A friend of mine recently asked me to sketch out ten “provocative” axioms about the New Testament that Latter-day Saints might find surprising given the assumptions that they typically bring to the text. This exercise is by no means unique to the New Testament. Similar lists could be produced about the OT, other religions, LDS church history, etc. However, since this year we are studying the NT in Sunday School, it might be a useful time to reflect theologically on the significance of some of these axioms, and how these changes to our assumptions might help us to better understand ourselves and the writings we consider sacred. Thus, in no particular order, I present the following ten axioms:
1. Paul was not a Christian. He never uses the term “Christian” or “Christianity” in any of his letters. If not a Christian, then what was he? Well, he tells us repeatedly that he was a Jew. Given that Paul has been used in Christian theology to argue for Christian supremacy over Jews and Judaism, the fact that Paul was a Jew tends to throw a wrench into things.
2. There is no priesthood in the New Testament offices of the church. The priesthood is what you have if you work in the temple, a duty restricted to a certain set of priests. The LDS view of the priesthood is a product of the modern church.
3. Women are among the earliest Christian missionaries and are called “deacons” and even an “apostle” in one instance.
4. The “New Testament” as we know it is a third or fourth century document, with mostly first century texts. These are not the only first century texts. The particular combination that we have is rather late. All references to the “scriptures” in the New Testament refer only to the books that we think of as the Old Testament.
5. The Gospels represent competing narratives with different theological agendas which cannot be harmonized. Each would probably be a little horrified to know that we are reading the other versions alongside theirs!
6. For most of the NT writers, Jesus was not a God. Though I am still surprised by the theological investment that Mormons have in the “divinity” of Jesus, primarily because in my view our theology answers this question quite differently, it is even more surprising that the NT doesn’t really make this claim on the whole.
7. There is no “First Presidency” and the apostles don’t all present a unanimous front. Paul’s long-standing feud with Peter is evidence of the public disputes that they had. The rivalry among the “leadership” (which leadership of which competing church?) of the church was pretty fierce.
8. The version of Christianity that we have is only one of several competing versions from the first few decades. Paul is constantly fighting off rival missionaries who represent a diversity of views, from those advocating Judaism as a necessary step for Gentile converts, to those who perform miracles and display other charismatic gifts as evidence of their authority. Perhaps the only reason we have the Christianity that we have is that some people decided to save some writings and other people didn’t save theirs.
9. Jesus was not the only person ever to heal someone. Traveling healers (and healing retreats) were a common occurrence in both Judaism and Greco-Roman culture. Witnessing a healing miracle would not be grounds for thinking that Jesus was the Son of God or the Messiah. Probably everyone in the world at that time knew someone who had been healed miraculously.
10. None of the authors of the NT thought that they would be writing a book that would be read 2000 years later. They all expected the immanent return of Jesus. Their writings were meant to transcend space, not time.
These are not the only assumptions that it might be good to question. These are just the first 10 that I thought of this morning. I think that all of them provide a great deal of theological potential. If you have others, feel free to add them to the list!
90 Replies to “Ten Tidbits about the NT”
But really, you’re going to have to provide a bit of citation for these and source material if you’re expecting me to get that excited about them.
Read any good introductory NT text book. If you want to dispute any of them with contrasting evidence, I will be happy to engage you.
TT, a lot of this is little more than annoying trivia and pop notions of current NT scholarship. Arguing about it would be a waste of time as there wouldnt be much to back up any position, because the very argument exists because of a lack of text. These are just arguments from silence or are based on semantics. There is nothing in the OT about Israel ever observing the Feast of Weeks either, so are you going to conclude the Jews never did it?
This is a good list and would be almost completely non-controversial to anyone who has studied the NT. I would add just a few comments:
On your #1: True, but they certainly understood themselves as a, if you will, special flavor of Jew. While Paul doesn’t use it, I think we could pay more attention to “The Way” as a self-designation for the people who others would call Christians.
On your #3: Even some feminists would quibble with the “apostle” on grammatical grounds, but I think the case for women’s leadership is actually stronger than you make it–the role women played in Jesus ministry is simply extraordinary.
On your #4: And may not be exactly the OT we know (i.e., Esther not among the DSS).
On your #5: True, but I wouldn’t overplay that card: they are all preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified even if they do differ in some (significant) details about what that means.
On your #7: True, and it is hard to read Acts 15 without thinking that James outranks Peter.
On your #10: I don’t know if we can prove textually that they *all* expected an imminent return, but your general point holds.
One final comment: the sum total of this list of ten is a rather negative impression of the NT. It is good and necessary to debunk Mormon myths about the NT, but also important to remember that all of the NT writers thought that Jesus Christ was (at the very least) someone to be followed, even at the risk of personal persecution. They may disagree with theological details about who he was, but the big picture is that, for each author, he was someone worth living and dying for.
You are officially welcome to not argue with me then, but I assure you that these axioms of contemporary scholarship are based on much more than arguments from silence or semantics.
There is nothing in the OT about Israel ever observing the Feast of Weeks either, so are you going to conclude the Jews never did it?
I am not sure what this has to do with anything, but in my version of Ex 34:22 and Deut 16:10, the Feast of Weeks is mentioned.
I really appreciate your comments on this list. I agree with a number of your clarifications and I am sure that we agree on 99% of this material. Just a few notes:
On #1, I agree that there is a new category operative here, but it is very hard to name it. I am personally reluctant to use “the way” because I think that it is a Lukan term that I don’t really see picked up elsewhere in canonical or non-canonical sources.
On #3, you and I have been through the Junia case before and I think that our disagreement will persist, but I agree with your characterization that women were hugely important.
the sum total of this list of ten is a rather negative impression of the NT.
My intention was just the opposite. I want to make the NT a text that has to actually be read and engaged theologically, not just a text that we think we already know what it says. I think that all of the points that I make have tremendous theological potential, especially for LDSs, or at the very least are places that we need to think through more carefully. For instance, I think that the diversity of the viewpoints in the NT are not something to be glossed over in the desire to show unity, but something that we need to take seriously.
TT, I really like your final paragraph in #6. Maybe you could flesh out the theological potential in future posts–as it stands now, this post (which, again, in my opinion, is virtually non-controversial) creates a sense of raining on the parade of the average LDS.
I am not sure what this has to do with anything, but in my version of Ex 34:22 and Deut 16:10, the Feast of Weeks is mentioned.
Of course it is mentioned, but there is no record of them actually doing it.
It is relevant because to conclude from the lack of there being a record of them actually doing that they never actually did it, and that is an argument from silence, which is what a lot of what your list is composed of.
I have no intention of arguing these “axioms of contemporary scholarship” as they will wither and die as time passes, just like the past “axioms of contemporary scholarship” that have fallen out of vogue. JPED anyone?
It is relevant because to conclude from the lack of there being a record of them actually doing that they never actually did it, and that is an argument from silence, which is what a lot of what your list is composed of.
This is a straw-person argument. Further, you have yet to identify any of the arguments that I have actually made which you think are “from silence.”
I have no intention of arguing these “axioms of contemporary scholarship” as they will wither and die as time passes, just like the past “axioms of contemporary scholarship” that have fallen out of vogue.
Again, I am pleased that you will be conceding all of these points. What makes you think, however, that your own axioms are somehow impervious to criticism and able to withstand the test of time? Just because scholarship changes over time isn’t an excuse to return to the middle ages.
Are you trying to bring our wrath down upon you?
7- there does appear to be some form of a pecking order though, even if it is an informal one…
3- I’ve read a lot of back and forth on the junia thing and on deacon meaning just servant bit, so it seems there is room for debate on this issue, and one shouldn’t come down solidly on oneside or the other. Just my opinion, mind you, based on what I’ve read.
6- I skipped the last post by you on this, but I am not sure what you mean by “God” or “Divinity” here. I mean, jesus was the word, the word was with God, and the Word was God… Maybe I should read the other post…
5- I don’t think they’d be horrified. They seem like pretty nice people. I mean is Blake Ostler “horrified” that he speaks at the same conferences as Sandra Tanner?
7- the problem is that the “pecking order” is contested. The gospels each have a different account of who is more important. Paul holds Peter and James in contempt. There isn’t any consensus among the early Christians with who is in charge. Heck, some Christians think it is Apollo!
3- the question of Junia turns on whether she is “well-known among the apostles” or “well-known by the apostles.” I find the latter translation problematic because I can’t find another example of this phrase meaning “well-known by” in Greek literature. As for “deacon,” yes, it just means servant, but it means that for both women and men.
