Crafting Christianity

Sabbath School commentary for discussion on December 18, 2021.

The title for this week’s Adult Bible Study Guide is “Deuteronomy in the New Testament,” but it also could be reversed to say the New Testament in Deuteronomy.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11553
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That which you term “typology” being used in the writings of the period is better termed “pesher”. As you noted, the context doesn’t actually (literally) contain the meaning drawn therefrom. The pesher method is commonly illustrated in the Dead Sea Scrolls. An obvious example is “The Habakkuk Pesher”. The purpose and method of the pesher method was to find new meanings in old texts without regard to their original context or meaning. They were creating new motifs from their imaginations. The term “typology”, in contrast, assumes something objective in current events which can now be seen to be somehow inherent or predictive in the original text.

The question which should arise is whether the canonical writers were comparing events to old texts and finding new meanings cloaked within, or whether they were using the then common pesher method to “create” new meanings and events.

Paul clearly considered that his theology was based on his interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. Note his farewell statement in Romans 16:

“25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings …” (He doesn’t say "made known through the recent life of Jesus which would have been expected).

Paul speaks of a hidden mystery. Obviously not something which could have been perceived.
Paul tells how the mystery was revealed. By revelation.
Paul tells his readers that his teaching came about due to his interpretation of the scriptures.

It is interesting that he doesn’t point back to a recent event in history, a revealing of the mystery in the person of a recently living Galilean man. No, his knowledge about Jesus comes THROUGH INTERPRETING THE SCRIPTURES. This is odd, to say the least and should lead to some serious questions. In Galatians one he swears and then swears again that he didn’t receive his information from any man and was taught nothing about it by others. Rather, he got it mystically. By his own testimony, he is denying any oral tradition or any actual knowledge about historical events. In Galatians, he goes on to say that God revealed his mystery about the savior “in me”, that is, in the person of Paul, rather than in Jesus, a historical person. Odd isn’t it. He then goes on to indicate Jesus via what he actually terms an “allegory”. He goes through a convoluted pesher of the Genesis story of Abraham, two wives which represent two mountains, two sons, two seeds, and (out of context) alleges that only one seed (rather than the plural meaning) was intended, and all this allegory points to Jesus. Odd again that he doesn’t point back to recent events. Rather, he creates his theology through allegory or pesher, out of context and without reference to a historical man.

The first gospel writer constructed his story through various sources, heavily dependent upon pesher methodology of the scriptures, as well as Josephus, Homer, and Caesar. Most of the teachings are Paul’s. The question which should arise is whether he was reporting real time historical events and finding the hidden messages about them in the scriptures (typology), or was he creating a narrative using the pesher method interwoven with Homeric form and details from Josephus transposed into a new story?

Are we looking at history “remembered” with OT verses interpreted to seem like prophetic fulfillment, or are we looking at history “created” for theological illustrative purposes? Or to rephrase the question, were the writers searching the scriptures to find anything which paralleled recent events, or were they mining the scriptures to create a novel form of Judaism via allegory?

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This Christological center, means, and ends are the imperative point of all NT writings. Jesus is simply and deeply and mysteriously and clearly and practically and ultimately the reason for all Adventist belief and practice.

Thanks, Alex, for your perceptive posting.

I’m guessing it’s both, typology and pesher, as far as Mark is concerned. Same with Luke and Matthew, I believe. However, I’m curious about your take on the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness which is repeated with an addition in Matthew and Luke that seems to identify him with “the Lord your God”!

I’m not sure what you are asking. Mark is very brief. He doesn’t claim that this is a fulfillment of anything. He simply picks up on the number 40 which is common enough in the OT and has Jesus pass through water and into the wilderness presumably echoing the Red Sea tale along with the sojourn in the wilderness after the exodus. He simply says:

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[g] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

The first hint that we have that we are reading allegory rather than history is the introduction of three categories of supernatural beings as actors in the story: The Spirit, Satan, and angels (how many does it take to help out?). There are no details here. It is like a throwaway line. Of course Matthew embellished the story into 11 verses as he frequently did when using Mark’s narrative. Matthew was rarely satisfied with Mark’s brevity, and missing the allegorical purpose of the literature, he found it necessary to flesh it out with lots of details. Matthew is the gospel writer who endeavored to create fulfillments into Mark’s story at every turn, frequently inventing episodes based on out of context OT verses and mistranslations (he followed the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text which resulted in some odd or impossible actions).

