Saturday, October 09, 2004

Who wrote the Bible?-3

4. Pauline epistles.

All of the NT writings are either by first or second generation Christians. The Apostolate had an inbuilt time limit (Acts 1:21-22). Paul is a partial exception, but an exception that proves the rule, for he is acutely sensitive to his anachronistic status, like the issue of a miscarriage (1 Cor 15:1). Paul is a paradigm of grace, and not Apostleship (1 Tim 1:15-16). As such, this special case sets no precedent for an open canon, and indeed militates against pseudonymity. When someone tried to palm off a letter under an assumed name, the alias was shot down by the fact that Paul was still on the scene (2 Thes 2:2; 3:17).

If Paul, as a relative latecomer to the faith, could begin a theological correspondence in the 40s (e.g. Galatians; 1-2 Thessalonians), why assume that we have to late-date the Gospels to the 60s (conservative estimate) or 80s (liberal estimate)?

The differences, such as they are, between various letters are only to be expected given the changes in occasion, setting, subject-matter, purpose, audience adaptation and so on. If we took any single letter of Paul’s and divided it down the middle, performing word counts and thematic analysis, we could draw up an impressive list of statistical anomalies and shifting emphases between the A section and the B section. We could write up a learned monograph on the theology of deutero-B. The very contrast between genuine and deutero-Paulines assumes a circular standard of comparison inasmuch as it identifies a core corpus of "authentic" letters in advance of the comparison. It then selects a set of letters that falls outside this control group, and which are related in style and subject-matter (Colossians/Ephesians; the Pastorals). By definition, this set is more dissimilar to the core corpus than it is to the set since its members were singled out on account of their similarity.

On the one hand, liberals classify the Prison Epistles (especially Ephesians & Colossians as deutero-Pauline because they are too much alike; on the other hand, they classify the Pastorals as deutero-Pauline because they are too like Romans or Galatians. The entire spectacle is clownish without being funny.

Another objection of the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals is the alleged difficulty of squeezing them into a Lucan chronology. That, however, is mainly a matter of omission. If Paul was released and rearrested, there would be time to accommodate the Pastorals. But beyond getting Paul to Rome, in fulfillment of Luke’s programmatic plan (Acts 1:8), it is not to Luke’s purpose to peg St. Paul’s every move. The Pauline letters contain personal tidbits not recorded in Acts. Lucan historiography is essentially theological rather than biographical: biography is instrumental to theology.

The abrupt ending of Acts is open-ended, and the usual explanation is, in fact, that the trials of Paul had not reached their final disposition.

Scholars like Robinson have also shown that it is possible fit the Pastorals into the timeframe of Acts without extending the timeline. This calls for certain adjustments, but every opposing position, be it liberal or conservative, lines up the variables in its own chosen way.

Ironically, the liberal position can only take a liberal view of the Pastorals by taking a conservative view of Acts. It employs the history of Acts as the point of reference. This is only valid if you assume that Acts is historical. If so, then why be so sceptical of the Pastoral Epistles?

There is no evidence that the early church ever accepted a letter under an assumed name except when laboring under the false impression that it was really written by the designated writer. Indeed, the idea that the Pastorals are forgeries represents the reductio ad absurdum of liberal scepticism.

The liberal would have us assume that the forger pretended to write a private letter in the name of a dead Apostle, known to be dead. What would such a transparent imposture accomplish?

And who was the recipient of the letter? Is Timothy a real person? If so, he’d hardly be receptive to such a letter. Or is Timothy part of the pretense? If so, what church or Christian community would accept it? To whom was it written? What happens when I mail a letter with a nonexistent return address to nonexistent address? Isn’t that the perfect way to lose a letter?

Some of the liberals suppose that Timothy wrote a letter to himself in the name of Paul. Really? Would a liberal write himself a letter in the name of a deceased professor? This sort of theorizing best belongs in a padded cell.

Given that we have anonymous letters in the NT canon (Hebrews; 1-3 John), what would be the incentive of writing under a pseudonym except to secure a respectful hearing by trading on someone else’s good name, such as the writer could not secure in his own name?

But this is unethical. It would secure a deferential hearing under false pretenses. One wonders if commentators who are so tolerant of forgeries would be as tolerant if one of their students wrote a book or article in the name of the professor.

To attribute a letter to an anonymous forger, the critic bears some burden to postulate the occasion, purpose, and life-setting of the forger. This takes him deep into the realm of the unknown—where a hundred hypotheticals could be equally true or false, where one conjecture builds upon another in a vanishing regress of retreating probabilities.

