Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Broad View Of Ipsissima Vox

I'm going to comment on two papers by Dan Wallace. In this post I will comment on a 1999 paper he read at the ETS ("An Apologia for a Broad View Of Ipsissima Vox"). In another post I'll comment on a 2000 paper read at the SBL:

Wallace never published these two papers. Due to rumors about their content, I was curious, so I asked one of my informants at the NSA to send me copies. 

To some extent this may have its background in an internecine battle between classical Dispensational hermeneutics, represented by TMS, and progressive dispensational hermeneutics, represented by DTS. In one footnote, Wallace takes aim at John MacArthur, Robert Thomas, and David Farnell.

Two technical expressions need to be defined at the outset of this paper. Ipsissima verba means "the very words" and ipsissima vox means "the very voice." These expressions are used in New Testament scholarship to refer to the words of Jesus and the ideas that Jesus communicated, respectively…Thus, ipsissima vox means that the conceptsgo back to Jesus, but the words do not—at least, not exactly as recorded. The issue of this paper has to do with how broadly we should define ipsissima vox. Many evangelicals take a fairly narrow view of it; I wonder if our definitions adequately handle all of the data.

The meaning of ipsissima verba is self-explanatory. By contrast, ipsissima vox is an artificial expression, modeled on ipsissima verba, as a kind of antithetical parallel. Ipsissima vox is an opaque term that has no evident meaning. Indeed, it's nonsensical. A misnomer. So any definition is purely stipulative. 

At the root of this, for many, may be something of a subconscious "docetic bibliology"…Such a view is inadvertantly anti-incarnational, for it divorces the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith.

That's a slipshod analogy which needs to be retired from theological discourse. The Incarnation is not a generic principle that you can stretch to cover other things, much less using that slapdash comparison as a benchmark to formulate inspiration.  

One of the greatest dichotomies that exists within evangelicalism today is that although we generally try to ground our exegesis in the biblical author's world, our theology is too often rooted in Greek philosophy, rationalism, the Enlightenment, and Scottish Common Sense Realism.

That's a jumbled overgeneralization. 

Commentators on Luke or Acts routinely note that Luke patterned his historiographical method after that of Thucydides…Yet Thucydides never pretended to produce the ipsissima verba in his reported speeches…Thus, the historian after whom the most historically sensitive writer in the New Testament patterned his own writings felt no compulsion_about getting the words exact—or even getting them close." He regarded faithfulness to be on the level of meaning, not vocabulary…Now if the genre of the gospels is in keeping historiographically with the best of ancient historians,1 should we not expect the gospel writers to employ at times a broad use of ipsissima vox?...And even if Luke consciously followed a Thucydidian model, the other evangelists, especially John, hardly seem to. On a continuum, Luke would be on one side and John on the other: If Luke is regarded as the most historically sensitive evangelist, John is often considered the most theologically sensitive. Hence, if Luke felt certain liberties in the speeches he recorded, John may well have done so much more.

i) The only evidence that Wallace offers for this claim is a citation from the 1951 edition of Bruce's commentary on the Greek text of Acts. Why doesn't Wallace at least reference the final, third, revised and expanded edition (1990) that Bruce issued shortly before his death?  Moreover, that has an important section on the speeches in Acts (§6).

ii) Why assume that Luke is patterned on Thucydides rather than OT historical narratives? 

iii) 1C Christians (indeed, Christians throughout church history) had far more interest in having the actual words of Jesus than readers of Thucydides had in knowing what some statesman or general said in reference to the Peloponnesian War, so the comparison is wildly inapt. 

iv) In some notable respects, John's Gospel is the most historically situated of all four Gospels.

Much if not most of Jesus' instruction was in Greek...Jesus usually spoke in Greek.

That's an interesting claim. Wallace cites an article by Stanley Porter:

However, Porter's thesis is far more modest. 

