GA Wells Replies to Criticisms of his Books on Jesus
My views on Christian Origins have met with a number of adverse criticisms on the Internet. I am not on-line and have not seen them all, but a sympathizer has kindly sent me printouts extracted from “The Errant Skeptics Research Institute” (http://www.errantskeptics.org/). They comprise “Who is G. A. Wells”, by Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Neal, Pastor,BeverlyDriveUnitedMethodistChurch, and “The Errancy of Silence”, where Dr. Neal engages in debate with a defender of my views named as Achrachne. The articles can be found at the end.
Dr. Neal repeats the substance of his criticisms in his brief ‘customer review’ of my 1999 book (actually published in October 1998) on Amazon.com.
Dr. Neal’s criticisms are of the type to be expected from conservative Christians, and it is because they are thus characteristic that I am responding to them here. I refer to the two most relevant books of mine, The Jesus Legend (1996) and The Jesus Myth (1999) by the abbreviations JL and JM. Both are published byOpen Court,Chicago andLa Salle,Illinois.
Dr. Neal holds that I have the wrong academic qualifications (no degree in theology), the wrong publishers (my books are not issued by university presses), and am consigned to deserved “abject obscurity” by “the REAL scholars” (his emphasis). I also “twist” critical scholars whom I quote, and “only search under certain rocks”. (Which ones have I missed out?) I “utterly fail to apply the standard tools and controls of the Historical-Critical Field”, and “assume” all manner of unwarranted things, even my conclusion before I began investigations. What basis he can possibly have for this conviction that I worked simply from prepossessions escapes me, but it is always easier to impute bias than to dissect someone’s reasoning. And as bias is not uncommon, the imputation is readily believed.
Neal, like many of my critics, makes plausible-sounding objections to my views, as if I were unaware of such obvious obstacles and had made no attempt to respond to them. When his interlocutor pointed out that I had so responded, Neal declared that he does not propose to address my responses “at this time”, because it is up to the interlocutor to state them and so give him occasion for finding them wanting. And so he is content to press objections which I have answered in detail and to take no cognisance of these answers.
Neal also tries to discredit me by mentioning the names, rather than the arguments, of scholars who have criticised me. Dunn and Theissen, we learn, have disposed of me, the latter “with devastatingly convincing acumen”. I have replied to the relevant book by Dunn in my Religious Postures of 1988 (pp. 19 f.); and in JM I have responded in some detail to later books by him. Theissen’s main point against me is to interpret Paul’s reference to the archontes responsible for the crucifixion as an allusion to worldly rulers and hence to Caiaphas and Pilate. But he must know that most scholars allow that the contexts in which Paul uses the term “rulers of this age” and similar terms show quite clearly that he means them as designations of supernatural forces which have long harassed humanity, but have now been subjugated by Christ’s saving act. The article archōn (ruler) in Kittel’s standard Theological Dictionary of the New Testament observes that “Paul is not referring to earthly rulers”, and that arguments to the contrary “are not convincing”.
My view of Christian origins is based on the fact that the earliest extant Christian documents (comprising the seven genuine letters of Paul, the deutero-Paulines Ephesians and Colossians, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter and 1, 2 and 3 John) fail to confirm the gospel portraits of Jesus. Only when the gospels had become generally known (i.e. from the early second century) do we find other Christian documents depicting him as they do. This overall disparity between the earlier documents and the gospels, and its abrupt termination from the early second century, is something that many NT scholars have been unwilling to face. Those who have done so have admitted it to be serious. For instance, the Torontotheologian S. G. Wilson –surely one of Neal’s “real” scholars — has surmised, with candour characteristic of him, that the whole topic is often “instinctively avoided because to pursue it too far leads to profound and disturbing questions about the origin and nature of Christianity”. (Quoted in JL, p. 18.)
Neal devotes a good deal of space to criticism of my appraisal of the Pauline letters. He dismisses those NT scholars who admit to perplexity over what Paul says (and does not say) on the ground that none of them are “Pauline-field scholars”. So it is not merely necessary to have academic qualifications in theology, but also to be a Pauline specialist if one is to be taken seriously on this matter. He calls in Prof. Furnish as an ally against my assessment of Paul. It would be good to have his comment on the passages I have quoted from Furnish in JL, pp. 16, 215 n. 7 and JM, pp. 56, 64 f.
Neal also writes as if my case were built entirely on the failure of this one early writer to confirm what the gospels say of Jesus. The interlocutor reminds him that other early Christian authors write as Paul does and not as the gospels do (cf. JM, p. 67). Neal retorts that only Paul and James need be considered, as only they wrote before A.D. 70. But although the earliest gospel (Mark) may have been written at that date (or a few years later — I shall return to this question), it was some time before the gospels became generally known, as Neal himself is aware. This is why first-century epistle writers other than Paul and James continued to write in the pre-gospel manner about Jesus.
Neal’s comments — again like those of other of my critics — include a good deal of misrepresentation. He takes me to hold that “Paul didn’t know anything about a real-life historical Jesus”, and retorts that he “did know a few historical facts about him”, as if this were something I have denied, whereas in fact I have stressed that Paul regarded him as a descendant of David, born of a woman under the (Jewish) law, who lived as a servant to the circumcision, was crucified on a tree and buried. What Paul does not do is to set this life in a specific historical situation. He never mentions John the Baptist, or a ministry in Galilee, or a Passion in Jerusalem, or Pilate. It is not true to say, as Neal does, that “Paul knew that Jesus lived and died at a real identified time and space”. Paul gives no such identification. According to Neal, I believe that he “cooked up Jesus out of the Jewish figure ‘Wisdom'”, an absurdity because Wisdom was female. One might suppose that this objection had not occurred to me (see JL, pp. XXV f. and JM, pp. 96 f. for my discussion of it); but as we saw, Neal does not propose to concern himself with my answers to obvious criticisms. The influence of Jewish ideas of Wisdom on Paul’s view of Jesus is real and considerable, and not disputed even by many orthodox scholars.
In so far as Neal admits to some silence in Paul, he explains it by claiming that he “only rarely addresses matters that had proximate reference to the extant teachings of Jesus”. “Jesus’ teachings didn’t touch on the matters that Paul was addressing.” I have shown that this is not true (JM, pp. 58 f., 94 f.). And Neal himself shows that it is not true, for he gives a whole list of Pauline ethical teachings which resemble what is ascribed to Jesus in the gospels. What is so significant is that Paul nevertheless gives them as his own teachings, not as teachings of Jesus. I have repeatedly pointed out that it is much more likely that these precepts, concerning forgiveness, civil obedience and other matters, were originally urged independently of Jesus, and only later stamped with his supreme authority by being attributed to him, than that he gave such teachings and was not credited with having done so by Paul, nor indeed by other early epistle writers. For Neal to say that the relevant precepts show that “Paul appears to have had access to … [a] Jesus-teaching source, one quite similar to Q”, even though Paul does not in any way suggest that the precepts derive from Jesus at all, is quite arbitrary.
Returning now to those passages where Neal does admit a “near-silence” in Paul, we find him explaining it as due to an “overriding interest in the post-resurrection Jesus”. But Paul does say that the content of his preaching was “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23 and 2:2), so one might expect him to be forthcoming at least about the when, the where and the attendant circumstances of the Passion. That this expectation is disappointed is well brought out by the Furnish whom Neal so much respects, with the following formidable catalogue:
“No cleansing of the Temple, no conflict with the authorities, no Gethsemene scene, no trial, no thieves crucified with Jesus, no weeping women, no word about the place or the time of the crucifixion, no mention of … Judas or Pilate.” (Quoted in JM, p. 56.)
It is no answer to silence over this and other clearly relevant issues to say that the early epistle writers cannot be expected to “lay out the detailed content of the kerygma” or to write “long-winded disconnected treatises on the teachings of Jesus”. How many more times do I have to respond (as in JL, p. 15 and JM, p. 68) to the charge that this is what my argument unrealistically expects them to do? I do not, pace Neal, assume that “Paul wrote everything that he knew”; but I do expect him to adduce what Jesus material was known to him in so far as it was relevant — as according to the gospels it often was — to the issues under discussion. Prof. Stanton — surely a real scholar — frankly calls it “baffling” that Paul fails to “refer more frequently and at greater length to the actions and teachings of Jesus”, particularly at points where “he might well have clinched his argument by doing so”. (Quoted in JM, p. 95.)
Neal claims that I rely exclusively on arguments from silence, that what I need, but do not supply, is “direct evidence from Paul which contradicts the contents of the gospels”. In fact, however, I have given evidence that Paul, with other early epistle writers, views Jesus in a substantially different way from the gospels, namely as a basically supernatural personage only obscurely on Earth as a man at some unspecified period in the past, “emptied” then of all his supernatural attributes (Phil. 2:7), and certainly not a recently active worker of prodigious miracles which made him famous throughout “all Syria” (Mt. 4:24).
According to Neal, Paul “nowhere asserts that Jesus wasn’t a healer”. But I give evidence in JM, pp. 156 f. that there is incompatibility between Paul and the gospels here. For him, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by dint of his resurrection (Rom. 1:4), not by manifestations of power during a ministry. That he does not represent Jesus as a miracle worker is particularly noteworthy, not only because the gospels emphasize the miracles so strongly, but also because Paul himself is well aware of the importance of miracles for the Christian mission.
Another line of attack is Neal’s charge that I assume that “we have all that Paul wrote”. Of course I do not say this, and am well aware, from what he himself says, that he wrote more than what has survived. But Neal believes that my argument requires the assumption, otherwise what I say about Paul’s silences cannot stand; for his extant letters show that he knew something about a Jesus who lived on Earth as a man, and so the non-extant material might show knowledge of very much more. “The discovery of one new letter” might show that he was aware of considerably more. The obvious answer to this is that the extant material is considerable, even if one restricts it to the substantial letters generally accepted as Pauline (viz. Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians). It is also varied, in that it addresses manifold doctrinal problems that have arisen in diverse Christian communities. It may therefore fairly be taken as properly representing the author’s Christological opinions.
As I have already intimated, Neal alternates between allowing that Paul was “near silent” and finding him quite knowledgeable about the historical Jesus. In support of the latter position he claims that Paul “gives clear evidence of knowing members of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples”, viz. James and Peter. Paul in fact never speaks of Jesus’ “disciples”, although there are of course statements in his letters which, if read from prior knowledge of the gospels (which did not exist when he wrote), would seem to imply knowledge of this kind. It was a very important part of my task to show that such interpretation of the relevant material can be challenged (JM, pp. 52 ff.). Neal of course ignores what I have said on this account.
Neal naturally makes much of Paul’s half-dozen “words of the Lord”, but does not even mention that some of them are quite obviously words of the risen Christ, not of the historical Jesus (cf. JM, p. 60). A good case can be made, and has been made by NT scholars, for regarding most of them in this way, as words the risen one gave to early Christian prophets speaking in his name. Furnish points to the significant fact that these are words of “the Lord”, not of Jesus, which in itself suggests that the appeal is not to an earthly teacher, but to “the risen, reigning Christ, the church’s Lord“. (Quoted in JM, p. 61. Furnish’s italics). Furnish and Eugene Boring, drawing on earlier work by Käsemann and others, showed that early Christian prophets, prominent for instance in the Pauline community at Corinth, spoke messages from the risen one (JL, p. 28; JM, p. 62). The “word of the Lord” on divorce and the one concerning payment claimable by Christian missionaries may well be community regulations made firm by such supposed derivation. And the eucharistic words in 1 Cor. 11:23-25, which Paul himself says he “received of the Lord”, have been understood by numerous commentators as quotation from a liturgical tradition (JM, pp. 63 f.). Once a eucharistic practice had been established, it would be natural to suppose that Jesus had ordained it. The Dead Sea Scrolls have shown that a cultic act of this kind already existed in the Jewish background to Christianity.