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Since Mark is mostly narrative, it seems reasonable to expect a sense of fulfillment in “crafting” the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and wilderness experience tempted by Satan/the devil (=Pharisees, foreign rule and occupation of the land). I’m assuming he based his account from pieces of oral history and written fragments Same with Matthew, as well as Luke, who could possibly be alluding to the post-Exodus events in the wilderness and identifying Jesus as “the Lord your God” SDA evangelists love to quote Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." This is an example of pesher, I believe? I’m learning, Deeply appreciate your taking the time to respond to my comments.

“crafting” is an interesting term (not yours) which would seem to indicate shaping some actual event into something appearing to have a mystical connection to Israel’s founding myth, a hidden prophecy. I would suggest the term “creating” instead; looking back to the exodus story and that of the conquest of the land to find elements for a new narrative of the coming of the kingdom. All the details of the crucifixion itself are drawn from the Psalms. Why would this be the case if history was being remembered? Is it not at least as plausible that the laments found in the psalms were used pesher style to flesh out, or create, the narrative?

That assumption has more and more been called into question. That theoretical oral history assumes the historical nature of the original narrative. So far, no evidence of an oral history has been forthcoming. Paul, who wrote decades before Mark), certainly shows no awareness of it nor interest in the life, teachings, and actions of a recently living historical Jesus. Rather, everything he claims to know is the result of finding hidden information in the Jewish scriptures. This sounds like pesher methodology.

Was Mark’s narrative itself the result of pesher interpretation of the OT at some point in the aftermath of the war of 66-70 resulting in the destruction of the temple?..a way to find some means of continuity for being Jewish in the absence of the sacrificial system?

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Paul seems to link the custom of celebrating the Lord’s supper by early Christians to an event:

I Cor. 11:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for[b] you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

All four gospel tell the same story from their own perspective. Might this not count as an oral historical tradition? from the Lord, meaning an unnamed source or community story? myth?

This is the favorite of apologists trying to show Paul’s knowledge of at least some event in the gospel stories. It is also one of the texts most often suggested to be an interpolation. That being said, it is very easy while wearing gospel glasses to read the story of the upper room and betrayal back into this text. As an aside, I would point out that the translators are not immune from this tendency. Notice in your quote, it says “he was betrayed”. The Greek text doesn’t say this. Rather, it says “handed over”. The mental picture of the translators gives the impression of a meeting of disciples and Judas, but that isn’t there. There are extensive studies showing how Mark took Pauline teachings and “historicized” them, putting them into a time and place with narrative details, this being one example. Notice that Paul doesn’t suggest that he had heard this story from anyone. As usual, he got it by revelation. Paul’s discussion looks suspiciously like the contemporary Greco-Roman mystery religions with their own dying and rising savior gods, celebrated with sacred meals.

There was only one story, that of the unknown author of the Gospel of Mark. In no way can the others be considered to be independent sources. Rather, they are dependent upon Mark, embellished with legendary details and correcting each other. It would appear that Paul’s cosmic Christ became historicized by Mark’s allegory which was then misunderstood by Matthew as actual history, embellished, then corrected by Luke who didn’t like Matthew’s theology (too Jewish). It is important to remain aware that eyewitnesses have no need to copy the story of another, as was done with Mark’s narrative. They simply felt free to add details to the story to make it more fantastic, often contradicting each other.

The way historians use sources also reflects on the validity of their reports. You had mentioned in a previous response that

OK, I will show you one such “written fragment” on which the gospel writers were dependent.