This is not to deny an important place for detecting forgeries, but there needs to be clear-cut evidence, e.g., blatant anachronisms, ill-gotten gain, inexplicable differences in style.

Paul expressly disapproves of pseudonymity (2 Thes 2:2; 3:17). As far as I can see, the category of canonical pseudepigrapha is a modern makeshift of scholars too liberal to accept the self-witness of Scripture and too spineless to sever their nominal ties with the Christian faith. See the pointed remarks by Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents, 322-24.

Honesty aside, there’s a deeper reason for Paul’s stance. He has premised the truth of his gospel on personal revelation (cf. Gal 1-2; 2 Cor 12:1ff.). A forger would lack the revelatory qualifications to present the Pauline gospel on his own authority. This is not the sort of task that can be delegated to a second party. Paul claims apostolic authority for his message. Normally, an Apostle had to be an eyewitness to the ministry of Christ (Acts 1:21-22). Paul is a quasi-exception inasmuch as he’s a virtual eyewitness—having seen and heard the Risen Lord in a vision. A forger cannot lay claim to this inspired backing—any more than I could. Again, the epistles are critical of fantastic and fanciful claims (1 Tim 1:4; 2 Tim 4:4; Tit 1:14; 2 Pet 1:16).

Yet the liberals are not through, for their fallback is to declare 2 Thessalonians unauthentic. In other words, what we really have in 2 Thes 2:2; 3:17 is a forger warning against forgery! But what’s the point of getting into an argument with a conspiracy theorist? In reading liberal literature one can’t help thinking of Gen. Ripper and his bottled water. Everything becomes grist for the cosmic cover-up. Again, though, if pseudonymity had been such an accepted practice, why is Paul at pains to distinguish his words from the ipsissima verba of Christ (1 Cor 7:10, 12,25; 1 Thes 4:15)? Why is Luke so scrupulous about distinguishing the "we-sections" (in Acts) from the scenes in which he was not a participant? Why is the author of Hebrews so conscientious about distancing himself from the eyewitnesses? Why is the author of the Fourth Gospel so indirect about identifying himself?

5. 2 Pet-Jude

2 Peter is the favorite target of attack due to the dramatic difference in style between it and 1 Peter. This calls for several replies:
i) Many of the same critics also deny the authenticity of 1 Peter. But unless 1 Peter supplies the standard of comparison, how would a deviation from the style of 1 Peter prejudice the authenticity of 2 Peter?
ii) As a general proposition, a different style may indicate a different author, although this is hard to quantify, and turns on other factors as well, such as genre, subject-matter, stylistic evolution, audience adaptation and so on. In the case of forgery, however, the presumption is reversed insofar as we expect the counterfeit to imitate as closely as possible the style of the exemplar.
iii) It may be objected that use of loaded terms like "forgery," "fraud," "fabrication," "counterfeit," &c., poison the well. Since pseudonymity was an accepted literary device, as one can witness in the testamentary literature—of which 2 Peter is a specimen—these pejorative characterizations make a morally charged issue out of an innocent practice.

But was pseudonymity just a literary device? And was it acceptable by the standard of Scriptural ethics? Comparisons with the testamentary literature assume that OT farewell speeches were also fictitious. It is tendentious to argue from the alleged pseudonymity of the OT genre to the alleged pseudonymity of the NT genre. And the appeal to Jewish pseudepigrapha (e.g. 1 Enoch; The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) is counter-productive, for writers only resorted to this "device" because the OT canon was already closed. So it can hardly furnish a precedent for the NT canon.

Moreover, the death of Moses and the Apostles really would mark a transitional phase in the life of the religious community which they have established, so that their final instructions (e.g. Deut 30-33; 2 Peter; Pastorals) are inevitably preoccupied with the orderly transfer of power, custodianship of the message and forewarnings regarding future threats to the community of faith. All this follows from the concrete life-setting. The fact that forgers imitated this form no more validates pseudepigrapha than the fact that Gnostics penned pseudonymous gospels validates the NT apocrypha. Only a critic who is utterly out of touch with the down-to-earth dynamics of a nascent religious movement would attribute all this to literary artifice.
iv) It is reductionistic to equate the epistolary genre with the testamentary genre. We only have to contrast 2 Peter with, say, Gen 49, to see how overstated the comparison is. For a critique of this identification and its bearing on pseudonymity, cf. J. Charles, Virtue Admidst Vice: The Catalog of Virtues in 2 Peter 1 (Sheffield, 1997), 49-75.
v) The logical motive for a literary forgery is to secure a respectful hearing, which the true author could not hope for in his own identity, by deceiving the prospective reader into supposing that it was written by an authoritative figure. To say this is not primarily to characterize the morality of the motive, but merely to describe the motive. It is, first of all, a statement of fact and not a value-judgment. And this ought not to be in dispute.