6- I conceded that John thinks that Jesus was God is some sense in the other post. The problem is that no one else seems to think so.
5- Well, “horrified” might be a little strong. However, given that Matthew and Luke both rewrite Mark in order to replace it because they see Mark as problematic, I think that they would at the very least be rather surprised to find out that Mark is still being read after they rewrote it “better.”
TT- Can I add that of all the people I don’t know the real name of in blogging, you and Justin are the two I’d most liek to meet?
Matt and TT, I hope the question of women’s roles in the NT doesn’t get sucked into a debate about deacons and apostles. If the deacon and apostle stuff were entirely missing from the NT, we could still make an excellent case that the gospels (particularly Mark) portray Jesus as someone who intended for women to have expansive roles as his followers. So I hope we don’t get sidetracked on this.
I would like you to demonstrate that JPED has “withered and died”
I am honored, but I am actually a composite of about 4 different people to produce one, giant, pseudonymous supergenius. We never meet in the same place so that if one of us is killed, we can continue on, a bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts.
I completely agree with your point. The one problem is that for LDS, authority seems to be communicated only through “official” callings, which can potentially moot the evidence for women’s “leadership” in early Christianity when no such official callings existed, at least not in a parallel way to our own. I think that this is one of those areas for greater theological reflection of leadership and authority outside of “priesthood”.
Give me a break, TT. Your wrath? You have to be joking, right? Please tell me you are kidding.
I am conceding nothing. Your list is little more than a “I am more educated than pedestrian Mormons, let me show you how clever.”
I already showed in the comments on the thread linked in #6 that your premise is wrong. Trying to argue with you is a waste of time, you play fast and loose with the rules you use (e.g., acontextual interps are wrong when it comes to sexual immorality but great and encouraged when it comes to discussing divine eros) and you engage whatever means of sophistry are at your disposal to attack people. So, aside from pointing out your list is based on dubious methods, there is nothing else to do here.
I think that you have completely misunderstood my hermeneutical approach all along. My point has consistently been that interpretations are always historically situated. I suppose that I missed your comment in the thread about Jesus being God which said that I was making an argument from silence there. If so, let me correct that now. An argument from silence is when there is no evidence to support such a claim, such as: “The NT writers think that Jesus is God even though none of them (except John) actually says so.” That is an argument from silence, whereas my argument, “The NT writers have a lot to say about who Jesus is, but they never say that he is a space alien, a Chinese person, a bodhisattva, or a God, therefor it is reasonable to conclude that they didn’t think any of these things about him, rather they thought X, Y, and Z” is an argument based on evidence.
TT re #15–
Ah, I understand now. You were focusing on deacons and apostles because that is the easiest argument to make in an LDS context, not because it is the best argument. That makes sense.
TT, can you email me? My first name at times and seasons dot org.
TT, thanks for this list. I look forward to the day when, among rank-and-file LDS folks, these points will be as non-controversial as Julie sees them as being for Bible scholars.
HP (14), JPED isnt dead yet, but it will be soon. Cyrus Gordon started undermining it, and it is only a matter of overcoming the inertia of academia in admitting it is full of phlogiston on this one.
TT (17), you are perfectly willing to ignore historical situatedness when it comes to discussing the Song of Solomon and Divine Eros.
I don’t know why you think that this post is the place to hash out old grudges with me about previous posts, but let’s stop it here. If you have some points to make about other arguments I have made, please make them on the appropriate threads.
Regarding the , you might have noticed that I was arguing for a reading of the SoS after modernity, and whether we were stuck with the literalist hermeneutics of the 20th century, or if we could have a post-critical appreciation of the text. The entire point of the post was about the historical situatedness of contemporary interpretations.
Kurt, nobody ever went bankrupt betting against forecasts of the direction of intellectual change.
TT, (21) I am not hashing out old grudges, I am addressing the pointlessness of argument with you. You cast me as conceding the points you have made. I do not concede them, but am refusing to argue with you because you pick and choose your methodologies to suit your particular desired outcome. As far as SoS goes, you were actively soliciting modern reads that were wildly out of the historical context and praising people who submitted them. I was championing the historical context of the text (i.e., that it is not prophetic) and pointing out the formerly prevailing view, which you also championed (i.e., its a big allegory for God and Israel, when it obviously isnt originally intended as such), ignored that. So which is it? Are you for or against historically contextual readings? When it comes to SoS you reject it. As such is the case, what is the point of arguing your list of trivia above when the very list is a largely a result of textual ambiguity, absences and semantical arguments wrapped up in prevailing popular academia? There is none. But, that doesnt mean I have ceded the points as substantive or legitimate.
RT (22), yes, inertia is a problem.
TT, out of curiosity how do you reply to the argument from silence charge? I find it pretty compelling given how little we really know of the early Church. I think one interesting thing has been that as new discoveries are made (say the Nag Hammadi or DSS) just how significantly a few documents revolutionizes understanding.
(Whoops – too hasty on the clicking)
The analogy I like to make is to ask what understanding of the LDS Church in Navuoo we’d have if all we had to go on was the D&C – and arguably the D&C is far more informative about LDS practice and theology than most of what we have in the NT regarding the NT Church. Yet, as I think we all recognize, most of what is distinct about LDS theology, practice, views on authority, etc. lay outside of the D&C.
I suppose that my answer will depend on which argument I am supposedly making from silence. I still don’t see it and no one is pointing it out.
Just a comment about the comparison of the D&C to the NT. The difference is that the D&C was “written” by one person in very few geographical locations, and most of it was written in a four year period. In contrast, the NT was written by over a dozen different authors over a period up to 100 years (I date the Pastorals to c. 150 CE) from locations all across the Mediterranean. I am not saying that we know everything, or even very much (hence my points 4 and 8), but we have a much broader set of data than the D&C would provide. Furthermore, there is a significant difference in genre between the two texts, which also affects what can be known from them.
We have a broader set of backgrounds with far less range of topics.
Kurt #23, I think your remark was disingenuous. But just in case it wasn’t: it’s not just inertia, but also unexpected new bursts of evidence, contagion from developments in other fields of research, and the simple fact that many once-exciting arguments lose their luster as they lose their novelty. That which is new, e.g., rejection of the documentary hypothesis, isn’t necessarily best and to date doesn’t account well for the continuities among texts by a single hypothesized author — although several of the alternatives do seem to account for discontinuities in the final text by positing, in effect, infinite numbers of sources… I can’t judge among these hypotheses since I have no skills here, but there’s enough going on that I wouldn’t be surprised if scholarly consensus were eventually to discard the novel interpretations and conclude that JEPD was a better fit. Just as I wouldn’t be overly surprised if a really great modification of some of the current arguments emerged that rewrote the rules entirely… But my point is just that today’s revisionism doesn’t always become tomorrow’s orthodoxy — nor should it always.
Oh, with regards to the argument from silence. I think what most who make this charge (and obviously not just to you – this is a common topic) are saying is that just because we don’t have quite the information regarding our own concept of priesthood doesn’t entail there isn’t a priesthood. Further even if there was a priesthood we need not assume it was fully revealed. After all there is indirect evidence that much was held back. And of course even in Nauvoo a lot of our priesthood theology was kept to an inner circle until Utah. And even in Utah topics like the Holy Order weren’t discussed openly. (And arguably there’s a lot about Navuoo theology regarding priesthood that most Mormons still have never encountered)
So put an other way, what do we think of as priesthood? Well in one sense, one huge aspect of our priesthood (separation of Aaronic and MP) makes little sense in NT times. That’s because there already is a large assortment of levitical priests – almost certainly some of whom were Christian – but also because there wasn’t (yet) the separation of Judaism and Christianity.
So what do we mean by priesthood? Arguably as a practical matter we mean figures set aside who could act in a leadership role with this being accompanied by some rite – probably the laying on of hands.
Beyond that what do we mean by priesthood? Well, arguably the temple rites of the higher priesthood.
I think, though, that a very good case could be made for both of these. I’d also say that the idea of a Prostestant like view of a priesthood of all believers is harder to make.
I agree with your line of questioning as the kind of thing I I think that we should do in light of the texts. I think that comparisons to early Mormonism in this regard are especially apt and prevent us from adopting a static view of the “gospel” which must appear at different times and places. While I am confident that we will not find exact parallels in the NT for our conceptions of priesthood or leadership (e.g., Paul never submitted to the laying on of hands as he says explicitly that he was ordained by God, not man), I think that we have to engage these differences productively.