Turning now to the gospels, we find Neal very exercised by the question as to what dates may plausibly be assigned to them. He devotes considerable space to dismissing as “an error” my suggestion that Mark can be put at ca. A.D. 90, instead of at shortly after 70. I give evidence (on which Neal does not comment) for the later date, but make it clear that my overall thesis does not require it (JM, pp. 16 f.). What is of importance is that Mark was writing after (if only shortly after) Roman armies had begun their devastation of Palestine in A.D. 66, and was writing perhaps as a gentile and certainly for a gentile Christian community. (He found it necessary to explain Jewish customs to them.) In consequence, he was not in a good position to glean reliable information about the Palestine of A.D. 20-30. His knowledge even of the geography of the area was defective, as Christian commentators have admitted (JM, pp. 15 f., 260).
Neal says that absence of citations of Mark in the 70s and 80s do not prove that it did not then exist. I agree, and have said as much, noting in my Did Jesus Exist? of 1986 (p. 78) that such absence is what one would expect; for once Matthew had become available it would naturally be preferred, since it includes nearly all Mark’s material and very much more besides.
As for Matthew, Neal does not dispute that Ignatius may not have known it, but adds: “This does not prove that it had not then been written”. I agree, and have not in fact drawn this “erroneous conclusion based on silence (and on no other evidence) that is glaringly present in Wells’ work”. Neal is so convinced that I rely on silence for almost everything I say that he does not read me very carefully. I date Ignatius’ letters at ca. A.D. 110 (JM, p. 58), and Matthew after A.D. 70 but within the first century (JM, p. 6). Neal seems to have forgotten that he earlier chided me for “putting forward dates in the 90s for all the gospels”.
Concerning Luke, Neal maintains that the title of this gospel was known by Papias. But C. F. Evans’ 1990 commentary on Luke in the Trinity Press International series states the well-known fact that, although Papias made statements about the authorship of Mark and Matthew, which are preserved by Eusebius, the latter “does not reproduce any such statement on Luke’s gospel” (p. 2) — even though he promises to record what ecclesiastical writers had said about canonical and “disputed” books (cf. JL, p. 73). Conservative Christian scholarship has long maintained that the anonymous works which, in the course of the second century, came to be called the gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written, admittedly not by a companion of Jesus, but at any rate by someone who had travelled with Paul. And Neal believes that their author “could well have been Dr. Luke”, “the Syrian-born physician named Luke whom we know about from Paul’s letters”. That Luke was a Syrian (from Antioch) is not alleged before the so-called Anti-Marcionite Prologue, which Evans (op. cit. p. 7) says may be as late as the fourth century. As for reference in “Paul’s letters” to “Dr. Luke”, Coloss. 4:14 mentions “Luke the beloved physician” and 2 Tim. 4:11 reads: “Only Luke is with me”. C. K. Barrett wryly observes, in his recent two-volume commentary on Acts in the International Critical series: “It should be noted that the former reference is in an epistle of doubtful authenticity, the latter in one almost certainly pseudonymous” (vol. 1, 1994, p. 30 n. 3). This leaves a single Pauline reference to a certain “Luke” as a “fellow worker” in Philemon 24. The medical knowledge evident in Acts is inconsiderable and much less than that of other books of the time, whose authors were certainly not doctors. Ernst Haenchen’s scholarly commentary on Acts states that the American NT scholar H. J. Cadbury long ago “put an end to the legend” that the language of Acts is medically informed. Neal is impressed by what he calls “the quality of knowledge that the author (of Acts) seems to have of Paul’s travels and ministry. But many scholars have found that this knowledge falls far short of what is to be expected of a companion of Paul. Barrett sums up the facts in an article following the publication of his commentary, saying that the author
“picked up what recollections he could find. But he does not tells us of the circumcising mission which Paul fought tooth and nail in Galatia(and in Philippi), which brought him to the verge of despair (Gal. 4:20). He does not tell us of the pseudo-apostles (2 Cor. 11:13) who came near to breaking his heart and destroying the church in Corinth. He does not tell us of the confrontation with Peter in Antioch, and finds a different reason for the break with Barnabas (Gal. 2:11-14; Acts 15:37-40). He does tell us that Paul not merely accepted but disseminated a Decree which made some features of the Law necessary for salvation, though Paul does not mention the Decree and wrote against some of its provisions. He does tell us that Paul took part in Temple procedures in order to prove that he had never taught apostasy from Moses, though he had in fact taught that circumcision was a matter of indifference.” (Journal of Theological Studies, vol. 50 (1999), pp. 523 f.).
More important than all this, apropos of the gospels, is that Neal ignores the change in my position concerning the traditions on which they drew which is clearly stated in my two most recent books, JL and JM. Recent work on Q led me to accept that the gospels (unlike the Pauline and the other early epistles) may include traditions about a truly historical itinerant preacher of the early first century. So it is not true to say, as Neal does, that I deny this. Likewise, my acceptance of recent Q scholarship means that I am no longer asserting that all the traditions about Jesus in Mark must have evolved after the Pauline period — a position which Neal nevertheless imputes to me. His interlocutor takes him to task for ignoring my change, but is rebuffed with the comment that my new arguments are “LEAST likely”, are “not supported by ANY historical evidence” and “violate parsimony, so much so that William of Ockham must have cut himself shaving as Wells was formulating them!”
The “law of parsimony” is something to which Neal at every turn appeals in his criticisms. He states it as: “The least complicated argument is most likely to be correct”. It would be more accurate to formulate it as: The true account is likely to be the simplest one that does justice to all the relevant evidence. It is usual to suppose, with Neal, that Christianity is most simply understood as arising from a Jesus who preached and worked miracles in Galilee, was baptized by John and died in Jerusalemunder Pontius Pilate. My case is that, while some elements in the gospels may have elaborated the career of an actual itinerant Galilean preacher (who was not crucified and certainly not resurrected), the dying and rising Christ of the earliest extant Christian documents cannot be accounted for in this way; and that not until the gospels are these two very different figures fused into one. I cannot here repeat all the details of my argument. They are summarized in the section headed “The Origins and Development of Christology” in JM.
Neal makes only brief mention of “historically relevant data” about Jesus from “non-Christian sources like Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny” and complains that I “always lean toward the least likely, anti-Christian conclusions” concerning such material. He might note that even the Catholic scholar J. P. Meier allows that Tacitus and Pliny do not help to establish Jesus’ historicity. They “reflect what they have heard Christians of their own day say”, and so are not “independent extracanonical sources” (art. in Biblica, vol. 80 (1999), p. 466). As for Josephus, few now believe that the obviously Christian words in the paragraph in his Antiquities are from the pen of this orthodox Jew. Had he believed what is here ascribed to him, he would not have confined his remarks on Jesus and Christianity to these few lines (cf. my detailed discussion in JM, ch. 4).
I conclude that I have in Dr. Neal yet another conservative critic who to some extent misrepresents me, dwells on some marginal matters as if they were of fundamental importance to my case, and deals with the more central ones by mounting plausible-sounding objections while ignoring the answers I have repeatedly given to these very points. His polemical tone and confident emphases do not improve his case. His acerbity increases as his dialogue with my defender proceeds and is obviously in part the result of sheer exasperation with an interlocutor who continually comes back at him. But it is partly prompted by his concern to deter potential readers from my books by persuading them that they are unworthy of serious attention.
The theological world is now in the midst of what is known as “The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus”. J. P. Meier allows that “all too often the first and second quests were theological projects masquerading as historical projects” (art. cit., p. 463). We shall see whether their successor fares any better.
G. A. Wells, February 2000.
Who is G.A. Wells?
By Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Neal
G.A. Wells is a retired Professor of German who has become a self-styled scholar of the “un-Historical Jesus.” G.A. Wells argues that the Jesus portrayed in the gospels — an itinerant preacher, a worker of miracles, born of a virgin, and executed under Pilate — did not exist. He contends that the descriptions in the four canonical gospels not only contradict each other, but are also not in harmony with the earliest Christian documents or the earliest non-Christian testimony to the existence of Jesus.
The problem with Wells’ work on the “un-Historical Jesus” is not so much the author’s lack of standing as a Scholar in the field of New Testament Biblical Criticism as it is his utter failure to apply the standard tools and controls of the Historical-Critical field. It is this failure which has doomed Wells to abject obscurity among the REAL scholars of modern liberal Historical-Criticism. Sadly, most of his arguments are built upon a tangled web of “silence,” and it is such arguments that fail the test of parsimony and leave Wells out in the cold.
For example, one of Wells’ principle claims is that Paul didn’t know anything about a real-life, Historical Jesus. Indeed, according to Wells, Paul cooked up Jesus out of the Jewish figure “Wisdom.” Never mind the fact that, in Hebrew literature, wisdom is usually personified as a female — known, in the Proverbs, as “Lady Wisdom” — Wells speculates that a personified “Wisdom” is at the heart of Paul’s theological proclamation. Now, as absurd as this theory sounds, the grounding for his argument that Paul didn’t know anything about a real-life Jesus is equally absurd … it is based upon Paul’s near-total silence regarding the Historical Jesus. Wells asserts that, because Paul doesn’t tell us anything about the life and teachings of Jesus, Paul must have been ignorant of such information. His conclusion is the grounding for much of his entire theory regarding the nonexistence of Jesus … and, as such, is crucial in his argument. What Wells cannot obfuscate, with his elaborate theory regarding Jesus really being Lady Wisdom, is that his theory is fallacious from its foundation in Paul’s supposed ignorance of the historical Jesus. Arguments that are built entirely out of silence usually are. For instance, Paul’s silence can be FAR more easily and parsimoniously explained by realizing that Paul’s letters are occasional literature, written in response to questions and problems that had come up in Paul’s churches. As such, it was not Paul’s intention to lay out the detailed content of the kerygma in the context of his letters … that material was better presented in preaching … and so his silence on such topics should not be construed as indicating an ignorance on such matters. Other reasons for Paul’s silence have been presented, and all of them are far more reasonable than Wells’ conclusion that Paul’s silence = Paul’s ignorance. Wells’ argument from silence, in the end, comes up empty.
This should go a long way toward illustrating the problem which exists with most of Wells’ theories; he takes valid observations and correct information — in this case, the near-silence of Paul on the Historical Jesus — and draws conclusions that are neither the only valid conclusion, nor are they even most likely ones. He does this regarding Paul’s silence, as well as regarding the silence of most secular authors from the period. Indeed, even where we have historically relevant data from non-Christian sources like Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger, Wells always leans toward the least likely, anti-Christian, conclusions.
Another example of this can be seen in the dates that Wells asserts for the Gospels. Wells stands substantially alone in putting forward dates in the 90s AD for all the Gospels. Most liberal scholarship tends to agree that the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD is an important anchor for the Synoptic Gospels, and a huge percentage of all scholars (liberal and conservative) would date Mark to between 60 – 75 AD. Wells puts Mark 20 – 30 years later than the vast majority of scholars, and subsequently would put the other Gospels even later. He does this so that he can keep as much distance between the time of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels as possible. The more time between the events and the Gospels, the easier it is for him to claim that everything they say is made up. He also must put at least a generation between Paul and the writing of the Gospels, otherwise it becomes hard for him to assert that Paul didn’t know anything about the Historical Jesus as described in the Gospels. According to traditional dating methods, Paul was either alive when Mark was written, or had only been dead a few years. Wells’ redating scheme puts an extra 20 years between the death of Paul and the writing of the Gospels, which allows his claim to function. Remove that gap, and yet another aspect of Wells’ theory falls to pieces. See Dating the New Testament
With so many flaws, one might be tempted to ask “why is Wells so popular among hypercritical, atheistic, anti-Christian apologists?” Does he have credentials that help to overcome the errors of his approach? Does he have a standing in the academic community that would give him authority and a position from which to articulate his theories? How important is Wells in academic circles? The vast majority of “high-powered critical scholars,” whom Wells quotes and twists in his attempts to prove his points, never cite Wells nor do recognize his argument as being valid. Indeed, for the most part scholars have considered Wells’ work to be the result of unbridled hyper-skepticism … hardly a balanced approach to the question of the existence of the Historical Jesus. Fundamentally, the problem with Wells is that he assumed his conclusion before he began his “search” … and then he only searches under certain rocks, and in such a way, so as to ensure that he won’t find an Historical Jesus. Wells begins with the assumption that Jesus didn’t exist, and then proceeds to prove his assumption utilizing the content of critical scholarship, true, but without the controls that make critical scholarship so very sound. He has set out to prove that Jesus didn’t exist, and then only accepts as valid the evidence which he can interpret to prove his point. In other words, his bias has predetermined his conclusion.
