Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ignorance begets apostasy

Dagood is like a bulldog who unfortunately mistakes a firecracker for a stick. He hangs on to that firecracker for dear life. Even after it blows up in his face, he runs off to fetch another firecracker.

“In my last blog I discussed David’s census.”

Yes, we remember.

“Once we concede that the manuscripts we have contain errors that were not in the original, it is difficult to be persuasive that the originals were either inerrant, or even inspired. How can we determine what we have now is error or not?”

There’s a word for this: lower criticism.

“If the believer agrees that the numbers we see conflict were due to error, is it not equally as likely that numbers that stand alone may also contain copyist error? Is it persuasive that the ONLY numbers that ever had any copyist error are the ones that we just happen to catch by two differing accounts? Could a copyist, for example, bolstered some numbers, to make a story sound more dramatic? Have David killing 10’s of thousands?”

This is simplistic. For one thing, the probability of numerical mistranscription depends on whether there are any contextual clues regarding the right or wrong number. If a number standards in isolation, then a mistranscription may be difficult to catch.

But if a number is part of a numerical sequence or part of a numerical sum, then an error is easy to catch.

“And why should it be limited to numbers? We also see names that conflict. Certainly if a copyist can introduce error in a number, they equally can introduce error in names. Or what about geography?”

Yes, names can also be miscopied. Indeed, anything can be miscopied.

However, many errors are obvious. If a scribe uses the wrong noun or verb form, the sentence will be unintelligible.

Likewise, place names are not the same thing as numbers. If people live in the same region that Scripture is writing about, then they will know the geography; they will know what a town or region is called. So errors like that are easily correctible except in the case of archaic place names.

“You see, once we concede there are any copyist errors, without the originals to compare, the best we can do is extrapolate back to the closest copy to the original, and even that becomes a matter of speculation.”

Once again, this is simplistic. Certain textual phenomena are more prone to mistranscription than others, such as the interchange of similar letters in Hebrew. And certain errors are more detectable than others.

“All of which is well and fine, if we were talking about a human book. But Christians proclaim that the Bible is unique. Different. Divine. I thought the idea was to propel its divinity, not indicate it is comparable to human efforts. The worst arguments that the Bible is unique are the ones that say it is like everything else.”

This is a straw man argument. The uniqueness of Scripture was never indexed to the process of textual transmission.

“It is not until the Early Third Century that we begin to have large portions of scripture to begin to compare textually for these copyist errors.”

Note the abrupt shift from OT textual criticism to NT textual criticism, as if these were interchangeable. Clearly Dagood doesn’t know what he’s talking about. What else is new?

“We lose any ability to determine what is inspired and what is not. God did not leave any distinguishing marks on those original inspired books. Nothing by which a human could say, “Hey, that’s God’s signature, so we know it was inspired.” The Wisdom of Solomon could be inspired. The Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement, the Shepard of Hermas all qualify. 2 Peter may not be. Revelation is up for grabs.”

Notice the sudden shift from evidence of textual integrity to evidence of divine inspiration. These are separate issues, with separate lines of evidence.

“And this method must include areas besides numbers. However God treated numbers, the method must either make an exception, for some reason, for numbers, OR it must equally treat other areas, such as names, places and events as to how God chose to preserve them or not.”

No, we don’t need a method for divining God’s providence. All we need are text-critical methods.

“Seriously, by what means can we possibly come up with any way in which to determine where God was involved in the preservation or not? I cannot fathom, nor have I seen any such system proposed. How can we account for the variations in every single manuscript?”

A straw man argument.

“What I see is a method by fatigue. To avoid the hard work of actually coming up with a method, one throws up one’s hands, and says, “God is involved with what we have today.” What we see is what God was involved in. If there is an error, then God was not involved. If there is not, God was. What we have comes from the inspired. If we don’t have it, it wasn’t inspired.”

From a Reformed perspective, God is involved in everything that happens. But maybe Dagood was an open theist before he became an atheist—assuming there’s a difference.

So a Calvinist doesn’t need to devise a method of distinguishing between divine involvement and divine noninvolvement. We reject the underlying assumption.

“Same thing with the Bible. After the fact we have it, it is defined as unique for its properties.”

True, we judge the Bible after the fact. We don’t judge the Bible before it was written. Only a brain-donor like Dagood would have a problem with this.

“One of the claims that the Bible is unique is how various writers all agreed on the same principles. O.K. Then why not add 1 Clement (another writer) and make it even MORE unique because there are even MORE writers? Or add the Gospel of Peter? Or the Gospel of Thomas? Seems to me, if agreement among various writers is the qualifier, we can find a whole bunch more to REALLY make the Bible stand out. The only reason this is used as an indicator of the uniqueness of the Bible is that it already has a number of different writers.”

Fails to distinguish between a necessary and a sufficient condition.