Just to clarify something: saying that there is no priesthood in first-century Christianity is NOT an argument from silence. Rather, saying that there is a priesthood but that none of the texts that mention it survive IS an argument from silence. The former is based on a survey of the evidence (dozens of sources) while the latter is not based on any evidence whatsoever.
TT, both are arguments from silence.
Clark, I agree with you that both of TT’s examples are arguments from silence. But it’s ridiculous to rule out such arguments. They aren’t useful in deductive logic, but they can be profoundly valuable in abductive reasoning. If I randomly draw 100,000 balls from an urn with 10,000,000 balls in, and none of them is green, I still haven’t proven that there are no green balls in the urn. But I’ve at least presented overwhelming evidence that green balls aren’t an important constituent of the urn. Likewise with the priesthood texts — there are tons of texts, and none of them reflect an LDS-type understanding of priesthood. That doesn’t prove that there was no such understanding, but it creates overwhelming evidence that such an understanding was not prominent or important…
Clark, Clark, Clark,
Perhaps I need to spell out the caveat, “based on all of the available information” when I make a claim about what early Christians beleived or did, but this is not the same thing as making an argument from silence. You cannot equate the claim that “early Christians thought that Jesus was an extra terrestrial even thought the available sources don’t preserve this information” with the claim that “early Christians did not think that Jesus was an extra terrestrial because the sources do not contain such a tradition” as carrying the same logical weight. If so, then you are making the claim that doing history is impossible because no deductions can be made from the available evidence.
Let me make it perfectly clear that my original statement: “There is no priesthood in the New Testament offices of the church” is not an argument from silence. I will restate it even more clearly: “In the texts which comprise the NT (and other 1st c. Christian texts) there is no mention of the “priesthood” with respect to any authority that a Christian might have. This includes the references to numerous heretical Christian groups mentioned in the texts. All references to the “priesthood” refer to the traditional understanding of this role as something which is held by those who operate the temple in Jerusalem.” This claim is and continues to be a pefectly factual claim that could not be disputed by the discovery of new information since it is only a claim about the information that we have in the Bible. That is not going to change.
I will add that my claim about the NT texts’ view of the priesthood is falsifiable, whereas an argument from silence is not.
TT, I agree that the statement “In the texts which comprise the NT (and other 1st c. Christian texts) there is no mention of the ‘priesthood’ with respect to any authority that a Christian might have. This includes the references to numerous heretical Christian groups mentioned in the texts. All references to the ‘priesthood’ refer to the traditional understanding of this role as something which is held by those who operate the temple in Jerusalem.” is not an argument from silence. Instead, it’s a summary of empirical evidence. According to many logicians, it would be an argument from silence to generalize from that evidence and conclude that no concept of priesthood as a kind of authority that a Christian might have existed, because such is a generalization based on the lack of contrary evidence — one classic definition of an argument from silence. But arguments from silence can be of very different kinds and of very different levels of persuasiveness. Furthermore, it’s really important to keep an eye on the difference between arguments that say, “There’s no evidence against X, so X must be true,” and “There’s no evidence in favor of X, so X must be false.” The latter form of argument is really pretty good if enough of the relevant sources of information are considered, while the former sucks — even though some logicians would classify both as arguments from silence.
Thanks RT. If there was ever any misunderstanding about either my original or subsequent claims, I hope that they are cleared up. I also hope that it is clear that the argument that the priesthood was a category that early Christians used is a non-falsifiable argument from silence, whereas the generalization that might be inferred from my claim about NT and other early texts’ lack of discussion of the priesthood (i.e., other early Christians besides those whose voices are preserved in the NT also did not subscribe to a notion of priesthood) is a perfectly standard type of historical claim, especially given that the NT represents a diversity of authors with diverse viewpoints from diverse parts of the empire from diverse times. It is by no means comprehensive, and perhaps not even representative, but it is not insignificant evidence to use when making claims about what early Christians might have thought.
is it not the must that is bad?
There’s no evidence against “brocoli tastes good”, so “brocoli tastes good” might be true.
Isn’t the must bad in both cases, but to varying degrees?
TT, first off I think history is primarily about induction and abduction and not deduction. Secondly it certainly is the case that not all arguments from silence are fallacies. (Consider reaching into a bag of beans 50 times and finding only black beans. One is justified in saying that there are only black beans even though it is primarily an argument from silence)
My problem with most Biblical studies, as I’ve brought up in the past, is that on the basis of a rather paucity of data strong claims are made. One wishes the weaknesses inherent in the claims were noted as well. Yet this is something one simply doesn’t find that often. Despite the fact that on the basis of limited data wide broad claims are made.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record on this. I often truly wish as I read histories – especially ancient histories – that everyone involved take some hard sciences so they can learn the difference between strong and weak evidence. Ancient history, with a few exceptions where deductive claims are possible, is usually a case of weak and weaker claims.
TT, I agree. It’s a strong argument, and I find your comments persuasive.
Matt W., yeah, but the kicker is in the varying degree. Suppose we examine 10,000 pieces of potentially relevant evidence and find no proof that early Christians though of LDS-type priesthood, but also no explicit rejection of such priesthood. Concluding that, because there is no specific condemnation of the concept, therefore it is true is 100% bad. Because if there was no LDS-type concept of priesthood, there would probably be no way people would be able to think of such a concept to denounce it. So the evidence is 100% expected under either the hypothesis that there was priesthood or the hypothesis that there wasn’t.
However, concluding that, because there is no direct or indirect mention of LDS-type priesthood in our 10,000 pieces of evidence, there really wasn’t LDS-type priesthood is only a little bit bad. There’s probably some chance that there was such a priesthood but that nobody thought it was important enough to mention in the evidence we have. But there probably isn’t much of a chance of that, so the evidence does have substantial bite. We could even test statistical hypotheses on the basis of this, and draw very tight little confidence intervals around zero. So while the “must” in the two examples is bad in both cases, it’s really bad in one case and almost not bad at all in the other. Hence my claim that there’s a real difference between the two.
To put more succinctly, I honestly don’t think we know much at all about the structure of early Christianity from 33 AD – 70 AD.
Clark, I really think you’re underestimating the amount of evidence available here. It may not compare to, e.g., having a supercollider, but there’s often more evidence on historical points than Einstein or Newton had to work with on specific aspects of cosmology…
Clark: “but also no explicit rejection of such priesthood”
What do you consider to be evidence of this claim? In my view, every instance where a leadership role is mentioned and rooted in a different type of authority (charisma, prophesy, laying on of hands, ordained by God) and the priesthood is NOT mentioned constitutes a rejection of an LDS understanding of the priesthood. Every mention of the priesthood with respect to the temple without a counterclaim to such authority also constitutes a rejection of the notion of priesthood as an operable Christian category. Themes of leadership and authority are not uncommon topics across the NT corpus, yet none of these themes mentions the priesthood. This is not at all like saying that we have no evidence with regard to early Christian ideas about broccoli because the sources don’t mention it. Rather, we have a good amount of evidence about what early Christians thought about themes that the LDS would correlate with the priesthood, yet these documents never mention it.
I honestly don’t think we know much at all about the structure of early Christianity from 33 AD – 70 AD [does that refer to the period of the production of the NT texts?]
Clark, you are certainly entitled to such an opinion. I might even agree with you. However, this argument cannot be used as the basis of any claim that early Christians did subscribe to a notion of priesthood. The reason why is because it is a false statement that there is NO relevant evidence either way.
What is more typical, in the LDS setting is that we have 10,000 pieces of data which don’t tell us anything, but 1 modern revelation that tells me my priesthood is eternal, and we look back and infer into the previous texts our modern conception of the eternal priesthood, because of our modern revelation source. I think there needs to be a balance of the two.
It seems to me the key historical event that supports a more LDS conception is, of course, the calling of Matthias.
The problem with other examples of leadership is that we don’t have any indication about how the calling went. Certainly there is Paul who has a charismatic experience. But I don’t think most Mormons would say he was in a leadership position. (One big reason why I think the Pauline epistles are sometimes overstated in terms of authority) Put an other way missionary work seems much more charismatically driven and less an issue of authority. Clearly this is also the case in the Book of Mormon and arguably through portions of even our own history.
With regards to my latter claim, I’m not saying the silence of history entails the NT did or didn’t have a notion of priesthood. (As I pointed out it is entirely possible given our own theology that the higher ordinances of the gospel weren’t given publicly and this, in part, is what brought about the apostasy – interesting given the succession crisis in Nauvoo and the appeal the Holy Order) I’m simply saying that history doesn’t tell us a lot. What we can then do is ask indirectly via latter day revelation or other texts or even an LDS understanding of interesting texts like Jeu. (I don’t think anyone can read Jeu without thinking of LDS notions of authority and higher ordinances)
Certainly it is the case that many scriptures LDS like to use, like John 15, are much more ambiguous than most Mormons think.