We have a source unrelated to the gospels from a non-Christian writer:

The account tells us of a peasant named Jesus who appeared during the holy days and foretold the destruction of the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and a time of trouble for its people. He predicted his own imminent death. The leaders of the Jews arrested him, beat him, and interrogated him. He refused to speak or answer their accusations in any way. The Jewish leaders wished to do away with him for his prophecies against the temple and the city, so they took him to the Roman governor making accusations against him. The Roman governor questioned Jesus, yet he opened not his mouth. He refused to curse or blame his accusers. The Roman governor wondered if Jesus had some godly spirit associated with him. When he could get no defense from Jesus, and thinking him not guilty of any crime, consented to have him scourged to the bone to placate the Jewish mob.

The parallels to the apocalyptic prophecy of Jesus in the gospels and the following arrest, accusations, trial, and scourging by the Roman governor, in the same order and for the same reasons, are simply too close to be coincidence. Did the gospel writers get the inspiration for their story from this account? It would appear so. But who was this Jesus? It was Jesus ben Ananus whose story was recounted by Josephus who wrote,

"Four years before the war, when the city was enjoying profound peace and prosperity, there came to the feast at which it is the custom of all Jews to erect tabernacles to God, one Jesus, son of Ananias, a rude peasant, who suddenly began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against the bridegroom and the bride, a voice against all the people.” Day and night he went about all the alleys with this cry on his lips. Some of the leading citizens, incensed at these ill-omened words, arrested the fellow and severely chastised him. But he, without a word on his own behalf or for the private ear of those who smote him, only continued his cries as before. Thereupon, the magistrates, supposing, as was indeed the case, that the man was under some supernatural impulse, brought him before the Roman governor; there, although flayed to the bone with scourges, he neither sued for mercy nor shed a tear, but, merely introducing the most mournful of variations into his utterances, responded to each lashing with “Woe to Jerusalem!” When Albinus, the governor, asked him who and whence he was and why he uttered these cries, he answered him never a word, but unceasingly reiterated his dirge over the city, until Albinus pronounced him a maniac and let him go. During the whole period up to the outbreak of war he neither approached nor was seen talking to any of the citizens, but daily, like a prayer that he had conned, repeated his lament, “Woe to Jerusalem!” He neither cursed any of those who beat him from day to day, nor blessed those who offered him food: to all men that melancholy presage was his one reply. His cries were loudest at the festivals. So for seven years and five months he continued his wail, his voice never flagging nor his strength exhausted, until in the siege, having seen his presage verified, he found his rest. For, while going his round and shouting in piercing tones from the wall, “Woe once more to the city and to the people and to the temple,” as he added a last word, “and woe to me also,” a stone hurled from the ballista struck and killed him on the spot. So with those ominous words still upon his lips he passed away.

Their are 18 parallels to the gospel story. Same order:

Both were named Jesus
Both were peasants
Both appeared in Jerusalem during holy days
Both predicted destruction of the temple
Both predicted destruction of the walls
Both predicted destruction of the population
Both predicted destruction of themselves
Both created a temple disturbance
Both were arrested by the Jewish leaders
Both were beaten by the Jews
Both were brought before the Roman governor by the Jewish leaders
Both were scourged by order of the Roman governor
Both resisted the urge to ask for clemency
Both remained silent when the Roman governor asked their identity
Both remained silent when accused of crimes
Both were thought to be not guilty by the Roman governor
Both were thought to be motivated by some supernatural impulse
Both were ultimately killed by the Romans
Both had their last words recorded lamenting their situation.

So here is one of those “written fragments” which inspired the gospel writers. To argue otherwise, that this was not simply a transposition of one story to another, would strain credulity. But if the gospel writers felt free to transpose an unrelated story into their own, how can their narratives be accorded the status of actual history. On the other hand, if Paul’s teachings were being illustrated through “biographical” narrative, the details would need to be supplied; in the case of the gospels, we can see that the details came from OT verses, Josephus, and not yet discussed here, Homer’s Odyssey. The gospels were a literary device following the popular format of the time, the traveling epic.

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Are you saying that: 1) Matthew couldn’t tell the difference between allegory and a straightforward narrative; 2) after Matthew completed his own version, Luke got hold of it, assumed it was a factual account, then sort of rewrote it to suit his own purpose?

