke, who lived in Rome with Paul from A.D. 61 on. One thing is sure, though, and that is there was certainly no direct threat to the Christians from the synagogues at the end of the first century. By then the threat came from the Roman authorities.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 117-121.

Does the expression «εὐθέως δὲ μετὰ» (“immediately after” [ESV]) of Matthew 24:29 necessarily involve chronological order? / Περιλαμβάνει οπωσδήποτε χρονολογική σειρά η έκφραση «εὐθέως δὲ μετὰ» του Ματθαίου 24:29;

Moving on to other examples, we may note how observers have been aware for a very long time that the Gospel according to Mark makes very frequent use of the Greek adverb ευθύς. In classical Greek, this word signified “immediately,” “at once,” or “forthwith.” Our modern translators have therefore often translated it that way; however, they have surely erred in doing so as far as the New Testament is concerned. Where Matthew tended to employ the adverb ευθέως which also means “immediately,” Mark consistently preferred the adverb ευθύς.

Now the Greek adverb ευθύς is a common translation, one of the accurate possible translations of the Hebrew word hinneh, a word used hundreds if not thousands of times in the Hebrew Old Testament to introduce a fact or an account of something. An example of its common use can be seen in Genesis 24:45: “Before I had done speaking in my heart, behold [hinneh, in Greek ευθύς], Rebekah came out with her water jug on her shoulder.” Another example is found in Genesis 38:29: “But as he drew back his hand, behold [we-hinneh, in Greek ευθύς], his brother came out.”

If, as is the case, the Gospel according to Mark that we possess in finished form in Greek used this adverb ευθύς so frequently, this is because the Hebrew documents from which our present Mark was translated frequently employed the word hinneh in the typical manner of Hebrew narrators.

This usage points to the fact that Mark’s Gospel is indeed a translation. It is a translation made from written Hebrew documents. This particular usage is only one small sign and proof of this, of course. We will be pointing to a number of others.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 85.

About the discrepancies of the Gospels / Περί των διαφορών των Ευαγγελίων

Everyone is familiar with what happens when several different people take notes on the same university course; or when several witnesses report something that is said or done in a public street; or when more than one person attempts to report what somebody has said in a public speech, out in the street, or, indeed, even in a private conversation. Several different persons witness the same event; they hear the same identical words. Each person, however, notes what seems most important to him; or what seems most interesting; or what seems most characteristic of the speaker.

A priori, we would expect the same sort of thing in the case of the notes or collections of notes taken down by the disciples of Jesus. What was noted down by one would not be exactly the same as what was noted down by another. There was, indeed, a common body of materia1. This is easily explained by the fact that the origin or source of all the information was the same, namely, the Galilean rabbi; he was the sole source of everything that was reported. There were, however, differences or divergences in what was reported. This was the case for the simple reason that one reporter does not record exactly the same things recorded by other reporters. We need only examine the notebooks of a number of students taking the same course in order to verify what happens in cases of this kind. These student notebooks will exhibit both quantitative and qualitative variations that can be explained by the intelligence, the capacity, the background, the preparation, and the attention of each student. The information they take in will be more or less accurately heard, more or less correctly understood, more or less faithfully taken down, and more or less convincingly summed up, depending on each student.

If we consider all this from the point of view of the totality of what the Galilean rabbi actually said and did, as our unique source of all the various information, then it is clear that a fair amount was lost in transmission, depending upon whether the hearers who were taking down what he said were more or less educated, or whether they took notes more or less accurately of what he in fact said. The information received was not in all respects exactly the same as the information that was transmitted. The total information emanating from the source—Christ the Lord—has not been handed down or passed on in its totality. It has certainly not been understood in its totality. It was received in diverse ways, according to the individual capacities of those who received it. It is only to be expected, again a priori, that the existing notes or collections of notes would similarly be characterized by differences of both quantity and quality.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 6.