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[Textual Criticism Criticisms]
I do not take Steven Carr -- author of the self-proclaimed "UK's Leading Atheist Page" -- seriously as an opponent. This article we address here is one reason why (and there are many others), and we offer rebuttal here as an exemplar.
Two articles on Carr's page are devoted to the question of whether the four Gospels are eyewitness accounts (or, in the case of Mark and Luke, based on them). Let's start with a few basic questions Carr asks:
Why would an eyewitness like Matthew need to use ninety percent of somebody else's book? Why would Luke, a companion of Paul, need to use a written source like Mark? If Luke knew Paul and Paul knew Peter, and Peter told Paul many stories about Jesus, then Luke could have written about Jesus from what he himself had heard, rather than relying on second or third-hand information.
It should be noted, first of all, that Carr asks these questions on the basis of the typical thesis of literary dependence that supposes Mark to be the first gospel and Q to have existed - which we have noted elsewhere, as has Glenn Miller, is not as sure a conclusion as has been asserted.
We have addressed the first question in this set of essays, and what we have said there goes far in answering the remaining two questions: One must show, first, that direct copying is a better explanation than parallel oral tradition; second, one must recall that even under the literary thesis in question, direct copying is not necessarily an equation with the copyist not being an eyewitness.
Since neither of these has been shown, Carr's inquiries are simply a case of lack of information pursuing irrelevant questions.
But now, to the specific question of each gospel being based on an eyewitness.
Mark. Carr cites the following basic reasons against Mark being based on eyewitness testimony (of Peter): Noting that the view that Mark is based on Peter's recollections is based on Eusebius' 4th-century report of Papias' 2nd-century words, Carr objects that "it seems that the evidence that Mark's Gospel was based on Peter's witness is a quote centuries later, of a lost work, by someone who gives no arguments or explanation as to why we should assume that he was correct."
The piggybacking of quotes has never been considered problematic by any reputable historian that I know of, and the mistaken "hearsay" objection is of no relevance here. If Eusebius presents no "arguments or explanation," then we apologize on his behalf for not recognizing the demands and needs of a certain skeptic 1600 years later. Carr is not given leave to invent new restrictions and rules on the spot.
Working within Mark now, Carr proposes to show that "(t)ime and time again, we see Matthew correcting Mark's blunders about Judaism" and pulls up a series of reasons why he believes that Mark could not have been as close to Peter, and the Jerusalem church, as has been supposed from the evidence of Papias. Some of these we will recognize as objections covered before, and we will link to our relevant responses.
- Comparing Matthew 15:4 with Mark 7:10, Mark represents a more Gentile attitude in quoting the Old Testament as "Moses said" rather than "God said." Matthew, a Jew, would never have attributed the 10 commandments to Moses. It was God who said them, as all Jews will tell you.
As we have shown in our reply to Earl Doherty, such scrupulous methods of citation did not obtain in antiquity. Furthermore, Carr has failed to make a comparison to see whether this sort of citation obtains throughout Matthew and Mark, and in the rest of the NT.
In Matthew 8:4, something "commanded by Moses" comes from Levitcus, where the words were actually spoken by God to Moses (as the Ten Commandments were).
Paul, whom I think Carr would agree was a Jew, attributes to "Moses" things that are said by God (Rom. 10:5//Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:19//Deut. 32:21). These indicate that "Moses" was used as a shorthand for anything in the books attributed to him.
Finally, it should be added that the Commandments were actually both spoken by God at Mount Sinai and written down by Moses in Deuteronomy, so that technically, both citations are correct. There is simply no support here for Carr's assertion at all, and in fact, what he describes is easily attributable to acceptable variations within oral tradition, as are many of the variations we will see.
- Mark 5:22: "One of the rulers of the synagogue." Diaspora synagogues may sometimes have had more than ruler, as at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:15), but Palestinian synagogues normally had only one. Matthew 9:18, drops this phrase.