But I’ll return to the point I started off with. We have to ask what we mean by priesthood. The LDS conception of priesthood is fairly vague and much more complex than it first appears. I just don’t see how Acts 6 can be said to be so vague or ambiguous as to invalidate as evidence an LDS reading though. Is the MP discussed? No. Is the notion of setting apart by people clearly in a leadership or authorized role? Of course.
RT, I honestly don’t think I’m underestimating the evidence. I’ll be the first to admit that it has been a few years since I last looked into these topics. But when I’d go through the *arguments* there was surprisingly little there.
TT, could you, and/or Julie, list for me ten leading NT scholars who back up your ten tidbits? Of course, you know I am a rebel to the mainstream scholarship, but I would like to know the latest and greatest who you think provide the lead for NT interpretation.
Clark, funny, I get 278 hits when I search the lds.org general conference archives for the phrase “Apostle Paul.” So it seems like our leaders are pretty comfortable seeing Paul as a leader of some kind. Consider the following from an October 2004 conference talk by Henry B. Eyring:
That seems a pretty strong affirmation of Paul as a leader possessed of priesthood keys in the modern LDS sense. By contrast, I can’t find a single equally explicit general conference reference to Paul as someone without a leadership position. May I suggest that the position that Paul wasn’t a leader with priesthood is actually the unusual one among Mormons?
Todd, I doubt you could find 10 NT PhDs in this entire country (outside BYU) who would offer major disagreements with any of the list–with the exception of #6 and maybe with some of my ideas from comment #4. You may or may not agree with or like this list, but it is bread and butter.
I think one thing may be useful to point out to LDS who are new to this material: there is a world of difference between saying “there is no evidence of LDS-style priesthood in the NT” and “there was no LDS-style priesthood in NT times.” The first is a matter of easily observable evidence; the second more a matter of faith. An easy apologetic approach is to say that evidence of LDS-style priesthood was removed later by apostate-types who realized that *they* didn’t have that priesthood. (I don’t think that that is the most likely story, but I just mention it to show that nothing in this list of ten has to undermine anyone’s faith.)
RT, the issue is whether he was a priesthood leader – not whether he was a leader. Many wards will have unofficial leaders who are leader by charisma. i.e. people look to them. These social structures often are quite separate from formal lines of power.
Now I happen to believe as a matter of faith that at some time he was formally set apart. But I’d be the first to admit I can’t demonstrate it. However the distinction between the two uses of apostle has long been noted. Even in LDS history there is a difference between apostle (with a little a) as those testifying of an appearance of Christ and apostle with a big A which is a priesthood office. Paul is an apostle but there is no evidence he was called in the fashion that say Matthias was.
Julie, one does also have to make the awkward argument that discussions of LDS-style priesthood were removed from non-NT early documents, as well, before those documents vanished from public attention. But I agree that a conspiracy-theoretic reading is available.
Clark, read the block quote from my earlier comment; that’s clearly a priesthood leader — not just an informal community leader — that Eyring and Faust were imagining, isn’t it?
(Whoops hit reply too soon again)
Clearly one can either think Matthias was an outlier and such calls aren’t necessary (ditto the laying on of hands in Acts 6) and that Paul is equal to the 12 apostles. Or one can say that there is a difference. The evidence, in my opinion, isn’t sufficiently strong as to decide by an appeal to the texts. Now probably the key event in all this is the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15; Gal 2) but how to interpret the limited data we have isn’t clear. An LDS will immediately read into it LDS conceptions of authority. In terms of text though that is ambiguous. We’re reading latter texts as context to interpret it. But say what one will about Acts 15 there definitely is at least de facto authority presented. Is this due to formal or informal structures? (Which ends up being the key dispute here)
Re #52: I agree, and that’s why I said it wasn’t the best argument. But I can see how someone could believe it and still sleep at night.
“Now I happen to believe as a matter of faith that at some time he was formally set apart. But I’d be the first to admit I can’t demonstrate it.”
This is a really, really important idea. We just end up looking stupid when we assume things are in the text that aren’t (what happened on the mount of Transfiguration is my fav) and be clear about what we know from the text versus what we know from modern revelation, etc.
RT – I think you miss my point. Certainly most in the 20th century read back into texts our current use of apostle. I think it beyond dispute that for even the early LDS church this is wrong. The fact that many read Paul as an apostle like our current structure doesn’t mean much. Just like the fact many assume there is no evolution and assume all authority was the same at all times doesn’t matter. (With all respect to those making such statements)
Now, as I said, I personally believe that Paul was at some time given the keys. But I don’t think one ought say as a fact that he did.
Hopefully that clarifies things. (Unless you think the quote in question invalidates TT’s assertion)
Clark, I was responding to the following quote of yours:
Obviously, quotes from modern LDS leaders can’t possibly confirm or invalidate TT’s assertions. But they can be brought meaningfully to bear on the above quote from you, which I take to mean that most modern Mormons don’t think of Paul as an apostle in the modern Mormon sense. Of course, that reading contradicts this quote from your more recent comment regarding modern Mormon views of Paul:
If many or most Mormons see Paul as an apostle in the modern Mormon sense, then obviously many or most Mormons see Paul as occupying a leadership position, since modern Mormon apostles are clearly leaders. So I can’t find a way of reconciling your various statements here. Given your affirmation of personal belief that Paul indeed had priesthood keys of leadership, I assume that you meant something else when you said you thought most Mormons denied that Paul had priesthood keys of leadership. But I’d appreciate your guidance here.
RT, sorry, I was probably confusing. I don’t think most Mormons think Paul was in a leadership position at the time of his charismatic call. I do think most Mormons think he was by some point, although they may debate when. I myself think that as I pointed out. Sorry for the confusion.
I agree with Julie here. I presented these as axioms which are simply taken for granted in contemporary scholarship. As I also mentioned earlier, I think that any good introduction will lay out the basic arguments. Try Brown, Ehrman, Koester, or Kimmel.
I think that at this point I should answer Julie’s earlier request that I lay out the positive theological value of these insights that I see for Mormons. I don’t really see us up against the ropes if we admit that the priesthood as we know it was not an operative category for early Christians. Further, I think that we need to confront the problems head-on, rather than rest on arguments from silence or overemphasize the uncertainty about scholarly conclusions. That is, we shouldn’t seek refuge when our assumptions are challenged, but think through what it might mean theologically in productive ways. As Clark noted, the concept of priesthood has changed dramatically in our own time. When we say that the priesthood is eternal, I don’t think that it means that it must have existed in the same way at all times. Our own history teaches us this, so we shouldn’t be surprised by the history of the ancient past. This lesson in historical contingency I think points to larger theological positions of historicism.
I think instead of searching for “proofs” that the priesthood was the same then as now that we can consider the principles of the priesthood as themes that we want to explore in scripture, even if we don’t find the exact idea reproduced there. Clark has rightly asked what we mean by priesthood, and while I think that we disagree about the continuities between our concept and the NT accounts (I don’t see any reason to equate Matthaias with what we do, and Acts 6 even less), I think that we would agree that LDS can learn something about priesthood from the NT. The difference between us is whether we think that the text actually is about the priesthood or not. I don’t think that it is, but I don’t think that this prevents us from learning from these scriptural stories .
Have you considered doing a similar Ten Tidbits for the Book of Mormon? I think there are a lot of underlying assumptions that LDS make as they read the book that are not supported by the text itself. For instance the view of the Godhead in the BoM is not very LDS at all. Especially if you have an earlier edition. Yet we superimpose our current understanding of the Godhead on the text, often result in some very weird rationalization.
ARJ, I don’t know if it’s possible to do a similarly noncontroversial Ten Tidbits for the Book of Mormon. I agree completely regarding the theology of God — yet I’ve found in talking about this online that many others are stubbornly committed to an eisegetical approach to the issue.
TT, I think Matthias and Acts 6 describe something most LDS would conceive of as priesthood. But LDS have multiple overlapping notions of priesthood, of which authority to act in a role via a ritual is but a part. Thus our frequent (but perhaps a tad misleading) distinction between priesthood and priesthood office and keys.
I was hoping in #59 you really would lay out the positive effects of these tidbits on a typical Mormon’s faith. I can see a couple that you might consider.