This should illustrate the fact that, in the field of New Testament Biblical Criticism, Wells is clearly an amateur. This is not an ad hominem attack, but a response to claims that his voluminous publications on the topic of the nonexistence of the Historical Jesus qualify him as a “scholar” of New Testament Biblical Criticism. Wells’ status as an amateur doesn’t discredit his work, but it doesn’t speak well for his work … especially given the length of time he has been publishing on this topic. Even amateurs, who present excellent theories and good substantiation for their theories, can gain a hearing, make a “break” into academic publishing, and can establish a standing for themselves in the NT Critical field. W.D. Davies is a good example of a recognized New Testament Scholar who had done this. Unfortunately for Wells, his theories have failed to have an observable impact upon the New Testament Critical field — even among those scholars for whom his theories might well be very appealing. Even before I had read a word of Wells’ own works, this very fact spoke LOUDLY to me regarding the value of his “scholarship.” I mean … if the scholars in the field (“greats” like Charlesworth, Kee, Brown, Fitzmyer, Metzger, Bornkam, Meyer, Efird, Smith, Tyson, Leudemann, Crossan, Johnson, Hayes, Sanders … shall I go on?) don’t think his arguments are valid, or even just worthy of note (though wrong) — and if they did they would cite him regardless of his lack of credentials — then why should I, an amateur in the field, think that I might conclude otherwise? I may be an arrogant cuss, but I’m not THAT arrogant! When I actually decided to go ahead and read his writings I discovered — in general — the reasons why academic Critical Scholarship has basically ignored Wells’ work. Wells frequently draws conclusions from the evidence that the rules of historiography and parsimony simply do not allow.
That Wells is an amateur in the field of New Testament Biblical Criticism is overwhelmingly demonstrated by:
(1) His lack of academic credentials in the field.
(2) His lack of standing in the professional organizations which govern the standards and norms for practical scholarship in the field [specifically, I am speaking about the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, and similar European academic credentialing organizations].
(3) His lack of publications in the recognized academic periodical literature of the field [specifically: the Journal of Biblical Literature, New Testament Studies, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Interpretation, Novum Testamentum, Semeia, Biblical Theology Bulletin, Harvard Theological Review, American Academy of Religion Journal, Biblical Archeological Review, Biblical Review].
(4) His lack of publications from any of the recognized (frequently University-sponsored) Academic publishing houses.
(5) His lack of standing on the New Testament Biblical Critical faculty of any Institute of Higher Education.
(6) The severe and almost total lack of recognition among credible and well-noted scholars in the field.
(7) The lack of bibliographic citation of his works in the scholarly literature of the field.
If only one, two, or even three of the above applied, one might be able to make a good case for Wells being a “scholar” in the field. However, ALL of the above apply to him to one degree or another. Occasional references to his work … including Forwards and dust-cover advertising blurbs (both of which are always worked over by the publisher to put the book in a good light) … by minor, lightweight scholars in the field are noted; but they don’t offset the silence which is so deafening among scholars of note in the field.
The best I will say about Wells is that he is an amateur in New Testament Biblical Criticism who has demonstrated a remarkable awareness of the facts of, and authors in, the field without having any known training or credentials in it. That he draws unwarranted conclusions doesn’t discredit the fact that he knows a lot about the subject … it just demonstrates that his lack of training (among other things) is adversely effecting his methodology of interpretation and the resulting theories that he has advanced.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Neal
The Errancy of Silence
By Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Neal
Silence is golden. The inner silence that comes with prayer and meditation upon the Holy Scriptures can often lead us to a place, deep down within our souls, where we can hear the life-transforming voice of God, speaking to us in ways that we could never hear through the tempest of life. The inner silence that comes to us through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit can be, and often is, cleansing and transforming. I praise God for the silence of a quiet monastery, or the silence of Sunday-evening altar time. I praise God that, in the silence, I have been allowed to find the peace and joy that comes with knowing the real, abiding presence of Jesus Christ in my life. Silence truly is golden.
But as the sole basis for making an argument regarding the existence or nonexistence of the historical Jesus, silence is a horrible tool. And, yet, it is precisely silence that is the tool most used by the hyper-skeptical apologists in order to try and prove that Jesus didn’t exist. It is the principle tool employed by G.A. Wells in all of his books, and it is the tool that was the focus of the majority of my only protracted debate with AOL hyper-skeptic atheist apologist Achrachne during the early summer months of 1999. An edited version of that debate can be found in the paragraphs which follow. Achrachne’s text is in red, while mine is in blue and the quoted material from Wells as well as from academic scholars of the New Testament will be in green. Also, the reader may note that Achrachne’s actual response postings have been left out. This has been done for brevity, and because I almost always quote my debate opponents before I respond to their words.
I submit the following debate for your consideration. As you read, I invite you to pay close attention to the method of debate employed by Achrachne. Note, in particular, his continual refusal to actually present Wells’ arguments. It is this characteristic of my debate with Achrachne which led me to cut off debate with him on this topic. Put simply, it is not my job to present Wells’ theories and arguments so that I may then refute them. If Achrachne wishes to site Wells in opposition to my positions and argument, he needs to present the argument itself … not just the book titles and page numbers where Wells supposedly refutes my arguments. Achrachne has protested that he does not engage in such citations, but I have elsewhere demonstrated — through multiple quotes of his own method of citing Wells — that he does precisely this. Indeed, even through my quotation of Achrachne as found in the following postings it should become obvious that just such a method of argument makes up a significant portion of Achrachne’s approach. It is invalid as a form of debate because it places the onus upon Achrachne’s opponent to do all the research and all the presentation of arguments, and I will not waste further time on him because of it. If Achrachne wishes to debate me based upon Wells’ arguments, he can PRESENT them, inclusive of Wells’ reasoning. Just citing the book title and page numbers is, and will always be, insufficient.
Subject: Wells on Mark
Date: Mon, 31 May 1999 10:30 PM EDT
From: Rev Neal
I’ve watched the flow of your postings over the last several days, and I’ve decided to jump in on the issue of Wells and what he does and does not say about the authorship of the Gospels. I may well touch on several other topics, but I’ll start on the date which Wells alleges for Mark.
In a message to Gary, you wrote the following: <<The plain fact is that Wells dates Mark at 70-90 in his various works, which is within the range of other scholars. It is also VERY different from the 125-250 dates which his ignorant critics accuse him of using and which were apparently the dates suggested by the Tubingen school.>>
What does Wells actually say about the date of authorship for Mark’s Gospel, and what is the “range” which the majority of the Academic community assigns to Mark’s Gospel?
1. Wells’ date-range for Mark.
<<To allow time for post-Pauline traditions (collected and arranged in a sequence by the evangelist) to have developed, a date of composition earlier than about AD 70 is unlikely, and is today seldom alleged.>> (G.A. Wells, Did Jesus Exist. pp. 79)
To begin with, let’s take the above statement apart. Is Wells correct in several of his assertions above? What is he asserting?
a. Wells is asserting that the traditions about Jesus in Mark’s gospel must have evolved after the Pauline period. This assumption is very tenuous indeed, for it assumes that Paul (1) wrote down EVERYTHING that he knew about Jesus, and (2) if Paul didn’t write it, he didn’t know it. This also assumes (3) that everything Paul wrote we have, extant, before us. The third assumption is easily, and quickly, dispatched. We KNOW that we don’t have everything that Paul wrote, for Paul makes reference to certain letters that he wrote but which are no longer extant. The first two assumptions are methodologically unsound because they draw conclusions that are unsupported by the data. For example, the lack of material in Paul about Jesus as a healer does not in any way mean that Paul didn’t know anything about Jesus as a healer. ALL that can be assumed from Paul’s silence on Jesus as a healer is that Paul didn’t write — in his extant letters — about Jesus as a healer. ANY further conclusion from Paul’s silence on this, and other related topics, is making an argument based upon Paul’s silence, and that’s a problematic conclusion to draw if one lacks further evidence elsewhere. Since further evidence is lacking (he no where asserts that Jesus wasn’t a healer), it is inappropriate for Wells to make any kind of “hard and fast” conclusion from his silence. It certainly isn’t one that the majority of scholars on the subject of Q, and of the Synoptic tradition in general, make. Neither Kloppenberg, nor Allison, nor Sanders, nor Tyson, nor Farmer, nor Brown, nor Kummel accept that the Jesus-traditions must have developed after the Pauline period. Quite the contrary, some of the BEST work being done on Q right now is being done by Dale Allison. His current analysis indicates that Q was written in stages (in this he is in partial agreement with Mack), and that the earliest stage was drafted in Aramaic around the year 40 CE, and consisted of “directions and teaching materials for traveling evangelists.” An initial date for Q of 40 CE, with the document reaching its final state by 65 CE (which is Allison’s reconstruction scheme), places the vast majority of its composition WITHIN THE LIFETIME of Paul. According to Allison’s analysis, this length of time would be required for the evolution in the Jesus Tradition teaching materials. I tend to agree with Allison on this point.
b. Wells also asserting that dates for Mark which range prior than 70 CE are “seldom alleged.” This assertion is an example of where Wells plays “fast and loose” with the academic community’s positions, and is the kind of thing that makes him academically tricky. The simple facts are that the academic community tends to posit a range of dates that begins in 60 CE and run through 75 CE. RARE are dates that range post 75, and RARE are firm dates that range pre 60 AD. However, for Wells to say that dates prior to “about AD 70” are “today seldom alleged” is quite incorrect. Dates prior to “about 70 AD” are alleged by the VAST majority of scholars. Granted, most set 70 CE as THE date, but this means that their range of dates runs anywhere from 5 to 10 years earlier and 5 to 10 year later. And SOME place their firm range 65 – 70 CE. A good example of this is Luke Timothy Johnson, who dates Mark 65 – 70 CE, splitting the difference at 68 CE. Another good example is the late Raymond E. Brown who, in his “Summary of Basic Information” concerning Mark, writes:
<<Date: 60 – 75, most likely between 68 and 73.>>
I tend to think that Brown is right … and, in this “Summary of Basic Information” he is reflecting the opinion of the vast majority of academic scholars.
Allow me to continue with your words: <<The “extremely marginal” folks are those conservatives who try and date Mark at 50 in an attempt to bolster the reliability of the gospel “record”.>>
While someone who attempts to place Mark prior to 60 CE would be very much “marginal,” I would have to assert (given the EXTREME RARITY of such in the academic community today) that anyone who attempts to place Mark after about 80 CE should also be considered “marginal.” In the very least, I know of only one or two recognized, respected, and credentialed New Testament Scholars who do this.
Let’s bounce back to Wells for a moment: <<Nevertheless, most scholars insist that Mk. must have been written before AD 75 because 13:4 and 14 are held to imply that the end of the world is to follow shortly after the destruction of the temple.>> (Wells: Did Jesus Exist, p. 80)
At least, here, Wells admits that “most scholars” do not agree with him in later dates … and, in some ways, he contradicts himself (though not directly), for VERY FEW scholars give themselves only a 5 year range. Most prefer a 10 year range, and then split the difference and date Mark right at 70 CE … as already stated, the oft-cited range is 65 – 75 CE. This runs contrary to Wells’ claim that date prior to about 70 CE are almost never alleged.