We have no evidence that all synagogues in Palestine had only one ruler, and as this was the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum, there is no guarantee that the independent-minded Galileeans there followed supposed typical Palestinian practice over sometime Diaspora practice. Furthermore, what Matthew says is that "a ruler" came - if he has seen Mark, he has not corrected him at all.
I might add that if this were anything but the NT, this would probably be taken as evidence that the synagogues did have more than one ruler.
- Mark 14:12: On the first day of unleavened bread when they sacrificed the Passover, confuses Nisan 15 with Nisan 14. Naturally, Matthew 26:17 drops the phrase "when they sacrificed the Passover". Was Mark a Jew who did not know about the Passover?
Not at all: There is evidence (in rabbinic sources and in Josephus) that 14 Nisan was sometimes loosely referred to as the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. See here for more information.
- Mark 14:13 says that the disciples were to be met by a man carrying a pitcher of water. Matthew 26:18 drops the idea that a Jewish man would do a woman's work.
One is hard pressed to see why this should be a problem. Perhaps Matthew would indeed drop this idea, but why is it a problem? Perhaps this was some sort of servant, maybe even a Gentile servant? What did single Jewish men whose mothers or wives had died or were sick or not around at the moment do? The man carrying the pitcher may also have been a member of the Essene faction, whose men eschewed marriage and carried their own water.
- Mark 15:42, "When evening was already come, because it was Friday (paraskeue) that is, the day before the sabbath ..." . This means "either that Friday began with that sunset, and Jesus had died on Thursday; or else, the evangelist forgot [or did not know] that the Jewish day began at evening." Matthew 27:57-62 clarifies Mark's confusion over Jewish days.
There is no "confusion" at all - the term "evening" here referred to a time 1-2 hours before and after sunset, a 4-hour time span. The point is that Friday had less than a couple of hours to go.
- Mark 15:46 says that that same evening Joseph of Arimathea "bought a linen cloth." Matthew drops the idea of a Jew buying something on the Sabbath. No Jew could have made that mistake.
Could not the purchase have been made prior to the Sabbath, with Mark simply reporting it as a matter of fact rather than a matter of chronology, in line with the occassional practice of reporting matters topically? Could not Joseph have had a Gentile servant buy the cloth? Could Joseph have perhaps been a progressive sort who figured that it was better to obey the spirit of the law and honor a deceased holy man of God and not worried about the letter of the law which (according to the then-current paradigm, at least) forbade buying things on the Sabbath?
- Mark 1:2 wrongly ascribes Malachi 3:1 to Isaiah. Matthew 3:3 corrects this
Actually, what Mark does is conflate a quote from Malachi and Isaiah, and attributes it to the "major name" prophet. Matthew only quotes Isaiah's portion alone. Matthew does the same thing with quotes from Jeremiah and Zechariah (Mt. 27:10ff). Once again Carr neglects to consider how quotations were done in antiquity.
- In Mark 2:7 the teachers of the law complain that Jesus is forgiving sins and say 'Who can forgive sins but God alone?'. Jews did not think that. Matthew 9:3 drops the phrase.
Actually, as we have shown, Jews did think this, and the cite of the Prayer of Nabodinus is not relevant. At any rate, Matthew does have the Jews object that Jesus was blaspheming; what does Carr think that the blasphemy was?
- Mark 2:26 - Abiathar should be Ahimelech. Matthew 12:1-8 does not repeat the mistake.
See our reply here.
- Mark 10:19 misquotes the Ten Commandments and inserts an extra commandment: "Do not defraud." Matthew 19:18-20 sticks to the orginal 10, plus the one that many Rabbis regarded as a summary of the commandments.
We have discussed this matter elsewhere.
- Mark 15:34 has Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1 in Aramaic (Eloi). Had Jesus done this, bystanders could hardly have supposed that he was calling for Elijah. Jesus must have used Hebrew Eli, as at Matthew 27:46.