One might be humility. Most Mormons I know — especially returned missionaries, it seems — are quite confident of their knowledge of the scriptures. These ten tidbits might help the average Mormon recognize that in fact there is yet a lot to learn about our scriptures “by study,” and that if these ten are news to them, maybe there are more things to learn. Centuries of faithful scholarly thought might be something one can learn from.
Another might be a tentative approach to hermeneutics. Perhaps the adjective that would best characterize the Gospels’ historical message is “surprise.” The Jews were surprised that a Nazarene would claim to be the Messiah. The apostles and others were surprised repeatedly at the miracles, at the teachings. Everyone was way surprised at the resurrection. It seems like in every chapter, someone is having their bubble popped. That might be a model for us: if your ten tidbits pop some bubbles, rather than just be the message of a smug know-it-all, it could serve to remind us that we should be tentative in our claims to interpretation.
But you might well have other positive suggestions. Without a positive message, the tidbit approach runs the risk of reinforcing the perception of scholars as know-it-alls, breeding (further) distrust of intellectualism by lay and leader alike. Have you come up with any “theological potential” — again, in a positive way — specifically for any one of the ten? So far most of the discussion above has been the sort of “we are smarter than they are” approach that can end up be a turn-off.
I agree with you that most LDS would read these texts in the way that you suggest, but I am losing the train of your argument here. Are you disagreeing with me on something that I am missing? My point is that this LDS interpretation needs to be arrived at a little more carefully. We cannot simply import our modern ideas about what is going on without a) missing something in the text and b) distorting the text uncritically.
Acts 1:15-26: I think that the danger here is that we confuse our notion of priesthood with apostolicity. While I agree fully that we can look to our current model of “apostle” and church government and glean lessons from this text about the responsibility to witness and the symbolism of 12, I think that it is a mistake to say that it is exactly the same. For instance, we regularly ignore the divination techniques used here for deciding who is the next apostle when we use this text as a prooftext, which is evidence that we are already engaged in an interpretive agenda. Further, we don’t really get a sense here or elsewhere what exactly it means to be an apostle. What do these guys actually do in this capacity? Do they sit on committees? Do they run local churches? Are they itinerant preachers? Are they figureheads? It never really says, and I don’t think that we want to get locked into accepting whatever definitions we might find as being restrictive for what our modern apostles can do.
Acts 6: This is a particularly interesting case for LDS, because it really is quite foreign to anything that we have at all. The number 7 for the choice of deacons has no parallel. Further, the division of labor here between the deacons and apostles doesn’t map onto what we are doing either. Finally, I think that when we just focus on the issue of the laying on of hands as the only relevant aspect of this passage for us, we miss the issue of the tensions between different language groups in the church. I think that this is a problem that we could pay more attention to ourselves, and we might even be critical of the decision of the apostles to just pass it off onto others and perpetuate the prejudicial attitudes of the Hebrew speakers.
I appreciate these suggestions and I think that you are right. A little bit of humility is probably a good thing, but I was attempting to lay out something a little more robust than just pointing out the “ignorance” of others. In fact, that isn’t really my goal at all. I agree that this goal is pretty shallow. Since we were just dealing with the priesthood issue, I only spelled out the theological benefits of my point because that was the only one that was causing theological difficulties in this thread. I may take up the other ones if there are specific requests. I suppose that the theological benefits of these interpretations are more obvious to me than to others because I have accepted these principles for a long time now, so I should be more conscientious about laying them out.
In #59, I really was trying to put forward a positive theological contribution of historicism, or New Historicism as it is sometimes called. I sort of just said this without explaining it though. By this, I meant that we can see how the gospel is articulated differently in different times. We are much less constrained by “eternal” truths (and the historical problems these claims cause for us). We are forced to deal with both the ethics and epistemology of our “truths” with full consciousness of their own history and historicity. All ideas have a history, and exploring this history can tell us a great deal about who we are and allow us to be self-critical of the ideas which we take to be most sacred. I am particularly indebted to Foucault and other post-structuralists (and even some structuralists) for this insight, which I find relevant to our own notion of continuing revelation, which I think obviates both epistemological and even ontological universals in the classical sense.
A second benefit of considering the NT without a priesthood I think can aid LDS feminist theology. Here, we have a model of leadership, discipleship, administration, and the use of spiritual gifts that all exist independently of the “priesthood.” The NT offers a theological basis for leadership that is based on criteria that have nothing to do with gender or with priesthood and could potentially serve as a model for reform with regard to gender equity in the church without having to change the policy of a male-only priesthood. By disambiguating priesthood from leadership (including apostleship), the NT lays out a way around the current deadlock on this issue. [AFAIK, I am the first person to argue this point in print, so if someone out there publishes this idea, they better cite me!]
My point is that this LDS interpretation needs to be arrived at a little more carefully. We cannot simply import our modern ideas about what is going on without a) missing something in the text and b) distorting the text uncritically.
My point is that the conclusions solely in the text minus LDS texts are more ambiguous than they first appear and the typical LDS view isn’t necessarily wrong.
If I am understanding you correctly, there is nothing in your statement with which I disagree in principle. If we disagree, it is with regard to specific applications of these claims.
Just to add, I think “deacon” is a general catch-all of an office. (Ditto for Teacher) The way we structure it is, of course, relatively recent. (I forget the date when it was teenagers who were called to fill these jobs – but I believe is was early in the 20th century sometime after the practical end of polygamy)
I think Church structure is fairly dynamic – as I suspect do most Mormons judging by the excitement and rumors around General Conference time with respect to Church structure. Doubly interesting given that there have been only two major structural changes the past 40 years or so. The creation of a 1st Quorum of the Seventy rather than just having the 7 Presidents and then the creation of the second Quorum. Well, I guess the elimination of the Seventy as a practical priesthood office was as well. (Now there is the quorum, but they’re all held by High Priests and there are no Seventies at the ward level)
1877, I believe.
Yeah. That’s right. For some reason I was thinking it was during the latter reorganizations and not that early one.
TT, thanks for naming some of the sources. I don’t admire them very much for what they have to say. I have Brown’s commentary on John. And various books by Ehrman.
Concerninng tidbit #6:
In Bart’s book, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford, 1999), pages 88-89.
Theological Merits / Historical Demerits
“Over the course of Christian history, probably the most religiously significant and theologically powerful account of Jesus’ life has been the Gospel of John. John says things about Jesus found nowhere else in Scripture: only here, for example, is Jesus identified as the “Word” that was from the beginning of all time, who was with God and who was God, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us (1:1-14); only here does Jesus claim to be equal with God (10:30); only here does Jesus say that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father, that anyone who rejects him has rejected the Father, and that anyone who believes in him will have eternal life with the Father (5:22-24; 6:40; 14:9). These are powerful theological statements. But if they were actually said by Jesus, the historian might ask, why do they never occur in sources that were written earlier than John? Nothing like them can be found in Mark, Q, M, or L—let alone Paul or Josephus. As true as these statements about Jesus may be to the believer, it is difficult that they represent things he really said to his disciples.
“And thus a second rule of thumb that historians follow: accounts of Jesus that are clearly imbued with a highly developed theology are less likely to be historically accurate. The reason relates to our first rule of thumb: later sources tend to be more theologically oriented than earlier ones, since the greater passage of time has allowed greater sustained theological reflection. And so, books like John and Thomas—which may indeed preserve important historical information on occasion—are not as valuable to the historian as sources that do not promote as distinctive a theological agenda.”
Are you attracted to this, TT?
And does one have to be imprisoned to the rules of mainstream, historical critics in America to be a NT scholar? For some, there is rejoicing that America’s most popular “Biblicists” are mainstream with their European higher criticism forefathers. Mainstream scholarship says beware all the bias except that which lies behind their own binding rules, critically denying the historicity of the text.
I think that the Ehrman quote you provide accurately captures the argument that I was trying to make in the earlier post and in #6. This observation is axiomatic among biblical scholars. While I am not entirely sure that I agree that as a RULE more theologically sophisticated texts are later, I certainly agree that in this instance John is later, but I think that the case is made on a variety of other factors besides a higher Christology, such as its treatment of “Jews” in the text.
And does one have to be imprisoned to the rules of mainstream, historical critics in America to be a NT scholar?