To avoid unnecessary repetition, I'm now going to provide some extensive excerpts from Wallace's paper, then discuss them en bloc:

The general pattern in each of the following five areas will be to begin with non-dominical material (i.e., material that is either narrative or the words from others besides Jesus) and conclude with dominical sayings. Prima facie, it seems that they are all of a piece, that the methods of reporting one are not significantly different from the methods of reporting the other.

One of the arguments for Markan priority involves the perception of a relatively exalted Christology in Luke and Matthew in comparison with Mark.26 For example, in Mark 6:5 the evangelist comments on Jesus' actions in his home town, "And he was not able to perform any miracle there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them." In v. 6 Mark adds, "And he was amazed at their unbelief." The parallel in Matt 13:58 softens the statement about the inability of Jesus: "And he did not do  many miracles there because of their unbelief." While Mark 6:6 implies the reason for Jesus' inability to perform miracles, Matthew's statement lacks any implication about inability, but adds a specific reason as to why Jesus' miracles were restricted. Similarly, in Mark 1:32, 34a we read that the townspeople brought to Jesus "those who were ill and demon-possessed... and he healed many who were ill from various diseases and cast out many demons..." The implication on the reader might be that Jesus was unable to cast them all out; Matthew's alteration is thus understandable: in Matt 8:16 the evangelist says, "they brought him many who were demon-possessed, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick." The parallel in Luke (4:40) is similar: "laying hands on each one of them, he healed them." Cf. also Mark 3:10 ("he healed many") with Matt 12:15 ("he healed all"). The exegetical questions evangelical scholars face on such passages are of two sorts: (1) Why didn't or couldn't Jesus heal all and (2) Can Matthew and Luke still be considered trustworthy guides on the Leben Jesu in light of such changes? Please understand: I am not saying that Matthew and Luke have somehow twisted the Markan statements; rather, it seems that Mark simply leaves things unnuanced and that Matthew and Luke clarify what was implicit in Mark. We should not take these questions lightly; nevertheless, however we resolve such issues it does seem that the synoptists* hermeneutical license is outside the scope of typical conservative historiographical definitions.

More significant than these examples are three dominical sayings. The first illustration involves the rich young ruler (never so called in any one gospel, though in the second century this pericope got that label). In Mark 10.17-18 we read: "As Jesus was starting out on his way, a man ran up to him, fell on his knees, and said, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.'" The parallel in Matt 19:16-17 has, "Then someone came to him and said, Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?' He said to him, 'Why do you ask me about what is good? Only one is good.'" The changes that Matthew makes are subtle, essentially involving the "good" referent: he changes it from a question about Jesus' identity to a question about the kinds of works needed for salvation. Such changes are very minor on the surface level, but seem to involve significant issues of Christology. They are evidently borne out of pious motives to deflect some historical problems that Mark's representation could involve. Part of the change involves Jesus' reply: Rather than "Why do you call me good?

In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus says in Mark 13:32, "But about that day or hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father." In the parallel in Matt 24:36 there is substantial doubt as to whether the words "nor the Son" are authentic. Without them, the text reads: "Now concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, except the Father alone." 

More significant than either of the previous two illustrations is the omission of "Abiathar" in Matthew's and Luke's parallels to Mark 2:26...1 will not here go into the theological difficulties that this text poses (nor their likely solutions), as this is the beyond the scope of the present inquiry.

This text does seem to illustrate, however, that some of the word changes in synoptic parallels of the dominical sayings may involve greater hermeneutical latitude than what is envisioned by our normal treatment of ipsissima vox.

The following discussion involves three illustrations that many evangelicals embrace as bona fide additions to the words of Jesus. First, the dominical aphorism in Mark 2:17, Matt 9:13, and Luke 5:32 is virtually identical in all three synoptics: "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners."31 But Luke adds at the end "to repentance", thus "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." 

Second, in the beatitudes, Luke 6:21 has "those who hunger now" while Matt 5:6 reports Jesus* words as "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." 