Again, I'm not sure why this is a problem (it's borrowed from Randel Helms, by the way) - does Carr suppose that the two very similar words "Eli" or "Eloi", without any contextual clues as was the case with other things said from the cross, would have been found to be any more distinct when said by a man hoisted on a cross ten feet above the ground, suffocating to death, dying of thirst with his tongue swollen, bloodied, beaten and possibly barely conscious? Can we assume that Aramaic was Mark's native tongue?
- The Mark 7:31 objection.
- The Mark 8:10 objection.
- The Mark 5:1 objection.
- A few items on Herod and John the Baptist; see here.
- Carr next lists several "(p)laces where Matthew adds Jewish elements which 'Mark' overlooked" or places where Mark "has to explain Jewish features" and Aramaic names, and also notes that Mark "never explains Gentile matters," and uses Latin loanwords and timescales.
None of these are the least surprising if Mark is writing to Gentile readers in Rome who would either find such appeals pointless or would need or request the explanations noted. Mark was not writing to inform himself, and these cites certainly add nothing to Carr's case against Peter as the source-witness. Among the items cited are the Mark 10:12 objection.
Carr is aware of the Roman-readership explanation, but offers little to subvert it. He says that such readers "would have found it hard to check the Gospel stories," which means nothing in terms of whether Peter was a source.
Are we to suppose that the Gospel could not be preached outside of a 50-mile radius of Palestine for fear of hearers not being able to check sources?
He also says that "Mark never acknowledges Peter's authority," which assumes that there was a need to do so; unless Peter was a self-aggrandizing sort, or unless his authority was not recognized, there was no need for him to mention the parallel story in Matthew 16:17-20 and Luke 22:28-32. At the same time, Carr fails to recognize the unique Petrine stamp upon Mark's Gospel.
Carr goes on to claim that "(t)here is nothing in Mark which a well educated Roman Gentile would not have known," but his only example given is, when Mark 15:38 talks about the curtain of the Temple, Roman Gentiles would have known that the Temple had a curtain, as it was taken to Rome after Jerusalem was sacked.
I don't think that Mark 15:38 is intended to educate Roman readers about the Temple having a curtain, any more than Matthew 27:51, which says exactly the same thing, is intended to educate Matthew's Jewish readers. At the same time, not all of Mark's "readers" were well-educated; in a time when the literacy rate was at most 10%, I doubt if most people had the ability (much less the leisure) to go about reading Josephus and looking into the sort of Jewish customs Mark takes time to describe.
- Carr then attempts to demonstrate "contradictions in Mark's stories". Let's look at these:
- Mark 4:11 says that the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to the disciples. What was this secret? When was it given to the disciples, who seem totally ignorant of who Jesus was (Mark 4:41)? The words are spoken proleptically, in terms of the "long view" of the disciples' participation in Jesus' ministry.
- In Mark 6:7-13 till 29-30 the disciples are sent out to preach and teach...As the disciples did not know Jesus was the Messiah until Mark 8:30, that must have been interesing! (sic)
Carr accompanies this with an imaginative dialogue in which Peter tells people to "Repent of your sins, and follow Jesus of Nazareth." But Jesus' original message did not specify that he was the Messiah at all (Mark 2:15-17), but focussed instead on the impending Kingdom of God.
Moreover, Carr asks, "What could the disciples have preached and taught in Mark 6 that had anything to do with the secret of the kingdom of God? Why send people out to teach without explaining that you are the Messiah?"
For the first, I suggest one read the teachings prior to Mark 6 -- and not make the mistake of assuming that what is recorded there represents the WHOLE of Jesus' teachings in that time, rather than just selections, in accordance with ancient biographical practice.
For the latter, I refer to some of the social reasons for being circumspect in proclaiming one's Messiahship.
- They were also given power over evil spirits, but it is not until Mark 9:29 that Jesus explains that they have to pray first before driving out a demon. How did the disciples drive out demons before that, when Jesus had neglected to give them such basic instruction as to pray first?
On this matter see here.