Well, in a sense, yes, but I wouldn’t use the word “imprisoned.” There are, of course, numerous theological schools and publishers which maintain a pre-critical approach to the Bible and one might be considered a biblical scholar in these circles without having to engage the “mainstream” world of biblical studies. I am the first to be critical of certain assumptions in biblical studies, and there are many scholars who do so. They do so, however, by taking seriously the claims made by other scholars and critically evaluating them. As I have argued in previous posts, feminist and african american hermeneutics have a lot to offer as critiques of historical-criticism.
Mainstream scholarship says beware all the bias except that which lies behind their own binding rules, critically denying the historicity of the text.
I think that this is a mischaracterization. First, the rules of biblical scholarship are always under discussion. Yes, certain options are foreclosed, such as the claim that the gospels can be harmonized or that Peter wrote 1 Peter or a variety of others, but this is not the same thing as your characterization of biblical scholars as slavishly repeating their own dogma. Rather, the conclusion that these scholars come to is the result of dealing with REAL problems and a dissatisfaction with the solutions offered by traditional Christian theology. There isn’t just some sinister theological agenda that informs all of “mainstream” biblical scholarship.
TT, just as frustrating as it might be to others where I would critique Mormonism without any fair presentation from its sphere of scholarship or leadership, I am perturbed by mainstream biblical scholarship in its short-sided allowance for any fundamentalist or historical evangelical view. Usually, when exposing their views, only amusements are offered. Someone like Spong might be treated with more respect than some serious, intellectual former. The theological agenda has changed in America, from its higher institutions trickling down to local congregations.
But I think you are right. There is bubbling dissatisfaction with traditional Christian theology and Christology. The pressure is real. But I don’t how well the various theories offered today are improving much on the theology offered for English people by William Tyndale almost 500 years ago in his translational work and the Obedience of a Christian Man. I need something offered in scholarship that I could die for. There is slim pickings, today, in America.
I am perturbed by mainstream biblical scholarship in its short-sided allowance for any fundamentalist or historical evangelical view.
Todd, I don’t really see the connection between misrepresenting Mormonism and the claim that “evangelical” arguments are excluded from biblical scholarship. FWIW, I know a number of critical evangelical scholars. They seem perfectly capable of operating in the world of biblical scholarship.
As for fundamentalism being excluded, well, this seems to be a case of mutual exclusion. Since fundamentalism arose as a direct response to historical criticism, I am not sure in what way you see there being a resolution. Fundamentalists refuse to listen to historical critics and historical critics don’t entertain the ideas of fundamentalists. May those who can best account for the interpretation of the Bible win.
I’m troubled by Ehrman’s quote and I guess by implication by the premise of the initial posting in this thread. Ehrman seems to be oh-so-sure, when the whole Q hypothesis and the dating of John are really just interpretive constructs that are based on very little evidence. Sensible and logically compelling, to my way of thinking, but still just a construct based on little evidence. These constructs can change so quickly with the introduction of new data or even new ways of looking at the same data.
As an example, I’m reminded of the sea-change in approval in the scholarly community around the KJV. It used to be, 50+ years ago, that no one could find anything nice to say about the KJV. Even President Clark’s “Why the KJV” was less a scholarly rebuttal than an argue to tradition, and I remember reading it years ago and not finding much to hold the clear and rational arguments of then-current scholars at bay. However, once Robert Alter pointed out the tremendous importance of narrative, it turned out that the old KJV translators actually have one of the most faithful translations around: the breathlessness, the dramatic aspects, etc. (Compare Genesis 22 with any other translation…) Sure, I cherish the Schocken Bible, the NASB and so many others, and carry them with me, but Alter’s views on why the KJV has such power are very compelling and have reset my thinking on this topic, back to the traditional pro-KJV mode. One could go on about paradigm shifts, Kuhn, etc., but I think you get my point.
Ehrman’s comments about dating and importance of theology all do sound logical, as do the ten tidbits. But such comments have a tone of far more surety than the data warrant. Frankly, I see far too little of “taking seriously the claims made by other scholars and critically evaluating them.” One of the very attractive things about Mormonism to my way of thinking is its combination of bold, non-logical (might we even say, ‘revealed’) statements and how well so many of those statements hold up under scrutiny. That’s not to say that the tidbit approach doesn’t have value — I think it does, and I think, TT, you did a very nice job in #64 in highlighting some of your positive ruminations. While I think many Mormon traditionalists would have a hard time getting rid of epistemological universals, I for one agree it is at least worth doing the gedanken experiment. I’d like to hear more about how you think your #1, 9, or 10 could be helpful.
Lastly, possibly as a topic for a future post, I’d like to return to my concern around anti-intellectualism. I sense slightly less of this under current church central leadership, for which I am grateful (I love that President Hinckley learned to read the NT in Greek), but there is still plenty of it at local levels. And such anti-intellectualism could come back at any time. The “tidbit” approach of poking holes in people’s paradigms can cause discomfort (indeed, is intended to “provoke”), and a kneejerk reaction to discomfort is to shoot the messenger, in this case, the intellectual. I am eager to find the positive in these exercises because I hope that it will show lay and leader members that intellectual approaches to the scriptures can lead to us being better Christians, not just better theologians. Since I’m unable to identify the difference between a structuralist and a post-structuralist (unless it has something to do with a bridge in Minneapolis), I’m not ready to declare myself able to defend the intellectual Way Of Life, but since TT you clearly are, and others on this blog, I’d welcome any thoughts you might have on how to most effectively show the benefits of an intellectual approach to Mormonism.
Put another way, can you find not just “provocative” but actually helpful tidbits? Perhaps you think you have, and they just need explanation like you did in #64…
Ehrman’s reading is confident because it rests on the back of over 100 years of scholars all making the same claim. There is no new evidence that can change the view of the Christology of the NT authors because the NT authors are the only evidence that matters in making this determination. Now, I can concede that there might be paradigm shifts at some point, but since the dawn of critical biblical studies and countless scholars, his basic point here is pretty much an unchallenged consensus.
As for there being “very little evidence,” I respectfully disagree. The difference in the synoptic, Pauline, and Johannine christologies was noted before anyone thought of Q and frankly stands independent of Q or the dating of John. When you look at the texts, that is what you get and you don’t need complicated theories to get there. Either the synoptics think that Jesus is a God or they don’t. If you think that there is some contrary evidence which makes this argument suspect, by all means produce it for discussion. Otherwise, I don’t see the point in assertions about the overconfidence of someone’s conclusions when no effort is made to substantively engage them.
As for the KJV, I think that this is a different point entirely. I understand that you see a paradigm shift at work here, but to be honest, no scholar takes the KJV seriously on its translation merits. It is completely ignored in critical scholarship. I wouldn’t disagree that the KJV is a powerful text (well Genesis is one thing, but for the most part I see much of the KJV as a hack job), but this doesn’t really get at the interpretive issues that are being addressed here. Let’s postpone this discussion.
As for your final points about marketing these ideas, I am sympathetic to what you are saying. Certainly no one wants to destroy the testimonies of others, but I also don’t think that being provocative is necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps I underestimate the anti-intellectualism and the culture of agreement in the church (fortunately I don’t live in an area where this is a problem), but I think that challenging one another in a respectful way can be immensely faith-promoting. Perhaps you read my original post as too aggressive despite my numerous attempts to emphasize positive and productive solutions to these problems. This may just be a pedagogical difference, but I also think that it is important to have members think through the solutions without being spoon-fed them by me or anyone else. We have enough of that already. In the end, however, I am not sure that scholars have the responsibilities that you lay at their feet to make people better Christians. Better thinkers, yes, but better Christians may be too much.
That said, let me briefly sketch out a few of my theological reflections on a few of these points:
#1- this insight has been tremendously useful for rethinking Jewish-Christian relations and getting past a lot of the latent anti-Judaism that informs Christian theology. For an accessible (although almost totally wrong) treatment of this, see John Gager, Reinventing Paul. he shows the problems of Christian supersessionism and anti-Judaism as not good readings of Paul. For LDS, I think that we haven’t even begun to take seriously this idea, even though our own notion of Israel might be very close to the New Perspective on Paul’s.
#2 we have already dealt with extensively and #3 is obvious.
#4 and #8 don’t seem too controversial. It is more of a historical point than a theological one, but for LDS we are always sensitive to teh way that early Christianity is depicted and we already accept that there were multiple competing versions, so this is just further evidence.
#5 can help us to think about competing narratives. We have several in our own tradition, including the First Vision and multiple creation accounts. I think that there is a message here about historicism, but also about the fundamental differences that we have with others in our account of the divine, and even with ourselves as time passes. I think that it would be useful to think about what differences matter and why.
I deal with the theological benefits of #6 for LDS in my earlier post.