Third, in his discussions with the disciples/Pharisees concerning divorce. Mark 10:11-12 records Jesus as saying, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." Luke's version, in a different context (16:18), is briefer: "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."The problem with the Markan version is that, as far as we know, "the right of a wife to divorce her husband was not recognized by Jewish law."42 Thus, since Jesus was speaking to Jewish men, and is addressing in this clause not ethical precept but cultural realities, it seems difficult to claim that "And if she divorces her husband and marries another she commits adultery" really belongs to Jesus' original utterance. However, since Mark was writing to Gentiles in Rome (where women had been permitted to divorce their husbands for over one hundred years), he is apparently extrapolating a legitimate principle from Jesus' utterance The situation in Matt 19;9 is similar; there we read, "Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery." Matthew does not have the line about a woman divorcing her husband, but does add "except for immorality"—a phrase missing from both Mark's and Luke's accounts.

To sum up: There seems to be evidence in the synoptic gospels that, on occasion, words are deliberately added to the original savings of Jesus. In a few instances, these words seem to alter somewhat the picture that we would otherwise have gotten from the original utterance; in other instances, the meaning seems to be virtually the same, yet even here a certain amount of exegetical spadework is needed to see this. On the other hand, there seem to be examples within the synoptics where the words are similar, but the meaning is different.

The conundrum of multiple accusers of Peter's allegiance to Jesus in the night in which the Lord was betrayed, though not dominical sayings, illustrates how the gospel writers sometimes view those with "speaking parts" in the narrative. Matthew and Mark speak of two servant-girls and "some bystanders" as the three accusers (Matt 26:69, 71, 73/Mark 14:66, 69, 70) who prompted Peter's threefold denial of knowing Jesus; Luke speaks of one servant-girl, followed by two men (Luke 22:56, 58, 59); John lists a servant-girl, a group of people, and a male slave (John 18:17, 25, 26). As it stands (assuming that no gospel is necessarily trying to give a strict chronological sequence of events), at least two servant-girls, two men, and one group of people each asked the question and got a response. But that is five questions and five denials. Not only this, but an examination of the location of each denial (e.g., in the courtyard, at the gate, before the fire) complicates matters and seems to add even more denials.

But does the "speaker alteration" phenomenon happen with dominical sayings? It is possible that it does. In Luke 10:25-28 we read of a certain lawyer who asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responds, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" The lawyer then answers by combining two commandments,"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart..." (Deut 6:5), and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself'(Lev 19:18). In Matt 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-31 there is a similar incident involving a lawyer.

...while Mark 2:4 implies that a mud thatch roof was torn apart for a paralytic to gain access to Jesus, Luke 5:19 specifically calls it a tiled roof…Others argue that first century Palestine perhaps did have tiled roofs.65 Even if this possibility were conceded, it seems unlikely that Peter's house (where the miracle took place) had a tiled roof66 A more plausible explanation may be simply that "Luke here 'contextualized' the tradition for Theophilus and provided a thought-for-thought translation, whereas Mark in his description (cf. Mark 2:4) provided a word-for-word translation."67

In Mark 3:5 we read that Jesus looked around at the people in the synagogue "with anger", a comment omitted in Matt 12:13 and Luke 6:10. In Mark 1:12 it is claimed that "the Spirit drove him into the wilderness", while both Matthew and Luke soften the statement about the Spirit's role (Mart 4:1 has "Jesus was led up by the Spirit" and Luke 4:l says. "Jesus... was led by the Spirit." In Mark 4:38 the disciples seem to impugn Jesus' character when they ask, "Teacher, don't you care that we are perishing?" Both Luke and Matthew change this into a simpler statement that involves no such implied rebuke (Luke 8:24 reads, "Master, master, we are perishing" while Matt 8:25 has, "Lord, save [us]! We are perishing"). These examples represent only a small sampling of the kinds of redactional activities that the synoptic writers were engaged in. But even in the examples displayed here, the alterations in meaning seem to be more than what our typical views of historiography allow for.