- Mark 7:14 gives some instruction about the Law which a simpleton could grasp, yet Jesus tells the disciples in verse 18 that they are without understanding. These are the preacher-teachers who had been given the secret of the kingdom of God.
Carr here and in points following fails to grasp that Mark relies upon an "ignorance motif" to explain many of his points and develop his material from a literary perspective, but even so, what's with the insults? Jesus made a point that seems simple, yes, but Jewish learning thrived on give-and-take and determining applications, and since we have no indication that any of the disciples (other than Matthew, perhaps) had any special rabbinical training, why should they not have needed clarification?
- Despite not being able to understand, and not knowing, elementary instruction about the Law, they had already by chapter 3 had liberal practices on fasting and the Sabbath,and the whole teaching of chapter 7 (which the disciples did not understand) was caused by a question about the practices of those same disciples!
I really don't see what the problem is.
- Don't forget that these preacher-teachers , who had been given the secret of the Kingdom of God in 4:11, had had their hearts hardened in 6:52, so that they did not understand even such a blatant miracle as walking on water...Why give the disciples the secret of the kingdom of God and then harden their hearts so that they don't understand it?
Who hardened whose heart where? This objection makes no sense either.
Carr does not do a separate article on Matthew; he merely dismisses that Gospel because it "used Mark heavily" and supposes that the author "could not have been an eyewitness, or he would have chosen a better source." Again, I do not expect Carr to re-invent the wheel, but he'll have to defend this thesis rather than just assume it.
We move now to his comment on Luke.
- If Luke was written after Mark and as even the earliest Christians acknowledged that Mark was written after Peter's death, then Luke would have had trouble intervewing eyewitnesses. Besides, Luke knew very little Aramaic and shows little knowledge of Judaea.
I'm pretty safe with the idea that Luke wrote the final version of his Gospel after Mark's, but that didn't stop him for collecting data before that...and that Mark wrote his Gospel after Peter's death is not quite clear-cut.
- Luke 3:27 says that Rhesa was the son of Zerubabbel. But Rhesa is an Aramaic word meaning 'Prince' and was Zerubabbel's title, not the name of his son.
It isn't? How does Carr know that Zerubabbel didn't name his kid "Prince"? Don't we have someone formerly named "Prince" today?
Just kidding. But the point remains the same, and if you think it unlikely that anyone would name their kid "Prince" in this time, check out the meaning of some OT names.
- In Acts 4:36 , Barnabas does not mean 'Son of Encouragement', but 'Son of Nebo' or 'Son of a prophet'. To quote Hanson in 'Acts' (Oxford University Press 1967, p 81), 'it is unlikely that anybody who knew Aramaic could have made this mistake'. Barnabas appears in a list in Acts 13:1, together with Manaen (Menahem), whose name is much closer to 'Son of Encouragement'. Presumably Luke misread his list. He certainly never asked Barnabas what his name meant.
Forget the possibility of Nebo, a pagan god: Take a look at nabi (prophet) more closely. Then understand "son" not in a biological sense, but in the sense of "one who habitually does this thing" (somewhat like our crude expression, "son of a gun"). Nabi means prophet, or preacher; a preacher or prophet is one who exhorts and encourages.
Thus Barnabas is being called here "the habitual preacher", exhorter, and encourager, which does fit in nicely with how he is portrayed in Acts.
- Luke 4:18-19 says that Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, but the text given was not on any scroll of Isaiah. As Robert J. Karris writes in 'The New Jerome Bible Commentary' (section 43:59) 'As the analysis of verses 18-19 will make clear, this Isaiah text is not to be found on a synagogue scroll. It is an artistic text, woven from Isa 61:1-2 and Isa 58:6.' Luke quotes from the Septuagint version of Isaiah and quotes Isaiah 61:1 a,b,d, Isaiah 58:6 d and Isaiah 61:2a. Luke mixed together two different chapters from Isaiah.
