Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Review Of Michael Licona's The Resurrection Of Jesus (Part 3)

Suffering And Martyrdom

Licona makes many good points about the suffering and martyrdom of the resurrection witnesses. I don't have much to add, but I do have a couple of items.

One thing I didn't notice Licona mentioning anywhere is a passage in Ignatius. Here's how the Ignatian scholar Allen Brent renders chapter 12 of Ignatius' letter to the Ephesians:

"You are on the passing of the ways for those slaughtered to attain God, fellow-initiates with Paul who has been sanctified, who has been martyred." (Ignatius Of Antioch [New York, New York: T & T Clark International, 2009], p. 72)

A third-century critic of Christianity, Porphyry, wrote:

"And yet no sooner was he [Paul] seized in Rome than this fine fellow, who said that we should judge angels, had his head cut off. And Peter again, who received authority to feed the lambs, was nailed to a cross and impaled on it. And countless others, who held opinions like theirs, were either burnt, or put to death by receiving some kind of punishment or maltreatment. This is not worthy of the will of God, nor even of a godly man, that a multitude of men should be cruelly punished through their relation to His own grace and faith, while the expected resurrection and coming remains unknown." (The Fragments, 36)

Porphyry is somewhat late, but his testimony has value as coming from a non-Christian source and as a reflection of what was commonly believed by the Christians he was interacting with in his day.

Clement Of Rome

Licona has a section in his book in which he evaluates some of the historical sources relevant to early Christianity, to judge how valuable they are in an investigation of Jesus' resurrection. I disagree with some of his material in that section of the book, partly for reasons I explained earlier in this review. What I want to do now is say more about some of the historical sources he does and doesn't address in that portion of the book. I'll begin with Clement of Rome today, then move on to some other sources tomorrow.

The evidence that Clement of Rome wrote First Clement and was a disciple of the apostles is better than Licona suggests. He writes:

"However, he [Eusebius of Caesarea] does not make a connection between him [Clement of Rome] and the author of 1 Clement." (p. 249)

Actually, Eusebius does make the connection. He refers to Clement as a disciple of the apostles and the author of First Clement:

"In the twelfth year of the same reign Clement succeeded Anencletus after the latter had been bishop of the church of Rome for twelve years. The apostle in his Epistle to the Philippians informs us that this Clement was his fellow-worker. His words are as follows: 'With Clement and the rest of my fellow-laborers whose names are in the book of life'. [Philippians 4:3] There is extant an epistle of this Clement which is acknowledged to be genuine and is of considerable length and of remarkable merit. He wrote it in the name of the church of Rome to the church of Corinth, when a sedition had arisen in the latter church. We know that this epistle also has been publicly used in a great many churches both in former times and in our own." (Church History, 3:15-16)

And elsewhere Eusebius refers to First Clement as "accepted by all" (Church History, 3:38). He acknowledges disputes over other documents, including Biblical documents, so he probably would have acknowledged the existence of disputes over First Clement if he had been aware of any.

Everett Kalin explains that, in the context of the canon of scripture, Eusebius was concerned about "genuine authorship", not just the orthodoxy or usefulness of a document, for example (in Lee McDonald and James Sanders, edd., The Canon Debate [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], p. 391). In section 3:25 of his church history, Eusebius comments that canonical books must be "true and genuine and commonly accepted". Genuine, as distinguished from true and commonly accepted, seems to be a reference to accurate authorship attribution. He criticizes heretics for publishing works under the name of an apostle, and he notes that the works of heretics can be detected, in part, by the fact that their writing style differs from that of the apostle they're impersonating. He was concerned that the documents not be falsely attributed.

Eusebius makes some comments in his discussion of First Clement that are reminiscent of what he says about the canonical literature. When he refers to the document as "accepted by all", he's probably saying that authorship by Clement is part of what's commonly accepted.

Licona goes on to mention some other sources who refer to Clement as a disciple of the apostles and/or refer to him as the author of First Clement. Licona writes:

"Tertullian (ca. A.D. 160-220) wrote of a Clement ordained by Peter for the church in Rome, but makes no mention of 1 Clement." (p. 249)

In the passage in question (The Prescription Against Heretics, 32), Tertullian is addressing church leadership, so we wouldn't have any reason to expect him to discuss documents that were written by those church leaders. He was identifying church leaders, not identifying their writings.

There's a significant aspect of the passage that Licona doesn't mention. Tertullian attributes his information about Peter and Clement to the records of the Roman church.

Licona mentions that Irenaeus both associates First Clement with Clement of Rome and identifies Clement as a disciple of the apostles. That's a significant piece of evidence. He also cites some other sources: Dionysius of Corinth, Clement of Alexandria, and pseudo-Ignatius.

But there are some he doesn't mention. Origen attributes First Clement to Clement of Rome and refers to him as a disciple of the apostles (Commentary On The Gospel Of John, 6:36). So does Jerome (Lives Of Illustrious Men, 15). Epiphanius refers to Clement as a disciple of the apostles (Panarion, 27:6), and it should be noted that he might be getting his information from Hegesippus, a second-century source. There's some significant evidence that he used some of Hegesippus' material in the passage in question. But we don't know whether his information on Clement in particular is derived from Hegesippus. See here.

There are other patristic sources who make similar comments. I'm not attempting to document all of the relevant passages. These are some representative examples.

First Clement would be a significant document even if Clement didn't write it or he wrote it, but wasn't a disciple of the apostles. It's a first-century document written by one apostolic church to another apostolic church. But if Clement did write the document, and he was a disciple of the apostles, then it becomes even more significant, as Licona rightly notes (p. 255). There is no reason to reject Clement's relationship with the apostles or his authorship of First Clement. And the evidence for those conclusions is early, widespread, and includes some testimony from Roman and Corinthian sources.


  1. Jason - you seem to have a really good grasp of the patristic evidence, and its relevance to many issues that concern the authenticity of the New Testament. Have you thought about compiling all of it and publishing it - at least in an on-line format (other than on this blog which is in constant motion)?

  2. Alex Dalton,

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    We occasionally put together ebooks, like This Joyful Eastertide and The Infidel Delusion, but it takes more work than producing blog posts, and people don't show much interest in ebooks. Online work, especially blogging, is different than other types of work. If you're a pastor or Sunday school teacher, you at least get to see the people attending your services or classes. You can tell, to some extent, whether they seem to be interested in what you're saying or, instead, are talking to other people, looking out the window, etc. With something like a blog, on the other hand, you don't have as much to go by. Traffic numbers for a blog don't tell you whether the people who came to the blog read any of the articles, which articles they read, etc. The interest level in my patristic material, judging by what little I have to go by, is low. There are reasons to keep posting it anyway, and I do sometimes consider working on something like an ebook, but I don't have plans to produce one at this point.

    As far as printed books are concerned, my understanding is that the average book sells less than one hundred copies. I'd probably have a hard time even getting to ten. If you somehow knew ahead of time that one person influenced by the book would go on to influence thousands or millions of other people, for example, then you could justify producing the book on that basis. Generally speaking, though, publishing a printed book seems to make even less sense than doing an ebook for somebody in my position. What would make more sense would be to contribute a chapter (or some other amount) to a book that somebody else is getting published. But I have no reason to expect to ever have that opportunity.

  3. By the way, the passage attributed to Porphyry above could come from some other source. We know that it comes from a non-Christian, and some scholars think the Christian who wrote the document in question was responding to Porphyry, but it's a disputed matter. Whether the comments came from Porphyry or somebody else, the source was a non-Christian.