Luke 1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,[a] to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Sort of, yes. Matthew copied Mark, and assuming it was in some way historical, felt the need to show prophetic fulfillment, some sort of teaching lacking in Mark, and filling out details to make the story flow as well as correcting geographical errors. He added an obviously invented genealogy to show a tie to David’s seed, a virgin birth based on a mistranslation, a birth narrative to get Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, a trip to Egypt to show a fulfillment of being called out of there, other narrative details such as ridiculously having Jesus ride into Jerusalem on two asses (based on a septuagint mistranslation), a zombie night where many dead people roamed the city, and ultimately creating a resurrection narrative which Mark lacked. Repeat; Mark’s original account contained no resurrection appearances. Matthew’s account is the one which created the most fulfillment motifs, virtually all of which don’t hold up when examining the OT sources in context.

Luke who claimed to have carefully gone to check sources actually just used Mark and Matthew, but he had to correct Matthew’s Moses/Jewish motif. He liked the idea of the genealogy of David to Jesus, but he likely saw Matthew’s mistake who ran the line through King Jeconiah who was cursed by Jeremiah to never have a descendant on the throne (disqualifying Jesus from being the messiah), so he ran the genealogy through a different son of David with entirely different people. He wrote a birth narrative which can’t be reconciled with Matthew’s, rearranged events at will, and wrote a different resurrection narrative which can’t be reconciled with Matthew’s. Luke’s resurrection appearances closely resemble Roman ghost stories.

Mark was an excellent writer who used the epic genre to personify Paul’s theology and to present a myth of a scapegoat innocent man representing Judea as an innocent suffering servant which had been destroyed in the war. It does appear that Mark’s purpose was entirely missed by the later editors. It should be noted that the following editors felt free to redact, rearrange, and add to Mark’s story. That isn’t how history is written. This is an example of historical fiction.

It must be impressed that these accounts are entirely missing from Paul’s epistles. He does not show any awareness of a recently living Galilean preacher. He is silent on the much vaunted “empty tomb” account and actually denies flesh and blood resurrection. He maintains that his gospel came through interpreting scriptures rather than pointing back to any historical events. Mark’s story didn’t come along until decades after the time in which it is set and decades after Paul. Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts were a good bit later. Mark’s original narrative nowhere claims to be writing history nor does he indicate where he got his information. None of the gospel writers make any claim to “inspiration” and Luke specifically excludes it.

*For a very brief read for acquaintance on some of the info I’ve presented, here is a link Historical Jesus or Jesus Myth: The Jesus Puzzle. There is quite a vast literature on this subject which I can refer you to if you wish to do in-depth study. I’ve found that most SDA’s, even theologians, seem to be completely unaware of these studies, likely since it is not confirming evidence and counters bias.

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By all means! Please do.

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Certainly Harry. This will get you started.

On the Historicity of Jesus, Why We Have Reason for Doubt, by Richard Carrier

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, by Robert M. Price

Varieties of Jesus Mythicism, by John Loftus

The Christ-Myth Theory, by Robert Price

The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty

Jesus, Neither God nor Man by Earl Doherty

Deconstructing Jesus, by Robert M. Price

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, by Robert M. Price

Apparations of Jesus, Resurrection as Ghost Story, by Robert Connor

The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story, by Jonathan Pearce

Jesus From Outer Space, by Richard Carrier

Nailed: 10 Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed, by David Fitzgerald

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul; The Influence of the Epistles on the Synoptic Gospels, by David Oliver Smith

Deciphering the Gospels, by R. G. Price

A Myth of Innocence, by Burton Mack

Helping Jesus Fulfill Prophecy, by Robert J. Miller

Seminar on the Acts of the Apostles, by The WESTAR Institute

The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, by Dennis MacDonald

Gospel Fictions, by Randall Helms

Liberating the Gospels, by Bishop John Shelby Spong

Not the Impossible Faith; Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed, by R. Carrier

I wish I had my own work ready for reference. It challenges the traditional timeline of Paul. Rather than writing in the 50’s AD, I believe he was active in the 40’s-30’s BC. This introduces a completely different paradigm for Paul, his audience, and his message.

