Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Plausibility Of Alleged Doublets And Other Parallels In The Bible And Elsewhere

Critics often object that the similarities among two or more events reported in the Bible make it unlikely that all of the reports are historical. Sometimes it's even alleged that the similarities suggest it's unlikely that any of the reports are historically accurate. Supposedly, there must have been some single underlying tradition that was developed in different ways by different sources and eventually took the form of reporting multiple events, even though there actually was only one event or no event at all. Jesus' feeding of the five thousand and his feeding of the four thousand surely didn't both happen, especially the lack of anticipation on the part of his disciples in the context of the second miracle. Similar reasoning is applied to the accounts about Abraham and Isaac and their wives in Genesis 20 and Genesis 26, the multiple accounts of the healing of the blind in Matthew (in contrast to only one similar account in the other Synoptics), etc.

A variation of this kind of objection is to allege that a Biblical source is too similar to an extrabiblical one. Old Testament passages must have been derived from similar ancient accounts in other cultures. Claims made about Jesus in the New Testament are too similar to ancient pagan mythology. And so on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Are Gnostic and pagan documents part of Roman Catholic tradition?

In the mid 1990s, I met a man online named John Wallace who impressed upon me the value of hostile corroboration. He made good use of the corroboration of Christianity that we have from ancient non-Christian sources. I also read some material in Philip Schaff's church history that left an impression on me in that context. A series I wrote on the canon of scripture several years ago has a segment about hostile corroboration of the New Testament canon, and it concludes with a quote from the material in Schaff's church history I just referred to. Ever since I came across Wallace and Schaff's work, I've given a lot of attention to hostile corroboration as a line of evidence. You can find many traces of it in my work over the years.

I often think of that line of evidence when I see Catholics and Orthodox claim that Protestants are relying on Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox tradition when we accept our canon of scripture, interpret it in light of ancient sources, or some such thing. They act as though anything outside of scripture should be equated with Catholic or Orthodox tradition. I know that hostile corroboration has long been a large part of what shapes my views on matters like the canon of scripture and scripture interpretation. When Bible translators make judgments about how to render the Biblical text, Biblical commentators decide how to best interpret certain Biblical passages, and so forth, they rely partly on information they're getting from Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Trypho, Celsus, Porphyry, archeological artifacts, and other ancient non-Christian sources. And something like a New Testament manuscript or a catacomb inscription isn't always accompanied by an extensive statement of faith on the part of the individual(s) who produced the manuscript or inscription. Think of the absurdity of suggesting that everything from Josephus to Celsus to an ancient New Testament manuscript from a largely unknown source is equivalent to Roman Catholic Sacred Tradition.

But many Protestants are taken in by that sort of argumentation. And many Catholics and Orthodox think they're arguing well when they utilize such poor arguments. That's largely because we're such a secular, trivial culture that doesn't think and talk about issues like these nearly enough.

If a Catholic or Orthodox just wants to argue that part of what Protestants are relying on is Catholic or Orthodox tradition, then that qualifier should be added upfront rather than later in the discussion. And they should justify their claim about partial dependence on their tradition and explain why that partial dependence allegedly is problematic. A Protestant doesn't have to accept, and shouldn't accept, the assumption that all or even most of the church fathers or other early Christians were Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. And even if they had been Catholic or Orthodox, Catholics and Orthodox often depend on information they get from Protestant or other non-Catholic or non-Orthodox archeologists, historians, Bible translators, patristic scholars, etc. So what? All of us make our historical judgments, including judgments about matters like religion and morals, on the basis of testimony or other evidence from sources outside our church, denomination, or ecclesiastical movement. Again, so what?

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Protestants Aren't The Only Ones With Solas

To add to what I said in my last post, it's important that Protestants keep in mind that we aren't the only ones with solas. We use the sola terminology more explicitly and more often than others, but we aren't the only ones who accept such concepts. Every rule of faith has parameters. It includes some things while excluding others. It doesn't have to be sola scriptura in order to be sola something. So, if a Catholic, Orthodox, or somebody else wants to complain that he doesn't understand how sola scriptura works in some context, you can ask him if he understands how his own sola works in that context. If he claims that Protestants are being inconsistent by doing X while affirming sola scriptura, ask him if he's being inconsistent by doing X while affirming his own sola. It's often adequate to say, "Scripture is to me what your rule of faith is to you."

It's remarkable how large of a percentage of objections to Protestantism consist of the sort of inconsistencies on the part of the objector that I've been addressing in these last two posts. Take away those inconsistencies, and you take away a large percentage of what many critics of Protestantism consider their best objections.