As for Mark 13:4 and vs. 14 implying that the author believed the end of the world was to follow shortly after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, this is indeed correct … most scholars DO make this assumption, and for extremely GOOD, methodologically founded reasons. Wells’ arguments in opposition to the majority conclusion are not sufficient to override the solid reasons for the assumption. Form-critical analysis does, indeed, indicate that these sayings were originally communicated in a disconnected form from the outline and plot which Mark gives, but this doesn’t mean that these teachings on the destruction of the second temple and the end of time are disconnected in the author’s use of them. And that is PRECISELY the point scholarship makes. They ARE, grammatically and contextually, connected in the author’s adoption and use of the material. Please remember, we are NOT dating the origin of the prophecy about the destruction of the Second Temple, but the writing down of this account of it. The destruction of the Temple had been repeatedly predicted for nearly 60 years prior to its actual destruction, particularly by Zealots going all the way back to the teens. Indeed, nothing yet demonstrated gives us any real reason to assume that such prophecies (at least in a general form) are impossible coming from Jesus’ lips. Indeed, both Joseph B. Tyson and John Dominic Crossan make solid arguments for the prophecy actually dating back, in a simplified form, to the ministry of Jesus. And, indeed, Crossan’s basic argument concerning Jesus as a Revolutionary Prophet would lend weight to the argument that Jesus’ pronouncements against the temple played a role in the Jewish authorities conflict with Jesus. Suffice it to say, at this point, that Jesus could easily have made pronouncements against the Temple … such would have been neither anachronistic nor out of character. No, what is at question, here, is Mark’s connecting of the sayings on the destruction of the Second Temple with the end of time. That connection IS made in Mark (objections to the contrary being insubstantial and apparently unwilling to deal with the clear interpretation of such being the case in Matthew and Luke’s attempt to distance themselves from it), and hence the dating of Mark as being prior to, or immediately following, 70 CE is grounded in a reasonable and probable conclusion. Mark may have, indeed, been written prior to 70 CE, but not MUCH prior (5 years is the average academic leeway). Or, Mark may have been written after 70 CE, but not MUCH after (again, 5 years is the average academic leeway). Attempts to do away with the importance that the author draws to the connection between the destruction of the Temple and the end of time is reflective EITHER of someone wanting to put Mark EARLIER than about 65 – 75 CE … OR very much LATER than 65– 75 CE.
Wells, again, <<To sum up: Mk. must have been written between AD 70 and the date of composition of Mt., which used it as a source.>> (Did Jesus Exist, p. 84)
1. Correct … Mark must have been written prior to Matthew, for Matthew clearly uses Mark as it source for the chronological order and general events of Jesus’ life.
2. Mostly correct … it is most reasonable, in my opinion, to conclude that Mark was written within 5 years of 70 CE (65 – 75 CE).
3. Sadly, Wells rejects this most reasonable date range.
<<Mt. was probably not known to Ignatius (AD 110), but was certainly known to Polycarp, who wrote no later than AD 135.>> (ibid)
Because Ignatius does not appear to have known Matthew does NOT mean that Matthew had not yet been written. That is an erroneous conclusion based upon silence (and no other evidence) that is glaringly present in Wells’ work. I will come back to what Wells has to say on Matthew and Luke in a moment. Also, the titles of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were clearly known by Papias, who also wrote at a time roughly proximate to 100 – 125 CE. That Papias connected the title “Mark” with what we know of as the Gospel of Mark appears to be the most reasonable conclusion, even if the same cannot be said for either Matthew or Luke.
<<Scholars who date Mk. in the earlier part of the period between AD 70 and 135 have, as internal evidence, only Mk. 13 (which I consider not to the point) as support;…>> (ibid)
1. Scholars have the Mk. 13 evidence, true, for anchoring Mark to the vicinity of 70 CE.
2. Wells’ opinion that this is “not to the point” is, essentially, unsupported by BOTH the vast majority of scholars in the field and the actual arguments put forward by Form-critical analysis of these passages. In other words, his arguments to the contrary don’t actually make his objection stick because he has misunderstood and misapplied the weight of the Form-critical argument. Indeed, the form-critical argument actually serves to anchor the writing of Mark to the period of the Jewish war against Rome. Wells tries to detach it from the Jewish war against Rome and situation it during the persecutions of Christians during the reign of Domitian … ie, in the 90s CE. (see Wells, The Jesus Myth, pp. 16-17) This is an error.
<<…whereas there is cogent evidence (the ignorance of the substance of Mk. apparent in all the Christian epistles of the first century) in favor of a date in the middle of this period.>> (ibid)
1. “ignorance of the substance of Mk.” is the only “cogent evidence” that Wellls presents, and yet an argument from silence, which this is, is methodologically insubstantial in the field of historiography when it stands alone, divorced from other evidences.
a. There are multiple ways of demonstrating the lack of strength in this silence argument, or “ignorance argument,” but I’ll only apply one as an illustration. Like all the other canonical Gospels, Mark was neither recognized nor utilized by most Christian communities until the middle part of the second century. It probably remained largely unknown to the majority of the Christians — even to the majority of Christian authors whose works are extant — in areas of the Empire far removed from where Mark was written. Hence, claims concerning the nonexistence of Mark in the 70s and 80s, which are based upon the fact that the extant authors from these decades don’t cite Mark, are not valid as substantiation for the claim that Mark didn’t exist. Far more parsimonious is the possibility that the sources which have survived to today may well have been written in areas where Mark wasn’t the “favored Gospel.” This would be especially correct if Mark was written in Syria, rather than in Rome. Another point that really should be made in connection with this observation is that, EVEN IF MARK WAS THE FAVORED GOSPEL in the areas where these Christian authors lived (as in Rome), it is invalid to draw these kinds of conclusion from their lack of citation. They may well have known and cited Mark, and the works where they cited Mark may no longer be extant. Or, they may have known Mark but not had a need to cite Mark due to a (likely) preference for a different Gospel or oral tradition. In any case, their silence cannot be used to prove anything EITHER WAY … and certainly NOT something as definite as Mark not yet existing. This should illustrate the direct methodological weakness of the “argument from silence” — specifically, in this case, even the remotest possibility of a citation from Mark arising among these early authors will utterly blow Wells’ argument out of the water, and the lack of such a citation doesn’t change the fact that Wells’ argument is built upon the flimsiest of possibilities.
b. In terms of historiography, issues of “probability” are those that hold the greatest weight. “Certainty” is almost never achieved, but “probability” may well be achieved … and contrary observations that are only “possible” do NOT contradict such probabilities. Conclusions drawn from silence are only classifiable as “possibilities,” and these conclusions ONLY carry weight when and where they are combined with other arguments that are independently established as “probable.” Allow me to further illustrate. It is very true that Paul doesn’t seem to be all that interested in the pre-resurrection teachings or life of the Historical Jesus. In his letters he doesn’t write much concerning the life and ministry of Jesus. Nevertheless, he does give a few citations of “words of the Lord,” and he does quote the words of Jesus surrounding the “Lords Supper.” Additionally, he gives clear evidence of knowing members of the inner circle of Jesus’ Disciples. Hence, the claim that Paul doesn’t know anything about Jesus — a claim based upon Paul’s general silence concerning the life of Jesus — is a very weak conclusion. His silence doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know about an historical Jesus … he may have just not written about such matters. His letters, being occasional in nature, wouldn’t always lend themselves to such kinds of material.
Now, a silence argument that is well supported by other probable evidences is that the author of Luke-Acts didn’t directly know Paul (and, hence, couldn’t have been the Syrian-born physician named Luke whom we know about from Paul’s letters). The author of Acts shows NO SIGN of knowing that Paul is a letter-writer. Letter-writing was an extremely important aspect of Paul’s ministry … it was the way he maintained contact with his churches while he was involved in ministry in other geographical locations. It seems highly improbable to a Luke-Acts scholar, like Joseph B. Tyson, that the author of Acts could have been a close follower of Paul and, yet, not put anything into Acts about Paul’s writing letters. I think that this is a strong argument from silence, even though I tend to reject it due to the quality of knowledge that the author seems to have of Paul’s travels and ministry (and particularly the “we” passages), all of which coordinates well with Paul’s own letters. While the author never mentions Paul’s letters, he shows evidence of being aware of many of the same things that the letters tell us concerning Paul’s travels. Additionally, the character of Paul’s ministry seems to be, in my opinion, very much similar in to that described by Paul, himself, in his own letters. Hence, I believe that the author of Luke-Acts could well have been Dr. Luke. My opinion not withstanding, however, I think it must be noted that this particular argument from silence is built upon probability arguments, and so is a very different animal from Wells’ arguments from silence. And this is the point I am trying to draw.
When arguments from silence stand alone, as they do in the case of the dating of Mark, they neither cancel “probable” arguments, nor do they carry the weight that authors like Wells like to try to assign to them. Specifically, arguments that are constructed from a complex series of “possible” hypothetical speculations and conclusions are certainly not “cogent” arguments. This is one of the reasons why the majority of scholars generally doesn’t consider Wells’ arguments to carry significant weight. Scholars like Dunn and Theissen, both of whom being among the few who have bothered to examine Wells IN DEPTH, have both drawn this same conclusion. Dunn’s book “The Evidence for Jesus” is not a direct refutation of Wells’ work, but particularly his first chapter addresses many of the kinds of arguments that Wells makes, and demonstrates the radical weakness of Wells’ approach. Gerd Theissen, in his book “The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide,” not only outlines the basic points of Wells’ theory, but he actually spends an entire chapter taking apart — with devastatingly convincing acumen — the hyper-skeptical arguments against the existence of Jesus. Both books are excellent, and I highly recommend them to you for your further education. [Editor’s Note: See our Historical Jesus section in our Armament’s Bookshelf]
2. Wells states that he favors “… a date in the middle of this period.” “This period” is the range 70 – 135 CE. The MIDDLE of 70 – 135 CE is NOT 70 – 90 CE. No, that would be inclusive of the “early period,” which Wells has already erroneously rejected as being dependent upon an inaccurate understanding of Mark 13. No, the MIDDLE of Wells’ range would be inclusive of dates that begin with 90 CE and run through about 110 CE. Unless you can cite Wells changing his opinion at some point AFTER 1986 (the second printing date of Did Jesus Exist), and including the early range of dates as inclusive of the dates that he prefers, the simple FACT is that Wells holds Mark (the FIRST of the Gospels) to have been written either at or after 90 CE. Indeed, upon checking The Jesus Myth [Editor’s Note: Wells’ latest books, as of the date of this article], it is clear that Wells does, indeed, posit a date of around 90 CE as being that most likely for the writing of Mark. Note, while he does admit that 70 CE is the date that most scholars select, and he agrees that Mark might be that early, he doesn’t actually set 70 CE as Mark’s Date, but rather 90 CE. And THIS date is FAR OUTSIDE the range that scholarship nominally assigns … indeed, on the order of 15 – 20 years outside the range.
Grace and Peace,
Paul on Jesus
Subject: Paul on Jesus
Date: Thu, 17 June 1999 02:48 PM EDT
From: Rev Neal
RN<<a. Wells is asserting that the traditions about Jesus in Mark’s gospel must have evolved after the Pauline period. This assumption is very tenuous indeed, for it assumes that Paul (1) wrote down EVERYTHING that he knew about Jesus, and (2) if Paul didn’t write it, he didn’t know it. >>
Your response was: <<Wells makes no such assumptions. Wells nowhere assumes that Paul wrote everything he knew or that if he didn’t write it he didn’t know it.>>
I’m very sorry, Achrachne, but if these two assumptions are not made then Wells’ argument falls to pieces. Hence, he MUST make these two assumptions. They are REQUIRED assumptions, Achrachne … required by the character of his argument from silence. I shall demonstrate this in response to your following:
<<What Wells does argue is that it’s very likely that Paul would have cited the words of Jesus, as reported in the gospels, had he known them and where it would have helped him in an argument he was building. He argues that failure to mention something of central importance to a topic being discussed does imply that this was unknown to the writer. Wells also points out cases where Paul argues positions contrary to the teachings of Jesus, as
reported, which it seems unlikely he would have done had he ‘known the truth’.>>
Achrachne, Wells’ argument is faulty on several grounds. That is why his argument MUST presume the 2 points I outlined. As you state, Wells assumes that it is likely that, had Paul known the words of Jesus as they are reported in the Gospels, he would have cited them in support of his own arguments.