“This is the same act performed with inspiration. An ad hoc determination that what we have stems from the inspired originals, when we have no clue what the originals stated, nor any method to determine original inspiration, nor any method to determine how God was involved in maintaining accurate copies.”

We have “no clue” what the originals statement? What Bruce Metzger or Emanuel Tov do for a living is purely ad hoc?

Hey, it’s fine with me if Dagood wants to advertise his elementary ignorance of lower criticism.

“What I see is a defendant, scratching their head and coming up with the same excuse that millions of other human endeavors have stated.”

What I see in Dagood is a slick lawyer trying to get a guilty defendant off the hook by using the Twinkie defense.

BTW, why is Dagood once again using a plural possessive (“their”) with a singular noun (“a defendant”)? Is this a transgender defendant?

“I would agree that the “hands-off God” or the “spell-check” God are strawmen. I have never met a Christian that held to either proposition. (Having said that, watch one pop out!) What I was trying to figure out, if it is not Black, nor is it White, what shade of gray is it, and how do we determine it? Where, in the middle, can we come up with a system?”

We aren’t looking for a mediating position. The evidence of inspiration is one thing, while the evidence of textual integrity is another.

“Where did God indicate that you will have “reasonable confidence” that the teaching you receive are apostolic?”

It doesn’t have to be apostolic. It can also be prophetic.

“Why is apostolic a requirement?”

It isn’t.

“Couldn’t the Spirit teach non-apostles?”

Yes, he could.

“The entire Tanakh is written by non-apostles. Can you explain the sudden shift?”

Shift in what? Inspiration is the common denominator.

“This is one of those after-the-fact definitions.”

Yes, we define evidence after the fact, which is easier than defining evidence in advance of the fact, unless you happy to be the Red Queen.

Apparently, Dagood takes his rules of evidence from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, which would explain a lot about Dagood’s state of confusion.

“Because early authors attributed writings to apostles, Christians later defined “apostolic authorship” as a basis for canonicity.”

External attestation is not the only basis for such an attribution. There is the internal evidence or self-witness as well. Dagood is such a klutz.

“Yet nowhere is that requirement spelled out.”

Maybe because it was never a requirement. Duh.

“ Is every teaching that appears “apostolic” a basis for entering the Bible? 1 Clement, and the Epistle of Barnabas qualify.”

Other issues aside, Clement and Barnabas were not apostles—not in the technical sense. And the “Epistle of Barnabas” is apocryphal.

“The Gospel of Thomas purports to be from an apostle. Or are we going to limit which apostles the teaching must come from?”

For the Gospel of Thomas to be authentic, it would have to date to the 1C. That’s just for starters.

“Let’s see if we can stay consistent in this methodology. Mark was not an apostle. He got his information from Peter, according to Papias.”

Actually, Mark had two sources of information available to him. Since Jerusalem was his hometown, he could have been an eyewitness to the preaching and healing ministry of Christ whenever Jesus was in town. And since his home was also a founding house-church, frequented by the Apostles, for the nascent church of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), he could also have interviewed Peter, James, John, and so on.

“Scholarship is veering away from Mark as either being an apostle (no one has claimed he was) or that he got his information from an apostle.”

i) Since scholarship never said that Mark was an apostle, it can hardly veer away from that nonexistent proposition.

ii) Notice that Dagood doesn’t cite his sources. Presumably he’s alluding to some liberal source.

“We know Luke was not an apostle.”

Yes, everyone knows that.

“Nor do we know where he obtained his information (other than Mark).”

It’s clear from the Book of Acts alone that Luke was a well-connected historian who had a wide circle of contacts from all the early churches, including informants from the mother church of Jerusalem.

“It should get the axe.”

Putting an ax to a straw man.

“The fact that Matthew relies upon Mark demonstrates this author was not an apostle.”

Even assuming Markan priority, which is just one theory for resolving the synoptic problem, how does this literary dependence disprove apostolic authorship?

Mark is hardly Matthew’s only source of information. There’s a tradition of later Bible writers using earlier Bible writers. If the Chronicler can use Samuel-Kings, why can’t Matthew use Mark? Jews respected literary precedent.

“Hebrews has always had an unknown author. Can an unknown, as long as it follows apostolic authority, be inspired?”

Yes. But while he’s unknown, we also know where to place him since he’s a friend of Timothy (Heb 13:23).

“Recent study demonstrates that Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastorals, and 2 Thess. were not written by Paul.”

i) Once again, Dagood doesn’t cite his sources.

ii) How would recentness be relevant? Have we made some stunning new discovery which overturns traditional authorship? Is Dagood getting his information from Dan Brown?

iii) Actually, recent study reaffirms traditional authorship. Read O’Brien on Colossians. Read Hoehner on Ephesians. Read Mounce on the Pastorals. Read Beale on Thessalonians. Read Guthrie’s NT introduction. Read the second edition of the Carson-Moo NT introduction.

iv) Incidentally, one doesn’t need to be a conservative to affirm traditional authorship. For example, G. B. Caird defended the Pauline authorship of Ephesians.