#9 isn’t too controversial, just trivia.
#10 I think can help us think through our own millenarian history and to be a little more careful about predictions about the end of the world. Truly, no one knows the hour. We might also try thinking about a non-apocalyptic theology.
Wow, TT, lots to talk about:
“Ehrman’s reading is confident because it rests on the back of over 100 years of scholars all making the same claim.”
Maybe, but there really is nothing but a series of logical inferences, none of which in itself is very strong, that supports his key point: the Synoptics are *earlier* than John, and therefore more historical. Brown and others do an excellent job of pointing out that the Fourth Gospel is actually very reliable as a historical document, independent of dating. Ehrman’s point essentially would evaporate if papyri with dates were found that put John before Mark, no? But nothing in his confident tone would suggest that his statement is based on a series of logical inferences, but rather suggests fact, which it is not. 100 years of other scholars saying the same thing hardly makes it so, critical scholars or otherwise. Please, you can do better than this if you really want to defend Ehrman.
As for evidence that the other Gospels see Jesus as God, I have already agreed with your basic premise that John is more explicit. But I don’t agree that this means the other Gospels don’t support Christ’s divinity. Mark calls Christ “God’s Son” in his first verse, which clearly connotes divinity. (Mark repeats this title a number of times.) John is more explicit but the implications of divinity are not hard to see once John’s links are highlighted: compare John 6:20 with Mark 6:50; John 6:51–58 with Mark 14:22–24 = Luke 22:19–20; John 10 with Luke 15:4–6, etc., as noted in dictionaries. There is now a recent reply in your earlier posting about Jesus’ divinity in the NT highlighting how scholars see Paul’s Christology as supporting Jesus’ divinity. And so on. Your initial tidbit is a good idea: different authors emphasize different aspects of Christ’s personhood, and maybe we can learn something from this. But it is hardly as monolithic as you state in #6 above.
As for your comment that I am putting too much on scholars to ask them to make people better Christians, this I find egregious and unacceptable. To cite a recent posting over at T&S, the following quote was attributed to the late President Faust:
“We need less theologians and more Christians among the priesthood holders. Some priesthood holders study and discourse at length about obscure doctrinal topics that have little or no impact on daily living. But when someone needs help in the ward, it’s usually the Relief Society who is there providing the service. As priesthood holders we need to be focusing on providing Christian service.”
To argue that Mormon scholars can ignore the practical implication of biblical scholarship is to fall into the same void that Jon Levenson does a great job of highlighting in “The Hebrew Bible”: it is our faith, collectively, that makes biblical scholarship relevant, and so scholars who wish to be relevant must be cognizant of the impact their “scholarship” has on faith. Sorry, but I don’t see how you can really claim to be able to escape into an ivory tower on this point. Witness Mike Quinn’s job search as reported in the Wall Street Journal.
I’m grateful for your additional explanations but they don’t seem to be very deep as yet (maybe more exploration is needed). As for not spoon feeding, my point (not very well stated) is that I prefer to think that we can entice, rather than intimidate, members into greater engagement with scriptural texts. You’re right that part of that enticement is leaving something for others to discover, so perhaps indeed it is just a pedagogical difference about how much needs to be demonstrated before people feel enticed rather than intimidated. My experience teaching is that most students (including myself) need quite a bit of repetition and that clear, direct statements are appreciated.
And I’d be interested to know where in the world you believe anti-intellectualism isn’t a problem in the Church at a local level. I’d like to move there :-).
Rt (29), I am not being disingenuous. I mean very specifically that inertia is a real problem in academia. JEPD is being undermined by ANE experts and Jewish scholars. All four authors (Nahum Sarna, Jeffrey Tigay, Baruch Levine, Jacob Milgrom) of each of the commentaries in the Jewish Publication Society Torah Commentaries are critical and dismissive of the JEPD approach. Sarna is dismissive and Tigay is openly scornful. Levine gives it the most time by reviewing the general academic status quo from the JEPD point of view and then ignoring it for the rest of the commentary. And dont forget Umberto Cassuto’s explicit broadside attacks on it. ANE and Biblical Hebrew experts are rejecting JEPD with strong arguments to counter its highly subjective and speculative foundations.
TT, I have no interest in arguing any of your tidbits, but I do have one question regarding your tidbit #1: What is your take on Acts 26:28-29 in the light of your assertion? To me it seems obvious v. 29 necessarily implies Paul considers himself a “Christian.” You apparently dont. Why? I will not reply to your explanation.
Paul didn’t say it, Luke said that Paul said it. When evaluating what Paul thought, scholars restrict themselves to his own words. Acts is generally considered suspect historically because a) he has a strong theological agenda to present the church as unified and b)where Luke and Paul talk about the same events, they tell different stories and c) Luke has Paul do things that he would never do, such as in Acts 16:3.
I very much enjoy this exchange and I want to thank you for your well-thought out responses. Let me deal with the different issues separately.
Ehrman- I suppose that if you think that he is too sure of himself, it depends on what you think is his point. You are questioning his conclusions about the dating of John and I am arguing that his views on Christology are extremely solid. Regarding the dating of John first, I have already stated that I am not sure that a more sophisticated Christology is necessarily an indication of a later date, but that there are a variety of reasons that scholars date John as the latest. His Christology is only one among a number of factors that combine in order to produce the conclusion that it is late. Now, you may think that these factors are speculative and a series of inferences, and that scholarly consensus on this issue isn’t all that. You are entitled to your opinions here, but criticizing Ehrman for being confident in a claim that no other professional scholar would blink at seems a little unfair. As for Brown on John, I just want to clarify that to the extent that he defends what is “historical” in John has nothing to do with its late or early date (he agrees on the late date, btw). Rather, he argues for a moderate position that some of John can be considered “historical”, specifically some of the Passion Narrative, but he doesn’t think that any of the rest of John represents an accurate “historical” picture of Jesus, and he definitely doesn’t consider John’s Christology to be an accurate representation of how Jesus presented himself.
Now, I took from Ehrman that his main point was about the differing Christologies between John and the synoptics. I repeat that this argument stands independently of the dating of John or any theory about the synoptic problem. It is simply the result of collecting the relevant passages and comparing them, so even if a new manuscript of John shows up that dates it to 40 CE, Ehrman’s point would stand because it is a comparison of the texts alone.
Regarding the original claim in #6 and the previous post, you’re are right that my one sentence and brief post cannot quite do justice to NT Christology. In the earlier post there was some debate about what I meant by “God” and “divine” which I think has bearing on our disagreement here. There, I had in mind primarily a trinitarian view of God and even a popularized LDS view of Christ as ontologically distinct from human beings. I argued in that post that the view of Christ in the NT as not ontologically God has a great deal of similarity with LDS views of godhood. As for what is meant by “divine,” this is trickier. The Greeks have a word for this (theios), but it is never used to describe Christ in the gospels or Paul. Are we justified in using this term to describe their view of Christ even if they don’t use it? I don’t think so. I’d like to be more careful and nuanced on this point and prefer to use the terminology developed by the authors themselves. Since “divine” carries so many meanings even in English (equal to God, like God, really really good, etc), I am also skeptical of its ability to communicate anything really concrete, which is why I *try* to avoid it.
On the scriptural passages you cite, Mark 1:1 is a classical example in text criticism. The early manuscripts don’t have “Son of God” in the verse, though the later ones do. This example is used to show the theological agenda of the scribes who often altered the text to produce a higher Christology more consonant with later theological trends. As for the parallels you cite between John and the other gospels, I think that they actually prove my point that John’s Christology goes much further than the synoptics. There is no reason to import his views onto the other authors.
EXCURSUS: Does the “Son of God” title indicate that Jesus is divine? Well, I suppose that it depends on what you mean be “divine” and what theological work that does for you. Augustus was the “Son of God” after Caesar was divinized. All the other emperors were to. This claim for Jesus’ identity then is just as political as theological. Just like “Messiah,” the term “Son of God” connotes kingship. The OT uses of the term are in reference to David as well, which indicates that in Jewish tradition this phrase would also indicate kingship or a special relationship, not necessarily divine DNA.
As for the Faust quote, I agree with the idea that men in the church should take a more active role in service. However, I am not sure that I agree with the implication here that there should be NO theologians in the church (can anyone really accuse Mormonism of having TOO MANY theologians???). For one thing, Faust uses the term “theologian” colloquially to refer to people who just study and don’t act. I am not sure that this is the best definition of the term. Further, he doesn’t have in mind professional scholars, but “amateur” members. Finally, I am not sure that studying the scriptures intensively can be condemned seriously on the basis of it causing us to be less “Christian.”