Regarding dominical material, one of the most well-known and extensive examples involves the Olivet Discourse. In general, Luke focuses on the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew on the second coming, and Mark is somewhere in between. 

We will not belabor this point, since all New Testament scholars embrace the fundamental proposition that the gospels are not strictly chronological, but involve certain thematic arrangements that would wreak havoc of a simplistic chronological reading of the text...In other words, there seems to be no intent on the part of the evangelists to present a strict chronological sequence of events. Thus, from the different order of the devil's three temptations of Jesus (cf. Matt 4:1-11 with Luke 4:1-13) to the various placements of Jesus' healing miracles (collected especially in Matt 8-9 and generally more scattered in Mark and Luke70), this point can be easily established.

The question that we are entertaining here is this: Is it possible that some of the sayings of Jesus, and not just the events in his life, are dislocated or even patched

1. Before commenting on specific examples, let's consider key assumptions that underly Wallace's approach. Assuming traditional authorship, did the Gospel writers know each other? Presumably, Wallace isn't hostile to traditional authorship. He may even affirm it. Moreover, I think traditional authorship is highly defensible.

Assuming that's the case, Matthew and John undoubtedly knew each other. Indeed, they knew each other quite well, since they spent so much time together during the public ministry of Christ. Since Mark and Luke were both members of the Pauline circle, it's likely that they knew each other. Since Mark's home was located in Jerusalem, where the church was originally headquartered, and since his home as a house-church, it's likely that Mark knew the Eleven when Jerusalem was still their base of operations. Indeed, Mark may well have been an eyewitness to Jesus when he came to Jerusalem, or followed him around Palestine, with the crowd. Finally, it's safe to say that Luke made a point to hunt down the disciples. So it's likely that all four Gospel writers knew each other. 

That means there was probably a fair amount of information-sharing before they ever wrote their Gospels. Cross-pollination from many conversations before they ever wrote their Gospels. 

As a result, some Synoptic parallels, including Synoptic variants, could well be based on their recollection of conversations they had with each other. In that event, it's dubious to infer that Synoptic variants are redactional. Rather, Synoptic variants may be due to their remembering the gist of what they told each other. 

2. Assuming that Matthew and Luke read Mark, or that John read one or more of the Synoptics, this doesn't imply that variations in parallel accounts are due to conscious redaction. It's quite unlikely that they were writing with the text of another Gospel at hand. Rather, it's much more likely that they'd be working from memory–their recollection of what they read. In that case, differences in wording, sequence, &c. are due to the fact that they remember the gist of what they read. They write differently because they remember differently.

It's ironic that Wallace and other NT scholars lay so much emphasis on remembering the gist of what a speaker said, yet it doesn't seem to occur to them that the same dynamic applies to reading a book. Luke could well get some information from Mark in person. But suppose he got some information from Mark's Gospel. That doesn't mean that when Luke writes his own Gospel, he's constantly referencing the text of Mark. Rather, he paraphrases Mark because memory is paraphrastic. The way we remember the content of a book is to subconsciously make a mental summary of the content. That's not a literary process. Memory is editorial. Memory is selective. Memory condenses. Memory rewords.

Different people remember different things, as well as some of the same things. If you go to a movie with a friend, then discuss the movie afterwards, different things stand out for different viewers. You're describing the same movie, but particular scenes significant to you may be insignificant to your friend. You have different interests. 

3. There's a basic difference between reporting a speech and reporting an event. When reporting an event, a reporter has to verbalize what he saw. The event is nonverbal. But when reporting a speech, the speech, by virtue of being speech, is already verbalized. 