“Do they get the “grandfather” clause because we always thought they were? Even Eusebius determine Revelation was not written by John the Apostle.”

Really? Is that what Eusebius determined? I thought Dionysius was the one to deny its traditional authorship.

In any event, read Beale and Smalley on Revelation, as well as Guthrie and Carson-Moo.

“2 Peter is a copy of Jude, an unknown, but presumed apostle.”

i) The order of literary dependence between 2 Peter and Jude is an open question.

ii) Jude was hardly an unknown figure, and he was not an apostle, presumed or otherwise. Rather, he was a half-brother of our Lord.

Read Charles and Schreiner on 2 Peter-Jude.

“1-3 John are unknown authors.”

Sheer assertion in the teeth of contrary evidence.


  1. If Dagwood knew anything about NT criticism, he would know that liberal scholarship regularly moves toward traditional authorship and dating as time moves forward.

    He'd also be able to handle certain text-critical assumptions he makes with a critical mind. Watch how he assumes Markan priority and the accretion of miracle stories over time without the slightest awareness that Markan priority and form criticism are actually propositions that tug in mutually contradictory directions. This is ad hocery.

    Dagwood, buy yourself a copy of Donald Guthrie's NT Introduction. This is the standard text in seminary level NT classes these days. I took NT with the world's leading expert on the Byzantine text. He made us research 10 to 15 footnotesw in Guthrie each week and write a short paper about each one. I know a thing or two about NT criticism because of this. You're way, way off in your analysis here (the statement about the Johanine Epistles does not even begin to touch on the issues, there is a mountain of contrary evidence to your statement you have simply ignored). Get back to us when you have can actually demonstrate a familarity with the material.

  2. Among the large number of errors in Dagood's latest article is the assumption that God would need to do more to preserve the text of scripture in order for us to have a sufficient rule of faith. How does Dagood know what is and isn't sufficient? If he doesn't know where to draw the line, then how much weight does his objection carry? If common methods of textual criticism lead us to a high level of confidence about the large majority of the Biblical text, then why do we need more? What are the significant doctrines that are affected by the uncertainties of the text, and how are they affected?

    What we have is a situation in which there's good evidence for Christianity (fulfilled prophecy, Jesus' resurrection, etc.), but no evidence that God has preserved the Biblical text to the extent Dagood suggests He should have. What's the most reasonable conclusion, then, given that situation? It's easier to believe that God allowed for some textual uncertainties, while most of the text was reliably preserved, than it is to dismiss all of the apparent evidence we have for the Divine inspiration of the Bible.

    What people like Dagood do repeatedly is overestimate the difficulties in the Christian position (such as textual uncertainties) while underestimating much larger difficulties in their position as an unbeliever. Having some unanswered questions about some numbers in the Old Testament isn't nearly as bad as having to come up with a long series of theories about group hallucinations, widespread memory losses, etc. in order to dismiss what the New Testament reports on dozens of issues. They complain about an inauthentic ending to Mark's gospel, one that can easily be ruled out by means of the historical evidence we have, yet these same people are willing to propose widespread hallucinations or some similarly implausible scenario to dismiss the reported resurrection appearances. I'd rather have the (minor) problem of determining where a Divinely inspired gospel of Mark ended than have the (major) problem of trying to come up with a naturalistic explanation for the evidence for Jesus' resurrection.

    Steve has made some good points on the issue of Biblical authorship, and he's recommended some good resources. Anybody who has difficulty distinguishing between the canonical plausibility of the gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Thomas, for example, probably isn't making much of an effort to distinguish between the two. But anybody honestly and thoughtfully considering the issues shouldn't have much difficulty in recognizing that the two books aren't in the same category. The skeptical appeal to uncertainty, in which we're asked to consider the large number of books that circulated and might have been included in the canon, can also be applied in other contexts. Think of all of the documents that circulated in ancient times regarding political figures, philosophers, etc. How do we know which are authentic and which aren't? Should we put all of the books that circulated in the same category, just because they existed?

    Think of the large number of errors in Dagood's posts that have been documented by Steve and by others who have responded to Dagood. Think of how easily so many of his errors could have been avoided, if he had made more of an effort to study and think honestly.

  3. I am admittedly nowhere near as well schooled as most of you on forms of text criticism or the "state of the art" when it comes to contemporary scholarly viewpoints on authorship. But I was surprised with Steve's assertion that apostolic origin was not a determining factor as the early church struggled with the NT canon. Can anyone explain?