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Aaah…human “wisdom”! What would we be doing without it?

Here is what Scripture says:

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed in the world, received up into glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)

“16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him on the holy mount.”
(2 Peter 1:16-18)

“2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and that is the spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
(1 John 4:2,3)

So you suggest that we should sublimate our reason and surrender our thought processes to unknown writers of antiquity? I would point out that NT “scripture” is not, or wasn’t an entity. We have individual writings by unknown men whose works were compiled into an anthology on the basis of…wait for it…TRADITION. The writings which would eventually be accorded authority did not have that status for decades/centuries. Many writings which were highly treasured by regional sects were later rejected and/or suppressed because they differed from evolving proto-orthodoxy. The NT which you so blissfully quote as a trump card is the result of many years of infighting among Christian groups and which was only settled politically and by the winners as Roman Christianity became supreme.

You quote 1 Timothy, almost universally considered to be a forgery written in the name of Paul, in the second century. Personally, I would date it in the late second century as an anti-Marcionite document. It even references Marcion’s “antitheses” by name in 6:4.

You quote 2 Peter, also considered to be a second century forgery in the name of Peter.

They you go on to quote 1 John

This anonymous writer is usually dated ca 100 AD. Allow me to apply some “human reason” to it. Note, in your quote that the writer condemns those who are obviously of a different sect of Christianity to his own, who deny that Jesus was here physically. He is dissing competitors. We know that there were many variants of Christianity in that period, many of which didn’t believe that Jesus was a real, physical, human being. They used to be lumped together inaccurately as “Docetists” or “Gnostics” but those labels are not useful in describing the many Christianities which had evolved.

We also know from Paul’s writings that there were other apostles with a different message from his own, even proclaiming a different kind of Christ. He curses them. Might I suggest that the writer of 1 John was condemning some followers of Paul’s cosmic Christ theology?

The fight over Christology raged long and fierce in early Christianity. In fact, it was THE issue most in contention. Prior to Justin (mid second century) one searches in vain to find clear references to a historical Jesus among the writers who were not later included in the canon, and then not again for decades.

The first NT canon which has attestation was that of the “heretic” Marcion, ca 143 AD who had 10 letters of Paul (not included were 1 Tim, 2 Tim, and Titus since they had not yet been written) and one gospel resembling Luke, but without the first 3 chapters and lacking the ending resurrection tales. Marcion’s gospel, again, the first attested, lacked humanizing accounts of Jesus. Marcion’s belief was that Jesus was just a phantom, but even this was more historicized than Paul’s Jesus who appeared only through interpretation of OT verses taken out of context.

So in answer to your rhetorical question, “Human reason, what would we do without it?”, we would be buffeted by every claimant demanding faith in their positions. Putting our hands over our eyes and plugging our ears, we would fail to approach extraordinary claims with skeptical questions, simply accepting them credulously. Study the early middle ages to see how that worked out.

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The problem is that oftentimes people sublimate their reason in their approach of the Bible and they put their own reasoning about God’s revelation. This is not new as even Scripture speaks about it.

The problem is that you seem to accept what some “scholars” say about Scripture without considering the possibility that they are wrong. For example, you mentioned the fact that many consider 1 Timothy to be a forgery. Well, there is no proof that it is a forgery and the debate is still on.

You also neglect the testimony of the writers themselves that address the issue of veracity of their testimonies. Peter, for example, affirmed that the apostles did not believe fables but where witnesses of the events that they spoke about. Peter even mentioned the writings of Paul that some were already twisting when he (Peter) was alive.

Even Paul mentioned the fact that there were forces already at work against the truth and that things would not get better as he wrote:

“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
(2 Timothy 4:3,4)

The purpose of the enemy of the souls is to discredit the truths coming from God. Questioning the veracity of God’s words (“Yea, hath God said?”) has been his method to seed doubts from the beginning. He is still at work today.

Now, if we consider that Christianity is just a human product or just a religion among many then I understand the stand that some have.