(a). Firstly, this argument assumes that the issues with which Paul was dealing in his letters had a substantial correlation to the subject matter addressed in the teachings of Jesus as found in the pre-gospel synoptic source materials. Contrary to Wells’ assessment here, this assumption is really quite doubtful. Based upon what Paul actually wrote in his letters we can be fairly certain that he only rarely addressed matters that had a proximate relevance to the extant teachings of Jesus. Most of Paul’s conflicts with his Churches had to do with issues of his own apostolic authority and with the requirements for Gentiles to enter the Church. Particularly at issue were the topics of Circumcision (a subject Jesus never touched upon) and the question of the role of the Law in the religious expression of non-Jewish Christians (a subject with which Jesus only partially touched, and not in a way that would have been easily quotable for Paul). Social issues — how Christians should behave in a gentile world — also took up a great deal of Paul’s time in his letters to the Corinthian Churches, and in his letter to the Romans he spent a significant amount of time outlining his theological interpretation of the import of the Resurrection of Jesus. Put simply, Paul’s letters don’t leave much room for extensive quotations from the teachings of Jesus, nor are his argument generally the kind that would have been helped by extensive citations from the teachings of Jesus.
Even given these observations, it is extraordinary to note that, in at least a few places, Paul clearly DOES cite some of the teachings of Jesus. Some fairly clear examples of these citations are:
(1) I Corinthians 7: 10-11: To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband … and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (See Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; and Luke 16:18)
(2) 1 Corinthians 9:14: The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (See Luke 10:7, the laborer deserves his wages)
(3) 1 Corinthians 11:23-24: The Lord Jesus … said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. (see Luke 22:19-20; Matthew 26:26-28)
(4) 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command,’ with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (see Mark 13:19ff)
[Editor’s Note: This one really upset Achrachne. He challenged that there was anything even remotely similar between the two accounts. And, yet, it seems clear that what we have here in Paul’s letters concerning the second coming of Jesus does reflect what Jesus warned would occur at the end of the age.]
(5) 1 Corinthians 14:37: alludes to but does not quote a saying that the readers presumably know and acknowledge as being “a word of the Lord.”
[Editor’s Note: Achrachne didn’t understand the strength of this argument. Put simply, in 1 Corinthians 14:37 Paul makes reference to his own writing in the preceding paragraphs (not specifically verses 33b – 36 but, rather, concerning the topics covered in 14:1-33a) as containing a “command of the Lord.” Hence, while no explicit citation is indicated, a Jesus-teaching is clearly implied and resting behind Paul’s writing here.]
Now, Achrachne, I am fully aware that Wells address some if not all of the above identified citations. I am not going to address his response to these at this time because it is YOUR job to synthesize and present Wells’ response FIRST. I’m not about to do YOUR part in this. If you want to challenge these identified citations, you’re going to have to WORK for it. PLEASE, don’t just say that Wells refutes each of these … that won’t cut the mustard. Instead, give us HOW he refutes each so that I can come back and answer his supposed refutations.
However, allow me to summarize my opinion on his refutations here. Attempts to explain away these instances are not at all persuading — not to ANY of the high-powered critical scholars who make the Pauline literature their specific field of expertise, and not to me. Some New Testament scholars have doubted that these are strongly reflective of specific “sayings of Jesus,” but for the most part (at least as far as I have been able to discover) NONE of these scholars are Pauline field scholars. Suffice it to say that each of these citations are clearly dependent upon prior-existing sayings of in the Jesus teaching and liturgical materials. Their use is Pauline in character (in vocabulary and in grammar) and there is NO textual ground for arguing against their presence in the Pauline corpus. Hence, in the light of these examples, it is both reasonable and safe to say that Paul, on occasion, DOES cite Jesus’ teachings in support of some of his arguments, and that he does so in a way that is consistent with the teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels. As a result, Wells’ argument from silence, as you have cited it, falls to pieces. To say “well, Paul doesn’t cite Jesus enough in building his arguments” is to engage in exceedingly weak, hypothetical speculation that has more in common with Olympic parallel beam gymnastics than New Testament Biblical Criticism.
Secondly, Wells’ argument assumes that Paul’s writings lack periphrastic citations from either the extant teachings of Jesus, or from teachings of that are now otherwise lost. This is an important observation because Paul was writing PRIOR to the appearance of the canonical Gospels themselves, and hence his citations of the teachings of Jesus would be from the sources that the gospel author’s used — Q and/or the oral tradition. Hence, we might not fully recognize periphrastic citations or references as citations or references of the teachings of Jesus. However, this being said, some of the proposed examples of this kind of citation are:
(1) 1 Corinthians 4:12 — When reviled we bless, when persecuted we endure. Romans 12:14 — Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. See Luke 6:28 — Bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you.
(2) 1 Thessalonians 5:15 — See that none of you repays evil for evil. Romans 12:17– Repay no one evil for evil. See Matthew 5:39: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.
(3) Romans 13:7 — Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due. See Matthew 22:15-22, and particularly — “Render . . . to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
(4) Romans 14:13 — Then let us no more pass judgment on one another… See Matthew 7: 1 — Judge not, that you be not judged.
(5) Romans 14:14 — Nothing is unclean in itself. 1Corinthians 6:12 — “All things are lawful for me….” 1Corinthians 10:25-26 — “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience for “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.” Galatians 2: 11-16 (the issue was Peter’s eating unclean food before the Brothers of James showed up, and then his hypocrisy after their arrival). See Mark 7:18-19 — “Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” Thus he declared all foods clean.
(6) 1 Thessalonians 5:2 — The day of the Lord will come like a thief [kleptis] in the night. See particularly Luke 12:39-40 — If the householder had known at what hour the thief [kleptis] was coming, he would have been awake …. You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (See also Matthew 24:42-43) [This one has been hotly debated … it is nearly strong enough to be classified as a quote, but in general it appears more to be in the paraphrastic background of Paul’s statement.]
(7) 1 Thessalonians 5: 13 — Be at peace among yourselves. See Mark 9:50: Be at peace with one another. [Calvin Roetzel thinks that is a direct quote. I think it may be too, but it’s general enough that forcing the issue isn’t worth it. It IS almost certainly a paraphrastic reference.]
(8) 1 Corinthians 13:2 — If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains…. Matthew 17:20 — If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move hence . . . ” and it will move. [The saying of Jesus recorded in Matthew is clearly a paraphrastic foundation for Paul’s own words. The Vocabulary and grammar are determinative here.]
Further examples of this kind of thing may be located throughout Paul’s ethical writings as well as in his eschatological references. The above should be enough to demonstrate that Paul was not only aware of at least some of Jesus’ teachings, but that he DID INDEED use them. Allow me to quote from one of the preeminent Pauline scholars in the world today, Dr. Victor Paul Furnish:
<<It is certain, because of the specific citations, that the apostle was familiar with traditions about Jesus’ teaching and had possession of certain elements of that teaching. Even Dibelius is convinced of this, although he also believes that Jesus’ ethic was inadequate as a moral guide for the church in a Hellenistic society. Indeed, this second point of Dibelius finds some support in I Cor. 7:25 where Paul expresses disappointment that, “concerning those who are not married, ” no word of the Lord is available to him. Yet the same remark, and also the apostle’s care to distinguish his own opinion from the charge of the Lord (I Cor. 7:12), suggests the value and importance Paul could, at least in some instances, ascribe to dominical sayings.>> (Furnish, Victor Paul Theology and Ethics in Paul. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968.)
In my opinion, Dr. Furnish — who is one of the MOST respected and authoritative scholars in Pauline studies — is correct. To sum this up, Wells’ theory on this point is weak in the extreme, and certainly is the least parsimonious of conclusions that might be drawn from the information at hand. Where Paul DOES cite the teachings of Jesus, he does so consistent with the teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels. Where he DOESN’T cite the teachings of Jesus, we usually find that citations are not generally possible because Jesus’ teachings didn’t touch on the matters that Paul was addressing. Paul’s silence is more reasonably explained by (1) recognizing the occasional nature of epistolary literature, and (2) recognizing that Jesus’ teachings only rarely touched on matters that were of import in the context of Paul’s letters.
(b). This argument also assumes that Paul would have a reason to cite Jesus’ words independent of any occasion given him by the Churches to which he was writing. Although you do not specifically state this assumption in your summary above, it IS a functioning assumption in Wells’ theory for, apart from it, his entire argument crashes to the ground. The question is a simple one, and quite straightforward and reasonable-sounding: why didn’t Paul quote Jesus more? EVEN if the occasion didn’t come up in the context of his letters, why didn’t Paul take the time to quote Jesus at length … if only for the edification of his Churches? Certainly, the argument runs, Paul would have thought Jesus’ teachings important enough to recount them at length and at every turn. Right??? It certainly sounds like a reasonable idea. However, this kind of question totally misses the character of epistolary literature. Paul wrote occasional literature, he didn’t write gospels and he didn’t write biographies and he didn’t write sermons. He wrote specific letters, addressing specific topics, to specific audiences who had specific questions that they wanted answered. This kind of literature does NOT lend itself to long winded, disconnected treatises on the teachings of Jesus. Hence, ANY citations of Jesus in Paul’s letters would be most reasonable ONLY in direct relation to the circumstances regarding which Paul was writing. Put simply, Paul’s general silence on the teachings and ministry of Jesus do NOT require or even suggest that Paul was ignorant of the life and ministry of Jesus. Quite the contrary, when one reads through Paul’s letters very carefully one can determine quite a lot about Jesus; certainly, we can say that Paul knew that Jesus was a real human being who lived and died at a real, identified time and space. This can be especially seen in 2 Corinthians 5:16, where Paul says, “though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer.” Some scholars see this statement as evidence that Paul was personally acquainted with Jesus, but I doubt their conclusion. In my opinion, Paul’s words here more clearly prove Paul’s knowledge of Jesus as having been a REAL human being. In addition to this ringing affirmation of the humanity of Jesus, we find the following points in Paul’s letters:
1 . Jesus was born under the law (Galatians 4:4), a Jew of David’s line (Romans 1:3).
2. Jesus had more than one brother (1 Corinthians 9:5), one of whom was named James (Galatians 1:19; 2:9, 12; 1 Corinthians 15:7).
3. Jesus had twelve special associates. One of them was Cephas (Galatians 2:1-14, etc.), who was sometimes called “Peter” (Galatians 2:7-8); another was John (Galatians 2:9).
4. Jesus taught that anyone who preached the gospel should be provided a living from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). He also taught that neither partner in a marriage should seek a divorce (1 Corinthians 7: 10-11).
5. One night, dining with his closest followers, Jesus spoke about his own death as something beneficial for them (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Thereafter, he told them, they should break bread and drink wine in his memory. They were to regard the loaf as a token of his body and the cup as a token of “the new covenant” in his blood.
6. On that same night Jesus was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23).
7. Out of obedience to God’s will (Philippians 2:8), and in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3), Jesus willingly gave himself up to death for the sins of his followers (1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4).
8. Jesus’ death was by execution on a cross (1 Corinthians 1:17–2:5; Galatians 3:1, etc.), for which “the rulers of this age” were responsible (1 Corinthians 2:8; if 1 Thess 2:14-16 was written by Paul, which some scholars doubt, then he implicates “the Jews” as well).
9. The corpse of Jesus was placed in a tomb (1 Corinthians 15:4; Rom 6:4).
Apart from the above, Paul didn’t write much about the life and teachings of Jesus for several different reasons. According to Calvin Roetzel, Beker, Hayes, and Furnish, one of the most likely reasons behind Paul’s near-silence was his overriding interest in the post-resurrection Jesus. This was the only Jesus Paul ever knew, personally, and the only expression of Jesus that fueled his theological expression. Another likely reason behind Paul’s near-silence was, as I’ve already indicated, that this kind of information was best communicated in person, in oral (preached) form. Indeed, it is fully reasonable to assume that this kind of information was part of the teaching that Paul regularly presented in person.
(c). Wells’ argument also assumes that a citation from the teachings of Jesus would necessarily help Paul’s arguments. I do not make this assumption. Indeed, in some ways I think it is reasonable to assert that Paul may well have been selective in NOT citing some of the teachings of Jesus PRECISELY because it may well have argued AGAINST his point. I cannot begin to think of an example of this, but it certainly would be in character with the way he cites other sources in a selective manner.