However, scholars who believe that the canon includes pseudepigrapha are defensive about this description. They don’t like the word "forgery" because it carries an odious connotation. Lying behind this reaction is their own theological positioning. They don’t believe the self-attributions of Scripture, but they also don’t wish to remove a book from the canon just because it’s pseudonymous.

Put another way, they don’t want their position branded as "liberal." They view themselves as Christian believers who honor the authority of Scripture. And they try to show that there is a faithful middle-ground between traditional orthodoxy and liberal infidelity. To this end, they argue that pseudonymity was a morally innocuous convention. But there are two problems with that line of approach:
a) It confounds the viewpoint of the scholar with the viewpoint of the text. He is coming to the text with a personal agenda. He objects to the judgmental connotation of a "forgery," not only because that would reflect on the book, but because that would also reflect on his own theological compromise. But this intrudes a concern that is extraneous to the text. A commentator should assume a more disinterested stance. Critical detachment is a prerequisite in historical studies. This doesn’t mean that a scholar either cannot or should not have a personal stake in the debate. What it does mean, rather, is that he should observe enough distance between his own views and the text before him that he allows the text to speak for itself. Whether or not "forgery" is an invidious characterization is irrelevant to the factual identification of a document. To classify the False Decretals as Medieval forgeries is not, in the first instance, to render a moral judgment, but merely to identify their literary genre.

Because moderate scholars are so sensitive to a loaded word like "forgery," they shy away from it and attempt to justify the practice. But whatever the independent merits of their argument, they can’t take this classification out of play simply because it is charged with disreputable overtones. For that would prejudge the genre. Are we saying that an ancient writer would never operate under an assumed identity in order to ingratiate himself with the reader by trading on the good name of the ostensive author? Should we rule out dishonest motives in advance? This is obviously irresponsible.
b) By trying to neutralize the suspect reputation of pseudonymity, these scholars have destroyed the very rationale for pseudonymity. For if pseudonymity were an accepted literary device, so that the reader took its attribution to be a patent pretence, then why the pretense? In that event, why wouldn’t the author issue the document in his own name? If no one is taken in by the pose, why not drop the pose? What is to be gained by assuming a pose that everyone can see through? The traditional motive for penning a forgery supplies a perfectly coherent rationale—you get something that you could not otherwise obtain by honest means. But in their efforts to remove the ethical sting of forgery, moderate scholars have made the whole exercise self-defeating.

The idea of innocent forgeries is one of the many armchair theories offered by mediating scholars to justify their fence-straddling faith. It mirrors the motives of the scholar rather than forger. The strategy is always the same: take something from real life and then modify it in a direction favorable to the current version of mediating theology. But the modification puts it at one or more removes from real life.

There is another straightforward way of accounting for the stylistic differences between 1-2 Peter. If Silvanus was the amanuensus for 1 Peter, then he may have given Peter some stylistic advice. As Peter dictated a phrase, Silvanus might say, "Wouldn’t this be a more idiomatic way of expressing the same idea?" If Peter approved, that then wording would then be committed to writing.

But since Peter makes no reference to a possible amanuensis in 2 Peter, it is reasonable to assume that he penned that himself. (One might add that if 2 Peter were a forgery, why didn’t the forger finish with another reference to Silvanus for the sake of verisimilitude?) And, as is not uncommon in official or literary settings, he may well have tried to write it in a tonier style that he could really command. One thinks of a courtroom setting where a working-class witness is in the dock. Made self-conscious by his surroundings, he will often strive for a more formal standard of English than he has mastery of.

This still preserves the inerrancy of the document, for inerrancy is concerned with the veracity of the original. Fine-points of grammar and style are devoid of truth- value. Although we are accustomed to speak of "incorrect" grammar, grammatical mistakes merely break conventional rules of discourse rather than violating the veracity of a statement. They aren’t the same as factual errors. We don’t say that bad grammar is "false." God can inspire bad grammar without committing falsehood. But the self-witness of a document (e.g. authorship) is a truth-valued claim.

