Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Review Of James White's Debate With Robert Price (Part 2)

White makes another good point when he notes that so many of Price's examples of alleged errors in the Bible are easy to answer. (See, for example, their discussion of Jesus' references to taking up your cross and following Him, which Price claims the historical Jesus wouldn't have said.) Skeptics often appeal to the quantity of their objections, even though the quality of many of them is so poor.

Price repeatedly makes the point that there's "no evidence" in Paul's writings for things mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. But White explained why we shouldn't expect Paul to mention such things, and simply saying that Paul doesn't mention them doesn't give us reason to reject the claims of other sources who do mention them. Besides, much of what Price claims Paul didn't mention actually does seem to have been mentioned or alluded to in his writings. See, for example, here and here. 1 Timothy 5:18 seems to cite Luke's gospel as scripture (George Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000], pp. 233-235), which creates a series of problems for Price's view if 1 Timothy was written by Paul or even by an early follower of Paul.

Price has suggested that none of the writings attributed to Paul were written by him, not even the ones commonly accepted as Pauline by liberal scholarship. I've written against that theory at length in the past, such as in the comments section of the thread here. We have other posts on the subject in our archives. The issue came up in the White/Price debate, and Price said the following about early patristic references to Paul:

"Nobody knows a thing about Paul. Justin Martyr never mentions him."

Quotations of Paul's letters aren't the only issue that's relevant here. Allusions would be relevant as well. See, for example, the scripture index in Michael Slusser's edition of Justin's Dialogue With Trypho (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2003). Oskar Skarsaune writes:

"There is no reason to doubt that Justin made extensive use of Paul's letters, especially Romans and Galatians....Justin can be shown to have borrowed many of Paul's quotations directly from him, as well as some of Paul's expositions." (in Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, edd., Justin Martyr And His Worlds [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2007], p. 74)

See, also, the notes for Skarsaune's comments on that page, which give examples and further documentation.

Justin refers to "the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them" (Dialogue With Trypho, 103). Notice the plural: "apostles" and "those who followed them". The use of the plural matches our four gospels: apostles (Matthew, John) and those who followed them (Mark, Luke). Justin doesn't cite the number four anywhere, but his comments are consistent with the collection of four gospels that sources living just after Justin's time refer to. Luke was a disciple of Paul, so Justin seems to be referring to Paul as an apostle. Price's claim that "nobody knows a thing about Paul" and his claim that "Justin Martyr never mentions him" are false.

And how does Price get around the references to Paul and his writings in earlier patristic sources? He dismisses First Clement and all seven Ignatian letters as forgeries.

How does he know that First Clement is a forgery? He mentions its length. Supposedly, nobody wrote letters that long. As if there was some rule in antiquity that prevented people from writing letters beyond a particular length. As if violation of such a rule couldn't have occurred if such a rule existed. As if we couldn't just assign First Clement to some other genre rather than assuming that it must be a forgery if it doesn't meet the alleged requirements of the letter genre Price has in mind. Michael Holmes comments that First Clement "closely conforms" to the ancient genre of "a symbouleutic or deliberative letter" (The Apostolic Fathers [Grand Rapdis, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005], p. 24).

Price also says that First Clement's comments about the deaths of Peter and Paul are reminiscent of comments made about their deaths in later sources. First Clement 5 mentions that they died because of the jealousy of their opponents. How does Price know that jealousy wasn't involved? That alleged parallel to later literature is far too vague to support Price's theory. What if the later literature borrowed from First Clement or both borrowed from some other source? Price's defense of his theory about First Clement is absurd. The theory itself is absurd.

What about Ignatius? See here. Price objects that Ignatius wouldn't have been writing letters in a context in which his Roman guards were treating him in the hostile manner described within those letters. They wouldn't have let their prisoner write letters while they were in the process of abusing that prisoner. But as Allen Brent explains, it was common for a prisoner in the Roman empire to be allowed access to visitors and thereby receive food, send letters, etc. Those who visited prisoners would give gifts to the guards, and would relieve the guards of the responsibility of providing food and other necessities for the prisoner, thus giving the guards incentive for allowing the visitors access to the person under their watch. Lucian, a second-century pagan critic of Christianity, confirms the historicity of such practices when he describes the behavior and treatment of Christian prisoners. Thus, there's nothing unlikely about the scenario presented in Ignatius' letters, in which he's in frequent contact with other Christians on his way to martyrdom (Ignatius Of Antioch [New York, New York: T & T Clark International, 2009], pp. 49-51, 110). The guards would abuse him at times, but would be open to giving him some freedom in exchange for gifts from visitors.

Regarding references to Paul and the use of his letters in other early sources, see Bruce Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) and Clayton Jefford's The Apostolic Fathers And The New Testament (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006). Price's theory is terribly implausible.

The last question in the audience question segment of the debate was about the existence of souls and an afterlife. I would argue for both of those from the Bible. But there's a lot of extra-Biblical evidence as well. Price doesn't seem to know much about the subject. See, from a non-Christian perspective, Stephen Braude's Immortal Remains (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003).

A lot of other subjects came up during the debate, and Price was more reasonable on some issues than he was concerning the topics I've focused on here. But the general pattern was for him to try to plant seeds of doubt without making much of an effort to convert those seeds from possibilities into probabilities. He accuses Christians of "baptizing the improbable into the probable" (John Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion [Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010], p. 289), but he spent most of the debate trying to baptize the probable into the improbable by raising unlikely doubts.


  1. I tried twice to post this under the relevant blog by Patrick Chan and once another time under a different blog by Patrick Chan. But each time my comment will not appear or I will receive an error message. So I'm going to try to post this here and see if it works:

    Thanks for the link. I was going to post this comment at the linked to site, but I see that it is from 2009 so I might not get much of a response.

    I was reading Augustine's City of God yesterday and came across this passage:

    "For in his [Porphyry's] book called [ek logion philosophias], in which he collects and comments upon the responses which he pretends were uttered by the gods concerning divine things, he says—I give his own words as they have been translated from the Greek: 'To one who inquired what god he should propitiate in order to recall his wife from Christianity, Apollo replied in the following verses.' Then the following words are given as those of Apollo: 'You will probably find it easier to write lasting characters on the water, or lightly fly like a bird through the air, than to restore right feeling in your impious wife once she has polluted herself. Let her remain as she pleases in her foolish deception, and sing false laments to her dead God, who was condemned by right-minded judges, and perished ignominiously by a violent death.'"(19.23.1)

    Porphyry was around 234-305 (according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

    Could someone with more historical acumen than me tell me whether this passage might have any weight in a list of early persons who attest to Jesus' existence? (Along the same lines as the Julius Africanus reference and perhaps around the end of the list, having little, but some, weight?)

  2. Jonathan,

    Yes, the passage has some weight as evidence of Jesus' existence. There are many such passages in the literature of the patristic era. Jesus' existence is something that was widely affirmed both by ancient Christians and ancient non-Christians.