In short, I assert that it is FAR MORE parsimonious to assume that Paul knew at least some of the teachings of Jesus and didn’t cite them more than just a few times because the topics with which he was interested in the course of his letters didn’t lend themselves to citation of this material. Where he DOES cite from this material (and he does), he does so in a way that is fundamentally consistent with how it is used in the Gospels. And, where Paul’s silence is perceived to be an indicator that Paul doesn’t know any of the teachings of Jesus, I submit to you that the conditions do NOT actually warrant a Jesus citation.
The law of parsimony states that the least complicated argument is most likely to be correct. While not always the truth, it is a good principle to follow. In the case of Paul’s knowledge of the existence of an historical Jesus, the most parsimonious conclusion is that Paul DID know a few historical facts about Jesus and WAS familiar with at least some of his teachings. This means that Wells entire theory collapses. If Paul knew of an historical Jesus — and he clearly did — the chances of this Jesus being a fictitious person drops to almost zero. I am certain you will disagree with this assessment (it violates what Wells has said, and hence must be wrong in your estimation), but it IS the most likely conclusion.
Grace and Peace,
Paul on Jesus.2
Subject: Paul on Jesus.2
Date: Thu, 17 June 1999 02:53 PM EDT
From: Rev Neal
As I said in my original post, at least part of Wells’ theory leans upon the assumptions that (1) Paul wrote everything that he knew, and (2) that we have everything that Paul wrote. My remarks in (b) of my prior message should illustrate the ground for the first assumption. However, I’ll reiterate. For Paul’s near-silence on the teachings of Jesus to be determinative regarding his ignorance of the teachings of Jesus, we would INDEED have to assume that Paul wrote everything he knew. This is simply logical, Achrachne. If we assume that Paul knew things that he didn’t write about, then among that information that he knew about but didn’t write may well have been the data that we find so lacking in his letters. I’m sorry, but just because Paul doesn’t use a teaching of Jesus to bolster his argument on some subject does NOT conclusively demonstrate that Paul was ignorant of the teaching.
It MAY demonstrate such, but it may just be that Paul didn’t realize the connection … or, it may be that Paul didn’t consider Jesus’ teaching on the topic very helpful to him. Any number of alternative explanations are available, any one of which is FAR more reasonable than to assume that Paul’s silence = Paul’s ignorance. The most that can be said is that WE don’t know one way or the other … NOT that Paul’s silence proves that HE didn’t know.
Whether or not you like it, this IS an assumption that rests behind Wells’ argument. It’s NOT JUST Paul’s silence on the teachings of Jesus relative to the subject matter of Paul’s letters. Wells’ argument is not THAT limited, and you well know it. Of equal importance is Paul’s silence relative to the activities, the life and travels, and details of the history of the historical Jesus. Remember, the argument isn’t just that Paul is ignorant of the teachings of Jesus … the argument is that Paul doesn’t know ANYTHING about an historical Jesus and … indeed … that Paul believes in Jesus as an incarnation of Hebraic Wisdom. Paul’s silence on the details of Jesus’ life doesn’t mean that he was ignorant of such, as my 9 points of evidence from Paul in (b) demonstrates. He may well have been ignorant of much of it, but even that doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t know that Jesus was an historical person. No, his near-silence CANNOT, IN ANY WAY be used to conclude that Paul was ignorant about the historical Jesus. FAR more reasonable is the conclusion that Paul didn’t write everything he knew, and that he taught his people MUCH about Jesus that didn’t get put into his extant letters.
<<Silence is very relevant when it is silence on a matter that we expect discussion of, given the topic being covered by a writer. Wells uses a hypothetical example of someone writing on transportation in Cologne who fails to discuss the subway.>>
I believe that I have sufficiently answered this ridiculous conclusion. The analogy is faulty because it doesn’t follow a valid premise … namely, that Paul would be compelled to write everything he knew about Jesus in literature that wasn’t ABOUT the life and times of Jesus! Wells’ methodological flaw is pushing valid observations far beyond the most reasonable range of conclusions, and doing so based upon utterly erroneous presumptions concerning what Paul should have or would have done. In all cases, Wells presumptions are hypothetical at best, and extremely speculative to say the least. I have NO doubt that you will continue to accept them, but they are NOT parsimonious and you are NOT on solid ground accepting them.
<<Notice, by the way, that if we have multiple authors writing on small vertebrates in Palestine in 50 CE and IF none of them mentions lizards, we would be justified in thinking that lizards were either not present there at that time, or were very scarce and inconspicuous. If the stories found in the gospels existed at all before Mark wrote, they must have been very local and inconspicuous since it appears that no earlier writer of whom we know anything knew of them.>>
This is an invalid analogy because it is based upon a faulty premise, to wit: that Paul’s writings are in some way similar to catalogs of small vertebrates. Paul’s literature is NOT analogous to this kind of literature, and hence your argument is erroneous. If Paul were writing a Gospel, a biography, or a sayings-source, then your argument would have a greater degree of correlation to such a catalog. HOWEVER, Paul — in the extant literature available to us today — did NOT set out to write such an account of the life and teachings of Jesus. Rather, the extant Pauline literature is entirely made up of LETTERS. This fact is both relevant AND crucial, and it is a fact that is far too casually dismissed by you and Wells. The FACT that Paul was writing occasional literature — literature that deals with matters of specific interest on specific subjects — totally wipes out the force of Wells’ argument, and totally destroys your analogy.
<<Maybe Mark’s gospel was based partly on stories specific to his small town in Syria and Paul and the others just never heard of them.>>
Paul knew members of the early community in Jerusalem, including Jesus’ brother James as well as Simon Peter, and hence his knowledge of stories about Jesus is quite parsimonious to assume. More importantly, the contents of Jesus’ teachings in the Q material would also be known to Paul … and, as I have already demonstrated, he quoted from this material to a small degree during the course of making some of his own arguments.
<<RN: This also assumes (3) that everything Paul wrote we have, extant, before us. >>
<<There is no such assumption required, nor does he ever make such an assumption.>>
Illogical. For us to conclude that Paul didn’t write about the life of Jesus we MUST assume that we have everything which Paul wrote. Otherwise, the discovery of just ONE new letter that contains such information invalidates the argument. As for Wells not making the assumption — it is part of the unarticulated undercurrent of assumptions which govern Wells’ argument. Without the assumption, his entire argument falls to pieces … as I have already demonstrated.
<<He does believe we should build our theories on the observations and facts that we have, rather than those that we might like to have but must imagine (such as evidence that Paul was familiar with the gospel stories of Jesus).>>
This statement illustrates another methodological flaw in Wells’ argument. As I have demonstrated already, Wells doesn’t do this! Quite the contrary, Wells builds his theories on information that we DON’T have … i.e., in Paul’s silence and what Wells thinks can be concluded from that silence … and looks for ways to explain away information that we do have, usually opting for the least parsimonious option.
<<It seems that Christians have a tendency to read Paul with the gospels in mind (just as many read each gospel with the others in mind, instead of considering each as a separate unit.)>>
Paul should be read for what Paul wrote. This is particularly true relative to the Acts of the Apostles, which is what most Christians actually turn to supplement what Paul wrote. But, likewise, where Paul clearly shows knowledge of some of the information that can also be found in the Gospels one shouldn’t throw oneself into hyper-skepticism and deny that Paul knew at least some of the same information that can be found in the Gospels.
<<That what we have from Paul is representative of what he knew and wrote is the most parsimonious hypothesis possible.>>
This is an illogical conclusion. You have leapt from a valid observation to an unsubstantiated and invalid conclusion. What we have from Paul IS representative of AT LEAST what he knew and wrote. However, for us to then conclude that what he wrote is all that he knew is NOT the most parsimonious hypothesis possible. PERIOD.
<<If that hypothesis is false, then there are several ways to show that, the most definitive of which would be to find additional writings of Paul which express additional ideas or knowledge not mentioned in his canonical works.>>
Precisely correct … and this potential is ALWAYS the Achilles Heal of these kinds of silence-driven arguments.
<<It is certainly not reasonable to assume that he knew things which his writings give no clue that he knew anything about, especially not where his writings clearly imply that he did not know these things.>>
As I have demonstrated above, the circumstances which you describe are NOT valid, and hence your conclusion is not valid. Firstly, Paul gives us significantly MORE information about Jesus than Wells allows for. Hence, it is NOT unreasonable for us to assume that he knew somewhat more than what he articulates. What, precisely, that “somewhat more” information may have been, we can only speculate and hypothesize about based upon what he actually does say, but it is NOT reasonable to draw conclusions about what Paul DIDN’T know based upon his silence. Which brings up my second point … that it is most certainly reasonable to assume that Paul doesn’t write about everything he knew. Had Paul set out to write a definitive exposition on the life and teaching of Jesus, then your conclusion would have a greater degree of possibility. But, since the genre of his writings are not of that order, your conclusion is so HIGHLY improbable as to breach the boundaries of credulity.
<<RN: This third assumption is easily, and quickly, dispatched. We KNOW that we don’t have everything that Paul wrote, for Paul makes reference to certain letters that he wrote but which are no longer extant. >>
You replied: <<Since no such assumption was made, this is irrelevant.>>
As I have already demonstrated, this assumption is REQUIRED for Wells’ arguments to hold water. Without the assumption, the words “most” and “reasonable” can NEVER be applied to his conclusions. Why? Because any hypothetical new discovery may well invalidate the argument.
<<RN: The first two assumptions are methodologically unsound because they draw conclusions that are unsupported by the data. >>
<<Since Wells makes no such assumptions, your point is again irrelevant.>>
Since Wells MUST make the assumptions (as your, elsewhere, arguing in favor of these assumptions clearly corroborates), my point is VERY relevant and VERY damning to his theory.
<<Wells does CONCLUDE, based on the evidence, that Paul does not know certain things asserted in the gospels.>>
This is a fallacious conclusion for Wells to draw. It is an utter and indefensible argument from silence, and considering your skepticism on other matters, I find it remarkable (and rather incongruous) that you are willing to make such a leap of faith on this matter. In essence, it’s an attempt to prove a negative. To make such an argument, one would either have to have direct evidence from Paul which contradicts the content of the Gospels, or we would have to have a time machine so we could go back and ask Paul if he knew this information. However, as things stand, we do not have the ability to draw such conclusions from Paul’s silence. Nor do we have the ability to draw such an inference from the information that we DO have. The data is inconclusive at best.
<<The information we have requires that we conclude Paul knew nothing of those things which he shows no sign of knowing anything about.>>
1. We know Paul didn’t know anything about the historical Jesus…
2. … Because Paul is silent on the subject.
3. And Paul is silent on the subject because he didn’t know anything about the historical Jesus.
Please PROVE that Paul didn’t know anything about the historical Jesus. You will have to do this independent from the assumption that Jesus didn’t exist … for that is the VERY claim that this kind of argument is designed to support. You are NOT allowed to assume your conclusion in building support your arguments. Also, Paul’s supposed silence will NOT work with me, nor does it work for the vast majority of scholars who do not have an atheistic, hyper-skeptical apologetic, anti-Christian ax to grind.
Grace and Peace,
Q, Authors, and Dates
Subject: Q, Authors, and Dates
Date: Thu, 17 June 1999 03:16 PM EDT
From: Rev Neal
<<What could possibly cause us to believe that for which there is no evidence?>>
Good question. You believe that Paul’s silence proves his ignorance. Answer me this: why should one believe that Paul ONLY knew that which he wrote about? What he writes gives us an interior limit for what he knew, but it doesn’t set an exterior limit on what he knew. Do you write everything YOU know about the teachings of Wells … EVERY TIME YOU WRITE??? In these correspondences, have you articulated everything that you know that Wells says regarding these issues? I know you haven’t. So, am I justified in assuming that you DON’T KNOW that which you don’t articulate? Nonsense … I know you have his books. And, likewise, I know that Paul knew Peter, James, John, and the other apostles. I also know that Paul appears to have had access to at least some kind of Jesus-teaching source … one quite similar to Q.