The fact that Matthew, Luke, and/or John may not reproduce how Mark worded the description of an event doesn't create any presumption that they exercise the same license when reporting a speech or conversation by Jesus. Suppose Matthew, Mark, and/or John saw the same event, and one of them wrote it down first. Even if Matthew or John read Mark, there's no reason they'd feel bound to reproduce his verbal description of the event if they were independent witnesses to the same event. It's only natural for them to record what they saw in their own words. Having read Mark, that may have some influence on how they write about the same event, but that doesn't control how they remember and report it. These variations aren't presumptively due to editing Mark. Rather, if they saw it for themselves, then you'd expect some variation. 

4. Sometimes the order may vary because they don't know the original order. For instance, Jesus was alone in the wilderness when Satan tempted him. Only he knows the order of temptations. If he tells the disciples about his experience in the wilderness, he doesn't necessarily narrate the temptations in a particular order. Since they weren't there, the sequence is flexible. Even if (ex hypothesi) the disciples were with Jesus in the wilderness, the order of the temptations might be inaudible or invisible to an outside observer. What if the devil appeared to Jesus in a series of visions? 

5. Apropos (4), Mark and Luke may arrange some material topically, not because they're rearranging the original sequence, but because they doesn't know the original sequence. They doesn't know when and where Jesus said this and that. 

6. Regarding divorce, in the cosmopolitan context of the Roman Empire, there's no reason to assume Jesus only spoke to Jewish audiences. We'd expect gentiles as well as Jews to be in the crowds that followed him around. Parts of Palestine were predominantly gentile. Greeks and Romans lived in Jerusalem, along with Jews. 

What about intermarriage between Jews and gentiles? Would Jewish law or Roman law govern divorce in those cases? 

7. Regarding the tile roof, I don't object to the possibility that Luke uses an architectural term more familiar to his gentile audience. I am, however, amused by the assumption that Peter's house must have had a uniform style. 

Two years before I was born, my parents bought a waterfront property with a log beach cabin. Then, when my mother was pregnant with me, they made an addition in a completely different style. And my parents did a lot of the construction on their own. Then a few years after that, then had another addition, by professional carpenters. As a result, I was raised in a composite house in three different styles with three different roofs. Redaction critics would have a field day. 

8. Regarding Peter's multiple accusers, consider a family reunion. There are rotating conversation partners. Repetition as a different relative asks the same question. ("So, how are the kids?" "How's your job?"). Conversations take place in the living room, dinning room, kitchen, man cave, backyard. 

Suppose, after they went home they made diary entries about the family reunion. Comparing diary entries, it would be hard for someone who wasn't there to sort it out. Heck, it would be hard for someone who was there to sort it out since he can only be in one room at a time, having one conversation at a time. But that doesn't mean the diary entries are contradictory. Rather, the social interaction was complicated. 


  1. Notice the assumption that a variation is never just a variation. Matthew could not simply have not bothered or not remembered to include "nor the Son" or "in the days of Abiathar," either from his own experience of the event or from his reading of Mark. He must be suppressing the for some heavy reason, because (in essence) Jesus needs a little help to appear sufficiently divine. "Facepalm, Jesus, why'd you have to say that 'in the days of Abiathar' thing? I'm just going to pretend you didn't say that and hope people don't notice."

    The business about "he healed all" vs. "he healed many" is one of the absurdities of NT criticism. I have cited it repeatedly (as in my Six Bad Habits webinar) as an example of What's Wrong With New Testament Scholarship. If you find yourself thinking there was some heavy reason for such a difference in wording, you are not letting Matthew and Mark simply tell a story in their own words, and you should ask yourself, "What's wrong with my approach?" Because something surely is wrong.

  2. What is your view on Scottish Common Sense Realism and it's influence on biblical exegesis?

    1. I haven't seen much evidence for that claim. It's routinely said that the Old Princeton theology was in the tank for Scottish Common Sense Realism, but I haven't seen anyone document that in Warfield. And even so, I don't see how that would have much impact on biblical exegesis. It would be more germane to apologetics.