Although this reconstruction involves an element of conjecture, it is less speculative than pseudonymous schemes. It has the virtue of operating on the basis of internal pointers (5:12), our general knowledge of Peter’s background (Gospels & Acts), as well as common sense—the last named item being a rare commodity in higher criticism.

2 Pet-Jude are also synoptic. Either one uses the other or both make use of a common source. There would be nothing unsuitable about an Apostle making use of Jude, for Jude was a half-brother of the Lord. Conversely, there would be nothing unsuitable about Jude making use of a leading Apostle. Their literary interrelationship is sometimes attributed to a common oral source. This requires some independent basis of comparison to assess the range of continuity and discontinuity we might expect under that scenario. What would count as an external check?

To take one such example, the proclamation of the First Crusade by Urban II comes down to us in four independent accounts by contemporary witnesses. But when we compare the summary of Urban’s speech by Fulcher of Chartres with the version by Robert the Monk (Cf. Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History 1/2 [University of Pennsylvania, 1897], 2-8.) there is nothing by way of imagery, sequence, or subject-matter to match the parallels we encounter between 2 Pet-Jude. This suggests to me that a common oral source cannot account for the literary interrelation of 2 Peter to Jude. Now perhaps my choice of examples is defective. My problem is that NT scholars don’t offer any external controls on their appeal to an oral source. An alternative is to suppose that Peter and Jude both made use of a common written source. While this can’t be ruled out, it is unsound scholarly method to postulate unverifiable sources when the extant sources can account for the phenomena in question.

There is no intelligent reason to doubt the authenticity of Jude. If it were pseudonymous, it would identify the author as the Lord’s brother—trading on that matchless association. Instead it identifies the author as the brother of James. That relationship carried a certain prestige as well, but modest when compared with direct dominical affinity.

Some scholars have identified Jude with Judas Barsabbas (Acts 15:22,27,32). Since, however, James already had a blood-brother by that name (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3) this would be a confusing self-designation--absent further contextual clues. Use of the surname ("Barsabbas") would have been more intelligible.

The fact that Jude refers to a couple of extracanonical writings has left its own canonical status suspect in some quarters. But this is nothing new. Moses quotes from the Book of Wars and Song of Heshbon (Num 21:14,27-30; cf. Jer 48:45-46), and the Book of Jashar is quoted in Joshua (10:12?-13) and Samuel (2 Sam 1:18ff.), while the author of Hebrews draws on Intertestamental sources (Heb 11:34ff.).

But the real problem, it may be objected, is not so much that Jude quotes from extracanonical writings, as that he doesn’t distinguish between historical sources and pious fictions. This is more an issue of inerrancy than canonicity. The fact, however, that a sacred author quotes from an extracanonical source doesn’t commit him to accepting it at face value. Moses offers a subversive reading of the Song of Heshbon. It was originally an Amorite taunt-song. Now the tables are turned as Israel bests the Amorites and makes them eat their own words! The irony trades on a conspicuous contrast between the original context and its recontextualization.

For his part, Jeremiah preserves the original referent (Moab), but time-shifts the terms fulfillment from past to future. In other words, he recycles it. So Moses and Jeremiah both disregard original intent as they reorient the material to score points. No doubt it’s precisely because they’re dealing with uninspired and, indeed, "uncircumcised" sources, that they exercise such license. Here, inerrancy extends to an inspired adaptation of the primary source, and not necessarily to the primary source itself, considered in its life-setting. The application is authoritative, and not the original viewpoint.

1 Enoch is a sectarian document of Essene pedigree. Cf. R. Beckwith, "The Earliest Enoch Literature and its Calendar," Revue de Qumran 39 (Feb 1981), 365-403.

It would never have found its way into the Temple archive alongside the canonical scrolls or from there into the synagogal lectionaries (cf. Lk 4:17; Acts 13:15,27; 15:21). Cf. J. Mann, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, vol. 1 (Ktav, 1971).

Josephus, a Pharisee who accompanied Vespasian and Titus when they captured Jerusalem and despoiled the Temple, indicates that the Temple was the repository for holy books of Judaism (Life 75; War 5,7.). That would comport with OT precedent (cf. Exod 25:16; Deut 10:5; 17:18; 31:9,26; 1 Sam 10:25; 2 Chron 29:30). This official registry presumably set the standard for lectionary usage as well. Nor do we find Jude employing standard scriptural citation formulas (e.g. "it is written," "scripture says"). Hence, there is no positive reason to suppose that Jude ranked this material with Holy Writ.