But if we consider that the Word of God is truth and believe that the people who wrote it where faithful and truthful witnesses then we have to choose between a revelation that is said to be divine and the discourse of a human enterprise trying to figure out what this book is all about.

The writer of the letter is not just “dissing competitors”. He is saying that those “who deny that Jesus was here physically” are liars and under the influence of the enemy of Christ. How can he say that? He can say that because of what he wrote at the beginning of the letter:

“1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manisfested unto us;)
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
(1 John 1:1-3)

and further, he wrote:

“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” (1 John 1:6)

So, what the writer said is that he was a direct witness of Jesus Christ. He saw Him, heard Him, touched Him.

This is why he can say that those denying that Jesus came in the flesh are liars.

First, who said that the others were apostles?

Second, if Paul “cursed” them it is because they were not telling the truth.

You forget that:
1 - Paul knew Scripture very well (even if he didn’t understand everything concerning the Messiah);
2 - He had an encounter with Jesus;
3 - He received a revelation of Jesus Christ

So, I doubt that Paul was taking the OT verses out of context. And I think that he is more believable and reliable than “scholars” who came 2,000 years later.

“Human reason” is faulty. The human heart is deceitful. This is why Scripture was written, as a witness and a teacher for the world.

But oftentimes we make the same mistake as Eve, putting our own “wisdom” above God’s wisdom. And every time we do this, we have the same result: we fall.

It is interesting that you used that expression because in Scripture it is the enemies of Jesus who do that as it is written:

“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Matthew 13:15).

“57 then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.”
(Acts 7:57,58)

It makes you think…

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This is a statement containing several points worth some comment:

  1. Word of God: In the NT, we mostly have letters, most of which are anonymous. As far as I know, some humans wrote out all the words. I don’t think that a deity wrote anything.
  2. “If we believe…that the people who wrote it were faithful and truthful…” You have stated it very well. That belief, that FAITH, is ultimately exercised toward people, not a deity standing behind them. Before you can believe in the object of their claims, you must first exercise faith IN THEM. You have their word for it. Muhammad made claims of revelation; do you believe him? Joseph Smith likewise? Faith in this epistemic sense is always and only directed toward individuals, not to that which they claim.
    But now look a bit closer. Before discussing whether or not they have any special insight (inspiration) or authority, check to see if they even claimed it. Wouldn’t it be an important first step to see what they claimed? Maybe it would be important to know who they are… The gospels and Acts are anonymous. The names attached to them date from the late second century. Did the gospel writers claim anything special? The quick answer is no. There are no claims for inspiration whatsoever. Nada. Luke 1:1-4 actually nullifies any such inspirational sourcing. Then along comes Paul with seven letters where he claims to have received visions, but he denies any knowledge passed on to him from anyone else. Then come 6 more letters written after Paul but in his name. Next we have the epistle to the Hebrews which is an entirely Platonic document contrasting the wilderness sanctuary with the ultimate reality in the sky. It is anonymous. The author makes no claims for himself. Interestingly, the document lacks any knowledge of an earthly ministry for Jesus (actually it denies it 8:4 which is always mistranslated to say “If he were on earth” while the Greek tense reads “If he had been on earth”). After that we have the general epistles which are of late authorship and revelation by someone named John. He makes claims, unlike so many of the others. So why have these documents been collected into something called the New Testament and accorded authority? One branch of Christianity two centuries after the inception of Christianity began to make claims for them, treating them as inspired and authoritative. Why these and not others? Because these writings most closely approximated proto-orthodoxy. You are inheriting the claims made by church authorities on the basis of tradition. Remember, most of the authors made no claims themselves. Other writings which were used by divergent Christianities were discarded…on the claims of tradition.

Not so. Scholars are frequently wrong. After all we are dealing with ancient documents with fragmentary history and provenance. Scholars approach the documents with many preconceived ideas. Yet making some attempt to understand Christian origins is better than simply accepting the tradition.
Many other contemporary documents are lost. For instance, we have Paul’s letters, but not all of them. I wonder what would happen if some of his lost correspondence were found. Perhaps they would contain some bizarre doctrines. But we will probably never know. We don’t have the writings of other early Christians who preceded Paul, so we really have no idea what they had to say.