<<RN: For example, the lack of material in Paul about Jesus as a healer does not in any way mean that Paul didn’t know anything about Jesus as a healer. ALL that can be assumed from Paul’s silence on Jesus as a healer is that Paul didn’t write — in his extant letters — about Jesus as a healer. ANY further conclusion from Paul’s silence on this, and other related topics, is making an argument based upon Paul’s silence, and that’s a problematic conclusion to draw if one lacks further evidence elsewhere. Since further evidence is lacking (he no where asserts that Jesus wasn’t a healer), it is inappropriate for Wells to make any kind of “hard and fast” conclusion from his silence.
<<It isn’t a “hard and fast” conclusion — there is simply no evidence that Paul was familiar with the gospel stories at all….>>
You’ve contradicted yourself. Just a few paragraphs back you assert that the only parsimonious conclusion is that Paul didn’t know anything other than what he wrote. Now you say that you’re not asserting a “hard and fast” position. I’m sorry, but either you are or you aren’t. Stop being slippery.
<< — he doesn’t quote ANYTHING, about healing or anything else, from the stories reported in the gospels. If these stories existed, we have no evidence that Paul knew them.>>
Incorrect. See above for Paul’s direct citations from the teaching of Jesus, as well as for his periphrastic witness to other teachings and facts about his life.
<<Wells also points out that other early Christian writers (all those who wrote before the gospels were composed) likewise show no evidence of familiarity with the gospel stories.>>
Which “other early Christian writers” would these be? The ONLY two authors who probably wrote prior to the Gospels (prior to 70) were Paul and James. As for the date on the Gospels, Wells is wrong … you cannot assume his argument in our discussion at this point because I won’t let you … you haven’t presented an argument from Wells to defend his radically late dates.
<<Burton Mack agrees with Wells in this and on pg. 151 of “Who Wrote the N.T?” he says “Before Mark there was no such story of the life of Jesus” and goes on to say that Mark “crafted the plot, spelled out the motivations, and so created the story of Jesus that was to become the gospel”. On pg. 154 he adds “It was Mark’s fiction that soon became the accepted story of the way to imagine Jesus appearing in the world.”>>
Your selective quotes serve to overstate Mack’s conclusion, and Mack himself overstates the evidence and does not support his argument (what else is new? His date and occasion for the writing of Luke’s Gospel goes entirely unsupported in his Introduction to the New Testament). While I don’t have the time to look at it in the confines of this posting, I have looked at Mack on this topic. In short, the academic conclusion on this issue is that, even though Mark doesn’t preserve a chronology that is “historical,” this does NOT mean that the stories contained within the framework of that Chronology were made up, or crafted, by him. The idea that the stories are entirely made up is an insupportable hyper-skeptical hypothesis built upon the wishful thinking of atheistic apologists who wish to disconnect the account in the Synoptics from even the semblance of historicity.
<<Paul didn’t know the gospel stories because they hadn’t been written yet, and wouldn’t be for another 20 years or so — after the end of the war.>>
Paul knew at least some of them, as I have demonstrated. Also, the Q teachings AND the narrative accounts in Mark (which make up the outline for Matthew and Luke) would have to have developed over a period of time. This is clear from form-critical analysis of Mark, as well as of Matthew and Luke. Apart from the traditions that come from Mark, it is almost certain now that the Q material evolved over a period of at least 30 years prior to its incorporation into Matthew and Luke. This evolution begin in Aramaic, then went through at least 2 stages of translation into Greek. That Paul wasn’t acquainted with at least some of the traditions in Q and in Mark is highly unlikely given his citation of some of this material.
<<BTW — have you not noticed that Christians are frequently happy enough to use arguments from silence, even when the evidence does not justify their doing so? Christian apologists routinely argue that if Jesus didn’t exist, then surely early opponents would have pointed this out.>>
You use the term “Christian apologists” in a pejorative way, hoping that it will cause some to dismiss the argument thus referenced. You may have noticed that I have been using the same kind of terminology during the course of our exchange. I trust the effect of the use has been appropriately annoying?
<<The silence is considered conclusive evidence.>>
You have incorrectly articulated the argument, and hence your analysis is faulty. The argument is NOT that the silence of anti-Christian apologists regarding the nonexistence of Jesus proves that Jesus existed. Rather, the argument is that the failure of anti-Christian apologists to cite such a claim — that Jesus never even existed — indicates that THEY believed him to exist. That’s a remarkably DIFFERENT kind of argument from silence then the one which Wells bases his whole theory upon.
<<(I can show why silence isn’t evidence [or even a real silence] in that case, if necessary.)>>
Please try. You will fail, but it should prove interesting to watch you try. A little hint, if I may … if silence is invalid for this well founded observation, then it is UTTERLY corrupt and MEANINGLESS for Wells’ hypothetical, hyper-skeptical speculation.
<<E.P. Sanders (quite rightly) concludes that the 4 gospels were untitled before about 180 since all references to them earlier than that date quote them but don’t refer to them by the names we have now. The earlier silence is inconceivable if “according to John” etc. had always been attached to them. The silence with respect to titles is strong evidence that there were none because the titles would have been relevant to what was being said earlier.>>
You are misreading Dr. Sanders on the subject of the ascriptions for the canonical Gospels. He does NOT assign c. 180 CE as the earliest date of ascription for the 4 gospels. What Sanders says in Studying the Synoptic Gospels. (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989. pp.10 – 14) is:
Concerning Mark, Sanders writes:
<<The connection of the name Mark with the Second Gospel, then, depends on Papias and on the view that when he referred to a gospel written by Mark he meant Mark as we have it. If, as seem probable, that is the case, it may still be questioned whether Papias’ information or guess was correct. This cannot be decisively proved one way or the other. The key fact to recall is that the tradition about Mark does not surface until approximately 140, which on balance must make us doubt that Papias had an old and reliable tradition.>> (Sanders, p. 12)
Please note the date that is given by Sanders for this reference: 140, NOT 180. Also, I am not alone in disagreeing with Dr. Sanders over the doubt which he asserts “must” be present regarding the antiquity of the Papias tradition. While no question is reasonable concerning a 140 CE citation for the ascription of the second gospel to Mark, Sanders believes that the date for the source of this particular tradition is most likely not much earlier than 125 CE (ie, with an origin in the teachings of John the Elder). Contrary to Sander’s assessment, Dr. Bo Ivar Reicke, the late professor of New Testament Critical Exegesis at the University of Basel, presented an extraordinary analysis which essentially supports the authenticity of the Papias tradition. I, following the example of many highly acclaimed scholars in this field, have found Reicke’s book on this subject (Reicke, Bo Ivar. The Roots of the Synoptic Gospels. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986) quite convincing.
Regarding the “first Gospel,” Sanders writes:
<<It seems quite possible that the gospel now called Matthew circulated, and that the tradition that Matthew had collected sayings also circulated, but that these two traditions were not combined until sometime after 150, when Papias’ testimony was interpreted as applying to our gospel. This would account for the fact that Irenaeus was, to the best of our knowledge, the first to call the Gospel according to Matthew by that title.>> (Sanders, p. 11)
The date for Irenaeus’ reference is c. 180 CE, and this is where you misunderstood Sanders. Sanders gives this as the LATEST date for the ascription. The earliest date he allows for is about 150, which means that there is a 30 year window in which Matthew’s Gospel came to be known by that ascription. Papias’ claim that the Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus and wrote the “first Gospel” in Aramaic does not coordinate with what we know about the “first Gospel’s” composition in Greek. Also, while the Q materials in Matthew may reflect a collection of Jesus’ saying, the Gospel as a whole does not. In short, Sanders give 150 – 180 as the date range for the first ascription of Matthew to our canonical Matthew.
Regarding the “third Gospel,” Sanders writes:
<<The gospel of Luke was also used widely in the second century, though it was not as popular as Matthew. We have seen that Justin knew some of the sayings of Jesus as they now appear in Luke, that Marcion used a version of Luke [which is substantially like ours, only lacking some of its most Jewish references], and that Irenaeus called the Third Gospel the Gospel according to Luke. From external sources we gain no more light on the author or on the date of composition, and so we should accept in this case too the probability that the identification of the third gospel as being “according to Luke,” may have been made as late at the year 150.>> (Sanders, P.12)
Please note the weight of Sanders’ argument on the latest date for the ascription of Luke’s gospel being c. 150 CE. Given Marcion’s reference to Luke, as well as Justin’s citation, it is reasonable to assume that Luke began to be referenced as Luke sometime between about 125 and 150.
Now, let’s turn to Sander’s conclusion: <<The earlier silence [concerning the gospel ascriptions] is inconceivable if “according to John” etc. had always been attached to them. The silence with respect to titles is strong evidence that there were none because the titles would have been relevant to what was being said earlier.>> (Sanders p. 12)
Sanders’ argument is built upon the silence of authors prior to about 140 CE. A superior way to make the claim that, prior to about 140 the Gospels were not assigned to any of their current assigned authors, is to note the very FACT that Bishop Papias has to make arguments for who their authors were. This is the argument that is used, very effectively, by Robert H. Stein in The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction and by Reicke in The Roots of the Synoptic Gospels.
RN: It certainly isn’t one that the majority of scholars on the subject of Q, and of the Synoptic tradition in general, make.
<<Maybe they should. Besides, do you think it reasonable to hold Wells responsible for views on Q that did not even exist at the time he wrote the book you’re commenting on? How about reading one of his recent books where he discusses Q at length? Most theologians think Jesus was a real historical person, but Wells is precisely and consciously taking up a different position. That position has to be judged on its merits, and not on what the majority happens to believe. >>
Wells has predetermined that Jesus didn’t exist, and reads and shades the evidence in such a way as to support his preconceived notion. I’m sorry, this is not correct.
<<The fact is that most theologians in this country are Christians and so naturally tend to assume things that may not be justified if viewed objectively based on the facts.>>
Ad hominem. And I resemble that remark. I’m sorry, but I am beginning to suspect that you are UTTERLY unwilling to actually discuss Wells and examine his argument critically. You are just trying to convert me to being a Wells disciple. Since I have critically examined several of Wells’ books, I am not about to be converted. So you can cease trying and … if you’re REALLY interested — engage in a critical examination of his arguments. Until you’re willing to do this, however, this is quite frankly a useless discussion.
<<Many (most?) are trained in avowedly sectarian institutions. People generally only take up the study of the nature of “God” and “religious truth” if they think that such ideas have significant meanings. If we grabbed a broad cross section of college graduates and had them all study theology objectively, including basic questions of the existence of God and Jesus, the average opinion of theologians would doubtless shift considerably in my direction. The truth would remain the same, but average professional opinion would change.>>
More ad hominem. Is this the best you have to offer in response to what you, yourself, have described as my substantive remarks???? Attacks on Scholars who disagree with Wells based upon their identity as Christians??? Do you REALLY think this kind of argument is going to win any points with me? Or … are you throwing in these bigoted remarks in hopes that it will drive me away?
RN: Neither Kloppenberg, nor Allison, nor Sanders, nor Tyson, nor Farmer, nor Brown, nor Kummel accept that the Jesus-traditions must have developed after the Pauline period. Quite the contrary, some of the BEST work being done on Q right now is being done by Dale Allison. His current analysis indicates that Q was written in stages (in this he is in partial agreement with Mack), and that the earliest stage was drafted in Aramaic around the year 40 CE, and consisted of “directions and teaching materials for traveling evangelists.”
<<Even if Allison is right, there remains no evidence that Paul knew anything about the stories reported in the gospels about the birth and time of Jesus’ life, for example.>>
The birth narratives are not part of the Q material, and not an issue of any relevance to the historical existence of Jesus or the content of his teachings. Hence, this is an irrelevant issue to the matter at hand. You are obfuscating.