In my claim that I don’t see it as professional scholars’ responsibility to make people better Christians, I am not letting them escape into a ivory tower. Of course their research is *in some cases* going to impact people’s faith one way or another. That said, I am not sure that they need to always coddle people along. The vast majority of what scholars do is participate in conversations with their students and other scholars, and they tailor their conversations to be appropriate to those who they are talking to. If they can only speak in theologically positive ways at all times and resolve any potential problems that Sister Milfred in the pews might have, I think that their ability to think and act is highly suspect. One doesn’t need to invoke Quinn as the lesson here. What I am suggesting is the responsibility of scholars is more akin to what Bushman is doing. He doesn’t back away from the problems. He doesn’t apologize for the shortcomings of the “official” story. Rather, he tells the story as it is in an open, honest way. Some people find it refreshing. Some people think he should be ex’ed. He can’t please everyone, and neither will biblical scholars be able to please everyone. The fact that he can please so many people at all is a testament to his personal wisdom and personality as much as his research (many have said the exact same things he has said and have gotten in far more trouble). Would that we could all be as wise as Bushman when explaining our research. I certainly hope that LDS scholars can fully acknowledge the “problems” that they are dealing with while also making people feel comfortable. However lofty this goal, I don’t know anyone that can ever make everyone feel comfortable. The standard is just too high.
Kurt #77, I’m well aware of that list of mavericks, actually. But any field that has an overwhelming consensus always has mavericks. And the mavericks aren’t always right, and don’t always win. But they do always get some attention, because people love novelty.
“mavericks”? Sorry, RT, completely lost me there. These guys are the mainstream of traditional (i.e., non-atheistic, non-secularized) Jewish scholarship, that is why they were picked for the JPS Torah Commentary. There is nothing “novel” about well-reasoned and substantive arguments. These are the preeminent, accredited, scholarly experts in ANE and Biblical Hebrew, they are not ideologues like K. A. Kitchens. You want to call names, go ahead with Kitchens, but when it comes to Sarna and these others, you are grasping at straws. These guys have the expertise and credentials only a fool would ignore.
And the notion there is “overwhelming consensus” on JPED is inaccurate, to say the least. The proponents of it cannot decide amongst themselves how many Js, Es, etc. there are, or whether J and E ought to be taken together as the same. How is that consensus? That they all accept Documentary Hypothesis? OK. But when your analytical method is so subjective that you cannot come up with any clear approach that yields consistent results, sorry, that is just weak. And that is what JEPD is, a good start (DH) gone bad. Its most powerful argument is the inertia supporting it in academia, which has no substantive value in and of itself as an argument.
We have plenty of other DH threads, so let’s take the conversation there. I also recommend the recent thread at http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3938#comments in which many of the FPR bloggers contribute as a resource for excellent critical discussion of the DH and its status in contemporary scholarship. Further, there are substantive discussions there about the DH’s explanatory capacity.
My apologies, TT.
No sweat RT! I don’t mean to quash the conversation (in which you are totally right, I am sure). If there is going to be a substantive discussion of this topic, I’d just like for it to be centralized so that future readers can benefit from the insights.
I want to add that even if there aren’t any positive theological developments that can come from critical biblical studies, this isn’t a reason that it should not be presented to and discussed by members of the church. Nor does it make them any less important if the theological outcomes are negative rather than positive. Indeed, it may be ever more critical that we discuss them and be aware of them if there is a negative theological impact of certain aspects of the Bible.
#73 – last paragraph. Well put. You have me chuckling on this one.
I tend to believe that historical criticism in Europe is a response to historical evangelicalism. Later, America was rooted in Puritan theology seeking liberty but now has been thoroughly ransacked by historical criticism in all the higher institutions of mainline denominations. Yes, fundamentalism arose and the leaders separated themselves from the critics. And from within fundamentalism, there arose neo-evangelicalism and its intellectual leaders who 60 years ago thought they could infiltrate, engage, and win the battle.
But today, not much ground has been covered, in fact, much has been lost for evangelicalism in America. I think the center for conservative evangelical theology will shift to another population center of the world. German theology is no longer true to its origins. England bastions of theology are not even close to their prime and vigor 130 years ago. And now look at America and its views on Jesus Christ. America is not the conservative, welcoming atmosphere for the building up of God’s kingdom as it once was.
But I won’t stick my head in the sand and be ignorant of the historical critics. And I can’t run because the spiritual condition of people’s hearts are far too important and their need for a Savior who is fully God and able to save to the uttermost.
TT, again thanks for letting a Christian fundamentalist like me chime in and interact with you.
Todd, you are welcome here any time and I am pleased to interact with you! I appreciate your positive tone and willingness to engage. I admire your patience and maturity.
I also this discussion, largely because I enjoy your thoughtful and reasoned responses. You show a tremendous willingness to address each point and I am happy to state that I largely agree with your sentiments regarding the value of personal scholarship, the potential benefits to lay members of further familiarity with modern critical scholarship, and the need to squarely face both positive and negative aspects of modern studies and resulting implications on our faith. (Did I ever tell you about the time my bishop called me in to tell me that my stake president had received notification from Salt Lake City that I was to be reprimanded for using the NIV in my Gospel Doctrine class? I’m still curious who snitched on me… 🙂 …).
Your illustration of Bushman v Quinn is precisely on. Both strike me as thoughtful, detailed scholars with a wealth of information at their fingertips. (Side note: I don’t know if you saw the transcript of Bushman and lots of high-powered journalists at the recent Pew forum, http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=148 but I was very impressed with Bushman’s ability to reply on the spot to such a wide range of questions.) But Bushman manages to conduct and present his scholarship in such a way that it is questioned only by those I would consider anti-intellectual. Not just RSR, but for example his earlier BYU Studies pieces about the many other people contemporary with JS who claimed to have a First Vision like experience where they saw the Father and the Son and wrote about it. In these pieces, he tackles hard questions, as you and I agree should be done, but manages to do it in a way that is not destructive.
It’s not that I want a pollyanna-ish or watered down version of history or theology, I can (and do) read the Church News for that. But I can also go to Utah Lighthouse Ministries if I want a view slanted hostile to the Church.
In that sense, I strongly disagree with you when you say, “[Nor are theological developments] any less important if the theological outcomes are negative rather than positive.” I’m way to much a fan of the Johannine view of life to accept that. I actually *do* think that there is a struggle between light and dark, between good and evil, and that this extends into the academy. I think that Mormon scholars *ought* to be searching for light, not just walking around aimlessly or willing to follow our noses wherever they lead us. Perhaps this sounds a bit extreme. But wouldn’t you rather see more Bushman books that (very recent genre) Quinn books? (I actually like almost all that Quinn has written, but find that the more recent works are tainted with his unhappier later outlook.) I guess it isn’t that hard to find theological analysis that dismiss belief, or prophetic foreknowledge, or inspiration. But honest works that still manage to be positive — those are rare.
I fully agree that scholarly work that has a pre-defined outcome (faith promoting, for example), is weaker than inquiry that is open to any possible outcome. And I’m not promoting the KJV for critical studies, nor advocating we should only study or publish things that Sister Milfred or Elder Whoever will approve of. And I agree we can use more “real” Mormon theologians. But I find it so compelling that Bushman manages to combine rigor with faith. I’d just like to see more of that. That does not seem like too high a standard to ask for. Indeed, shooting lower seems irresponsible.
Now, as to your earlier exploration of your tidbits, which you were so kind to post, and I apologize I did not fully respond to earlier (I was so caught by other things). Can’t reply to all of them for now due to time reasons, so just a couple:
1. I fully agree. It’s funny, growing up in a community where Jews are respected and close friends, it was years before I made the connection that the negative portrayal of the Sanhedrin members in the Gospels was used by many to justify anti-Semitic actions. It would be like holding Egyptians today responsible for enslaving the Jews of Moses’ time. Just didn’t seem relevant. But you are right that the persecution of Jews has been far too often justified by calling them “Christ-killers,” and Tidbit #1 is useful to preclude repeat of such mistakes.
5. Doesn’t it seem that Mormons, who perhaps uniquely view Scripture as something that has editors, are better prepared than most to deal with this? Initial records (e.g., plates) being abridged and then re-abridged/edited is old hat for us.
10. A bit simplistic if you consider Revelations, no? Arguably the Revelator realized there was much to happen still…
Sorry for typos: should be “I also enjoy this discussion” and “more Bushman books than …”