  4. And let me add, I would welcome any criticism of my responses to Dagood. Imagine, someone taking your criticism and actually learning from it! Surely this offer is too good to miss! :-)

  5. I did not deny that apostolicity was "a" consideration. But Dagood tries to make it the only consideration.

    What is more, we are not bound by the criteria of early church fathers. We can bring other or additional considerations to bear.

  6. Concerning the issue of apostolicity, I would put it this way. Apostolic authorship or apostolic approval would be sufficient for including a book in the canon. However, it isn't the only criterion we have. Jesus' support of the canonicity of Isaiah was sufficient reason for accepting Isaiah as part of the canon before any apostle referred to the book as scripture, even though Jesus wasn't an apostle and even though Isaiah wasn't written by an apostle. For some books, like Isaiah, we can have more than one reason for considering it Divinely inspired (Jesus' comments in support of its inspiration, the apostles' comments on the subject, the fulfilled prophecies contained in the book, etc.).

    The criterion of apostolicity is significant, though, in that it probably covers the whole canon. (In contrast, a characteristic like fulfilled prophecy isn't found in every book of the canon.) A good argument can be made to the effect that every one of the 66 books meets the standard of apostolicity. If the apostles accepted the Jewish Old Testament canonical consensus of their day, as seems likely, then all 39 books of the Old Testament could thereby be considered to have apostolic approval. Most of the New Testament books were written by an apostle. Among the minority that weren't, we either have good direct evidence for their apostolic approval (Luke, for example) or good indirect evidence that the early church thought the book was approved by the apostles (Jude, for example). There had to be some reason why high quality documents written by disciples of the apostles, like First Clement and Polycarp's letter to the Philippians, were excluded by the large majority of early churches, whereas documents like Mark's gospel and Jude were included. The best explanation seems to be that men like Clement of Rome and Polycarp wrote without apostolic approval, perhaps after the apostles had died. But even if we don't conclude that a book like Jude is apostolic in some sense, the standard of apostolicity would still cover the large majority of the canon.

    The reason why we would go from apostolicity to canonicity is because it seems that the early Christians who made that connection received it from the apostles. Paul's writings were considered scripture early on (2 Peter 3:15-16), and some of the apostolic and earliest patristic documents refer to documents by other authors as scripture (Paul apparently refers to Luke's gospel as scripture, The Epistle of Barnabas refers to Matthew's gospel as scripture, etc.). When you read an author like Justin Martyr or Irenaeus, notice that references to New Testament documents as scripture are widespread and presented as if no significant dispute is expected. These men seem to have thought it would be uncontroversial to set these books alongside the Old Testament. Justin Martyr refers to the churches in general having an established practice of reading the gospels in the same context as the Old Testament scriptures. And I'm not aware of any early critics of Christianity objecting that the New Testament was originally considered uninspired by the earliest Christians. The apostle Paul refers to apostolic teaching as the word of God in what might be the earliest document of the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 2:13). If the apostles are given unique authority by Jesus, including promises of unique guidance by the Holy Spirit who inspires scripture (John 14-16), and the apostles are the foundation of the church and its highest authority (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 2:20), and there's widespread early acceptance of the apostolic documents as scripture (including in the writings of the apostles themselves), then it seems likely that the canonicity of apostolic documents was a concept taught by the apostles themselves. Apparently, that was one of the elements of apostolic authority.

    While it's true, then, that apostolicity isn't the only canonical criterion we have, it is a highly significant criterion that arguably covers the entire canon. A criterion such as the consensus of the people of God could also be used to cover the whole canon. (Jesus and the apostles approved of the Old Testament canonical consensus of the Jews, which gives us precedent for trusting the New Testament canonical consensus of the early church.) When we're trying to give people a brief summary of the subject of the canon, I think that mentioning apostolicity is the best approach to take, and other criteria (prophecy, the consensus of the people of God, etc.) can be mentioned if there's an opportunity to go into more detail. Apostolicity is sufficient, but it can be supplemented.

  7. Kaff,

    Metzger, in The Canon of the NT (251-4), mentions 3 criteria used by the early church:

    1. Conformity to the rule of faith

    2. Apostolicity (which is broader than apostolic authorship, per se)

    3. Consensus, i.e. continuous acceptance and usage by the early church at large

  8. Thanks for the comments folks. Jason I have to admit I'm not completely sold on the idea that the OT canon rests on apostolic authority, since it was clearly considered scripture before any apostle was born. At most I would say the OT and NT are mutually authenticating.

  9. Kaffinator,

    I'm not saying that the Old Testament canon depends on apostolic authority. It doesn't. I'm saying that apostolic authority is one means of arriving at the Old Testament canon. Since apostolic authority also covers the New Testament, it's a standard that can be used to address both at once. It's a way of simplifying the issue. As I said before, other criteria can be included, but apostolicity has the advantage of covering more of the canon than a criterion such as prophecy.