<<If you want Wells modification of his theory in light of recent discoveries concerning Q, please see his most recent book “The Jesus Myth”, which I’d quote for you, but I’ve mislaid my copy.>>
I have read this book, AC. His arguments are LEAST likely. He must posit theories for the formation of the Gospel that are NOT supported by ANY historical evidence, and he does this in a way that is a violation parsimony … so much so that William of Ockham must have cut himself shaving as Wells was formulating them! I’m sorry, but his theories are NOT the easiest way to explain the evidence we have, and hence his arguments are the LEAST parsimonious yet presented. I’m sure you will have a cow of this statement, but it stands.
<<If the early Christians, including Paul, show no sign of knowing the stories that were later “created” (to use Mack’s word) by Mark, then the evidence is that they had not developed, or had not become general, in the early period.>>
Your faulty premise invalidates your argument. And, it’s an assumptive argument anyway. To paraphrase you: We know that Mark created the stories of Jesus because Paul is silent about them; and Paul is silent about them because they didn’t exist yet; and they didn’t exist yet because Mark created the stories. And we know Mark created the stories because Paul is silent about them; and Paul is silent about them because they didn’t exist yet; and they didn’t exist yet because Mark created the stories. And we know Mark created the stories because Paul is silent about them; and Paul is silent about them because they didn’t exist yet; and they didn’t exist yet because Mark created the stories. And we know Mark created the stories because Paul is silent about them; and Paul is silent about them because they didn’t exist yet; and they didn’t exist yet because Mark created the stories. zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom …. HELP, JANE!!!!!! STOP THIS CRAZY THING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
<<Speculation about periods of development seem pointless in the absence of hard evidence, of which there appears to be none on your side.>>
Previously presented. I expect you to neither like the evidence nor consider it critically relative to Wells. I expect you to parrot Wells, NOT consider the possibility that his theory is wrong, and reject the evidence precisely BECAUSE Wells denies it. I’m sorry, but everything you’ve posted has demonstrated that you are unwilling to critically examine Wells’ thesis.
RN: An initial date for Q of 40 CE, with the document reaching its final state by 65 CE (which is Allison’s reconstruction scheme), places the vast majority of its composition WITHIN THE LIFETIME of Paul. According to Allison’s analysis, this length of time would be required for the evolution in the Jesus Tradition teaching materials. I tend to agree with Allison on this point.
<<That it may have been written within the lifetime of Paul is not evidence that Paul ever saw Q.>>
Correct. And I did NOT SAY that such an observation is evidence that Paul ever saw Q. It does enable the possibility, however … something that Wells implicitly denies. Rather, it’s the citations I demonstrated earlier are those which demonstrate that Paul more than likely knew Q.
<<The evidence is that he did not know it, and of course it appears to have been a “sayings gospel” with little biographical information anyway. >>
The evidence is NOT that he didn’t know it … rather, the evidence — as I have presented it — indicates that he probably knew a written “sayings source” somewhat like Q. As for Q being a “sayings source.” Yes it is. A sayings source with sayings attributed to an HISTORICAL Jesus. Hence, while not biographical, it IS evidence to the historical existence of Jesus in 40 AD … 7 – 10 years after his death.
<<You’re discussing two separate issues.>>
Not at all. I’m discussing Wells’ fallacious, non-parsimonious, claim that Paul didn’t know anything about an historical Jesus. This claim can be easily disproved by demonstrating (1) that Paul knew about at least some of the teachings of Jesus, and (2) that Paul had a few biographical details about Jesus that can be gleaned from his letters. I have demonstrated BOTH. That the teachings of Jesus would come from a Q-like document is a strong possibility or (perhaps) even a reasonable probability. That Paul knew oral stories ABOUT Jesus is a STRONG probability. You will now claim that such is not the case, but in doing so you will only be parroting Wells. PLEASE, give some critical thought to Wells. I’m sure you will say that you do, but I see NO evidence of it. You just accept his arguments, lock-stock-and-barrel, even where they are so unlikely as to be utterly incredulous.
<<Where is the hard evidence that any part of Q existed in 40?>>
There is NO “hard” evidence that Q EVER existed at all. It is entirely a reconstructed document, based upon a critical analysis of Matthew and Luke relative to Mark. It is a very REASONABLE theory, however, and one that I accept as BEST answering the evidence found in and between the Synoptics. As for it existing in 40 … that is, likewise, a critically established likelihood based upon what we know about the evolution and formation of oral traditions. The one piece of “solid” evidence that might be argued in its favor are the linguistic fossils that we find in the reconstructed content of Q. It would appear that the first stage of translation from Aramaic to Greek occurred during a 10 year period from about 35 – 45 because of the presence of Greek idioms which we knew were in use during that period, but not much after. This is hypothetical, of course, but it is one of the best chronological anchors we have. In the least, the oral forms that contain these anchors appear to have crystallized at about that time, for their use at dates later than about 45 AD would be anachronistic.
<<If it did, why couldn’t it have existed in 20?>>
You’re joking, right? That’s like asking “why couldn’t The Guns of August have existed in 1910?” Because that would be anachronistic … the events described in The Guns of August didn’t occur until the summer of 1914, and it wasn’t even written by Barbara Tuchman until 1962. The same kind of thing is true with regard to Q. The sayings in Q are attributed to Jesus. Jesus’ ministry — assuming he existed to have a ministry (something I know you deny, but which you actually just ASSUME and then seek evidence to try and prove) — existed in the late 20s. 20 would be about 5 – 8 years too early for it to have come from Jesus … and to theorize that it was the penning of a group of fictional teachings that gave rise to the idea of Jesus is an hypothesis which demands MORE assumptions than to assume that Jesus was the proximate source.
<<If it did, where’s the evidence that Paul knew it?>>
Q would NOT have needed to exist in 20 for Paul to have known it. It could have come into existence between 40 – 50 and Paul could have seen it. And, besides, I never said that Paul definitely knew it, only that he appears to be quoting from a version OF it.
<<Wells also cites a recent study by M. Hooker that concludes it was written after the destruction of the Temple in 70. He…>>
He? Wells? M. Hooker is a female. As for when Wells dates Mark, I KNOW when Wells dates Mark. He’s utterly too late.
<<… places Mk. at between 70 and 90 (e.g. table on pg. xxi of “The Jesus Legend” where he says specifically “after 70, probably as late as 90”) and presents reasons why he thinks a date in the latter part of that range is to be preferred.>>
Is the “he” here Wells or Hooker??? I suspect you are referring to Wells here, because while I don’t have The Jesus Legend before me at the moment, it sounds like what Wells says there and elsewhere. PLEASE, stop citing him as an authority and, rather, present his argument … present his reasons. I’m TIRED of having to present both sides of this debate.
<<Note that MY original point is that Wells is commonly accused of dating things later than he does, often in the 125-250 CE range, and I was concerned to combat that accusation.>>
I have not made that accusation. My reading of Did Jesus Exist indicates — as I have proven with direct quotes — that Wells gives a date range of 70 – 130 CE, with the most likely date being in the middle of this range. The MIDDLE of this range is 90 – 100 CE. He has since refined that range even further to 90 CE. Fair enough. That is STILL 15 – 25 years beyond the likely range assigned by MOST scholars … including Sanders, who fixes Mark at around the tradition 70 date, if not a wee bit before.
<<Wells comments on an attack on him by Stanton that says he argues for invention of the gospel traditions in ca. 100 CE by saying “I do not in fact put even the gospels and certainly not their underlying traditions quite as late as this”. Wells is too gentle with his critics, as usual.>>
Quite frankly, AC, Stanton was RIGHT on this one. Stanton was probably responding to Did Jesus Exist, and in Did Jesus Exist Wells DOES place the writing of Mark IN THE MIDDLE of the range 70 – 135:
<<Scholars who date Mk. in the earlier part of the period between AD 70 and 135 have, as internal evidence, only Mk. 13 (which I consider not to the point) as support; whereas there is cogent evidence (the ignorance of the substance of Mk. apparent in all the Christian epistles of the first century) in favour of a date in the middle of this period.>> (DJE, p. 84)
Now, AC, the last time I ran the numbers, the MIDDLE of 70 – 135 was 102.5 CE. Frankly, Stanton’s critique on this point sounds pretty much like a reasonable one to me. And it is clearly NOT an example of the charge that Wells supports dates of 125 – 250 CE. Get the picture? Now, granted, Wells has since refined his dates a little down … toward the beginning of that middle-range. Good for him. If only he’s push them back to the early range (65 – 75 CE), then he’d be in line with most scholars and with the most likely dates. But … oops … he can’t do that, can he? If he did, he’d have to recognize that Mark was written within 5 – 10 years of the death of Peter and Paul … not nearly long enough away from such personages to enable it to be entirely fiction! Ooops! Hence, Wells must keep those dates a generation away … right?
<<It may be that your “one or two recognized, …” scholars are the only ones in the lot who have it right.>>
Possibly. But not in this particular case. 🙂
<<Its the evidence that determines that. There have been plenty of cases there the dominant opinion was wrong, especially in religious matters.>>
<<Notice that Burton Mack says (Who Wrote T. N. T., pg 5) that “Scholars locate …writing of the gospels of Mark and Matthew in the 70s and 80s …”. It appears that Mack doesn’t think Mark can have been written before 70, and my recollection is that he personally thinks Mark was written after 80, but I can’t find the page reference right now. Wells position is not significantly outside the mainstream, if that matters.>>
Mack is not mainstream. He is a recognized and respected scholar, with some speculative work of particular note on Q and in the area of Rhetorical Criticism, but he is one of the few who posits dates outside the accepted norms. Please stop assuming that, if Mack says it, it must be within the “mainstream.” And … why in the WORLD don’t you cite what other scholars write? You’re a whole lot like Snakepiper in this regard … you like to quote from one or two favored sources … you never seem to cast your net very wide. And, even when it appears that you are, I have at times discovered that you are just using one of Wells’ footnotes.
A closing word, if I may. After reading Wells’ works rather extensively, I must say that I am beginning to see the problem here. As I’ve already stated, I don’t think that you are REALLY interested in a critical assessment of Wells. And you, yourself, certainly don’t appear to be willing to critically examine what Wells has to write relative to what other scholars have written on these subjects. It would appear that, for you, if Wells says it that settles it … he is always right. Ask yourself this question: Is there ANY argument that Wells makes with which you have serious disagreements? Or, do all of his arguments appear to you to be valid arguments? If you answered yes, all of his arguments are valid arguments and there is no place where you disagree with him, then I put it to you: you are uncritical concerning Wells. I know of NO scholar with whom I share 100% agreement. I have disagreements with every scholar I’ve ever read or studied under … and that includes many friends. And, I find it hard to believe that someone could consider another person’s arguments critically and not find SOME area of disagreement. However, we’ve never seen any disagreement from you regarding Wells’ arguments. His conclusions can be as wacked-out and unlikely as can be, and you still seem to think that they’re reasonable arguments. No amount of reasoned, balanced counter-argument appears to sway you. You are steadfast in accepting Wells … lock, stock, and barrel. I’m sorry, but if that’s the position you’re going to hold as we progress through these topics — total unwillingness to consider even the remotest possibility that Wells’ conclusions are in any way in error — then you can forget about engaging me in this debate. I am more than willing to look, critically, at what scholarship has written on these subjects, accept or reject each argument based upon the evidence, upon historical-critical analysis, and the criteria of parsimony, and draw conclusions from this process. I most certainly DO know what “parsimony” is, and I know how to formulate an argument that is parsimonious. Wells, on the other hand, appears to have a serious problem recognizing the difference between parsimony and radical incredulity. And, for that matter, when it comes to the question of the historical existence of Jesus, you seem to have the same problem. I submit to you, Achrachne, that you simply don’t want to consider the probability that Jesus actually lived because, if he did live, you would have to give some consideration to what he said and did, and the thought of doing that appears to give you significant pause. That is why you accept all of Wells’ arguments as valid, even though are substantially in error. Perhaps if you could disconnect yourself from your bias, and actually give the field a balanced look, you would recognize that the problem is not so much with Wells or his faulty methodology as it is with your predetermined desire to accept ONLY those conclusions that reduce Jesus to a myth.
Grace and Peace,