The Assumption of Moses betrays Essene and Pharisaic traits. Cf. R. Beckwith, "Daniel 9 and the Date of Messiah’s Coming," Revue de Qumran 40 (Dec 1981), 521-542. A number of his essays are reprinted in Calendar & Chronology: Jewish & Christian (Leiden: Brill 1996).

Based on its studied allusion to the 34 year reign of Herod (6:6; cf. Josephus, Ant. 17.8.1.), the Testament of Moses dates at the earliest to the turn of the 1C AD. It is extremely far-fetched to suppose that a mid-1C author like Jude would be appealing to such a novel document—with no representation in the Temple archives or synagogal lectionaries—as canonical writ. Indeed, R. Bauckham has proposed that the Assumption may be itself dependent on Jude, who is—in turn—dependent on the Testament of Moses. Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (T&T Clark, 1990), 235ff.

From what we can tell, Jude viewed this material as inspirational literature (a la 1 Maccabees) rather than inspired literature. As judged by Protestant standards, his usage is somewhat incautious, but that’s because he didn’t have to guard against contemporary misunderstanding, whereas the conflict with Rome has forced us to spell out our canonical commitments (e.g. WCF 1:1-3; cf. Trent, session 4).

If 2 Peter either adapted Jude or else a source common to both, then that
would color his vocabulary and phrasing. As such, I don’t see that stylistic differences between 1-2 Peter prejudice the case for the apostolicity of either. Only if, in each case, Peter were starting from scratch would a direct stylistic comparison be meaningful. For unless he had a completely free hand in the composition of both, his personal prose style, such as it was, would be sublimated to his sources. One should expect the influence of source on style to figure more forcefully in the debate, yet it’s oddly overlooked. Although the priority of Jude is no more certain than the reverse order of dependence, yet for that very reason it introduces a wild card into the deck of our stylistic calculations.

Guthrie notes a number of verbal parallels between the Petrine speeches in Acts and 2 Pet: "for instance, the words 'receive' (2 Pet 1:1; cf. Acts 1:17), 'godliness' (1:6; cf. 3;12), 'day of the Lord' (3:10; cf. Acts 2:20) and 'punishment' (2:9; cf. Acts 4:21) all occur in both books," New Testament Introduction (IVP 1990), 838. When you consider the extreme brevity of the Petrine speeches, it's statistically improbable that we'd find any verbal commonalities barring common authorship.

In addition, E.F. Harrison has drawn up a list of verbal parallels between 1-2 Peter, on the one hand, and 2 Peter and the Petrine speeches in Acts, on the other. Cf. Introduction to the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1982), 424-425.

B.B.Warfield has also drawn up a list of verbal and doctrinal parallels. Cf. Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (P&R, 1973), 2:71. These strike me as too distinctive to be coincidental, yet too unassuming to be contrived.

The assumption that every NT author had a personal style is overdrawn. None of the NT authors were professional writers, so that, as a rule, we wouldn’t expect them to cultivate a distinctive prose style. The author of Hebrews is the only NT writer with a consistent and conscious literary sense. To a lesser degree, Luke is stylistically self-conscious. The personal stamp of a forceful personality may also impress itself on the medium. Insofar as Paul and John can command an arresting style, that is due to their tremendous intellectual and temperamental energy. What comes through is the man behind the prose. But most of the NT authors lack such a powerful presence. So unless an author is either a calculated stylist or a charismatic personality, the literary critics are measuring the NT documents by a nonexistent yardstick.

In judging Jude’s estimate of Jewish pseudepigrapha, we must remember that his brother was a very traditional Jew, as is evident from his letter, his administration of the Jerusalem church (e.g. Acts 15), and his ultraist disciples (Gal 2:12ff.). Given this establishmentarian emphasis, it is unlikely in the extreme that he would have ranked sectarian (=Essene) literature on par with Scripture. Now it is no doubt possible that his kid brother was less conservative, but to assume that Jude was way out of the mainstream isn’t very plausible given the impact and position of his elder brother. This was a society in which primogeniture mattered. What’s more, the leadership of James over the Jerusalem church was such that his kid brother could never have functioned in that body unless he enjoyed big brother’s approval. There would have been no receptive constituency for the very letter under review.

In sum, there are many reasonable grounds for reaffirming the traditional authorship of Scripture, but none for disaffirming it.

No comments:

Post a Comment