  1. Yes he did. He knew the Septuagint Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures. He showed no knowledge of the Hebrew original, thus building on occasional mistakes.
  2. In his head, he claimed to have an encounter of some kind. Of course, you have to accept that claim before moving forward to the arguments proceeding from it. Interestingly, this one guy claiming to have had visions interpreted the Jewish scriptures in such a manner that he basically told the Jews that they didn’t understand their own holy book and that only he got it right. Imagine the arrogance; one person claims to have special insight that overturns centuries of belief. Maybe he was wrong…just maybe. Think about it. Not that the stories in their book were true, but the claim that only he Paul truly understood the scriptures should give one pause.
  3. Did he? Would you accept a claim by your neighbor that she had a vision of the Great Kahuna? Maybe she did, but that is a purely subjective experiencial claim which cannot be verified or falsified. However unlikely it may be, you certainly couldn’t prove otherwise. It is an arbitrary claim which is neither true nor false and should be ignored. But if you would not credulously accept the extraordinary claim of someone you know and can question, why would you accept the claim of someone you don’t know from the deep past and who you can’t question? Tradition?

It is interesting that Paul, supposedly writing just a few years after a historical Jesus could so easily ignore every detail of his life and teachings. How did this Galilean peasant so quickly get elevated to being the pre-existent creator of the universe sharing the throne of Yahweh in outer space? Where was the push-back from Jews who would never countenance the association of Yahweh with a human? That controversy never arose. Why? Why? The answer might be visible in the epistle to the Hebrews, where an earthly Jesus isn’t contemplated. He did all his salvific works in the Platonic transcendent reality.

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Were they endeavoring to put their wisdom above God’s, or did they want theirs to be like His.

At the end of this oldest creation story, (Gen 2,3), God is quoted confirming that they succeeded:

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil… and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: (Gen 3:22)

IOW, " It’s a good thing we looked down before they attained eternal life, too."

Does this story tell us that omniscience and omnipresence are intermittent–and transmissible? Or should a talking animal inform us that it’s just some kind of parable?

The moral of the story is NEVER TRUST A TALKING ANIMAL. My dog lies all the time.:wink:

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My point precisely.

I totally agree with you here. There is nothing wrong in studying the texts and their historical contexts. In fact, it is encouraged even in the Bible.

Also, I agree that simply accepting the tradition is not always a good stance, above all when it’s about truth. We have to check whether what we are being told is correct or not (Acts 17:10,11).

That would be an extraordinary discovery!!!

Can you give an example of Paul’s mistakes?

Well, it is not surprising if we consider the fact that Paul himself didn’t understand his own holy book. So, in essence, what he was saying to the Jews was that they were making the same mistakes as he did before meeting Christ.

This was not arrogance. It was simply the truth… that he, himself, discovered the hard way. And, by the way, he was not the only one to understand that truth as the other disciples of Christ knew that truth as well.

Truth is not a matter of number or popularity. Jesus said that none goes to the Father but through him. It may sound arrogant… but it could be true too. Now, Jesus’ claims were backed up by signs and miracles, but also by prophecies. And not just that: his behavior and his words also gave credits to his claims. Even his enemies were impressed by that.

Not automatically, but at the same time it would be impossible for me to dismiss it without proving that this neighbor was mistaken.

In the case of Paul, Scripture says that when he had the encounter with Jesus the other people with him heard a voice but didn’t see anybody (Acts 9:7). Also Ananias received a vision from the Lord in which Jesus told him about Paul and the mission He had for him.

Lastly, we have to remember that Paul was on his way to persecute the Christians when he met Jesus. And after the event, he came around and started to preach Christ. This is why both Christians and Jews were astonished by the change of behavior of Paul.

So, even if you want to reserve judgement , you have to admit that something clearly happened to Paul on his way to Damascus.

Another detail that is important is that the writings of Paul were validated by other apostles like Peter, for example.

I am not sure of what you mean by this. There was a push-back from the Jews. In all over in the New Testament.