Sure enough, he did, but what's the problem here? Is it supposed that Jesus read only these passages and said a single sentence, and that was the end of the sermon? Luke is simply exercising his right as a historian of this period, as he does in Acts, and summarizing what was said. Only wooden literalism and a lack of understanding of the literary-historical context finds reason to object.
- In Acts 4:5, Luke, as also in Luke 3:2 , seems to be under the impression that Annas and
Caiaphas could both be high priest at the same time.
Luke says no such thing; we know from sources like Josephus that "former" high priests retained the title even after their tenure.
- Acts 3:10 says one of the Temple gates was called the 'Beautiful'. No such name has ever been found in a Jewish source. The Jews should know what they called the Temple gates.
And I'm sure they did, but this objection is an argument from silence and means nothing. If this were not the NT, it would be taken as clear evidence that one gate was called or nicknamed "Beautiful" by some segment of Jewish society.
- Acts 3:11 is confused about where Solomon's porch was. It was attached to the outside perimeter.
And Acts 3:11 does not say it wasn't. What's the confusion here?
- Acts 10:1 says that there were Roman troops (the Italian Cohort) at Caesarea from 41 - 44 AD. The first mention of the Italian Cohort is in AD 69 and there was no Roman Procurator of Judaea between Marullus in AD 44 and Cuspius Fadus in AD 44. Who would have been in charge of these troops?
Actually, all that Acts 10:1 says is that the centurion was a member of this cohort, not that the cohort was itself there. We might suspect that Cornelius, being a God-fearer, actually was residing in the area rather than acting officially.
Even so, how has Carr managed to pinpoint the time of this event between 41-44? I might add that if this were anything other than the NT, I suspect Carr would say that this was the first mention of the Italian cohort, rather than insinuating that Luke has committed an error.
- Acts 23:23-31 has the Roman garrison send more than half its troops (470 soldiers to escort one man) from Jerusalem to Antipatris, a trip of 45 miles which the foot soldiers do in one night! We won't enquire how Luke got the letter in Acts 23:26-30, nor how he got access to a private meeting of the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:35-40.
On this, see our article on Paul: Acts vs. Epistles -- except for the latter question; I should think it obvious that Luke got his information from Paul.
- While Luke has a superb knowledge of the Gentile world, he has little knowledge of Judaea and Aramaic.
Yes, well, what of it? Carr goes on to use some of the same sorts of objection he does with Mark: That Luke explains things in Palestine to Gentile readers who would not have been able to check things out.
Acts 25:13 mentions Berenice without any explanation of who she was. Berenice only became famous after 69 AD when she had an affair with Titus, son of the Emperor Vespasian. This is all in Juvenal's Satires. We can assume that Acts must have been written after AD 69 for Luke to mention Agrippa and Berenice with no explanation of who they were.
I would use this as a reason to suppose that Acts was written before 69, since we have no hint of what is to come for poor Berenice.
As Luke wishes to portray Agrippa as being fairly sympathetic to Paul (Acts 25:32), he naturally takes care not to mention that Agrippa was having an incestuous relationship with his sister, Berenice. This is an example of how the Gospel writers selected what they wanted to tell their readers.
Was Luke writing for the National Enquirer? That, by the way, was only a rumor, not something confirmed.
Carr makes a few comments on speechmaking in ancient literature and on allusions to pagan literature in Acts that we have no qualm with, although he does a bit of the typical Randel Helms style word- and concept-paralleling that really proves nothing other than that similar words can be used to describe similar situations. We have no doubt that Luke was writing for a cultured audience that would appreciate literary allusions, but this says nothing about the historicity of the accounts in question.
On the gospel of John we are offered very little:
- Carr says, The events in Mark seem to take place over a two or three month period. John puts 3 Passovers in the ministry of Jesus.
That "seem" re Mark is Carr's own supposition. There are not any time-markers in Mark that allow such a supposition. (See more here.)
- (John) gives the main commandment of Jesus that Christians should love one another. This is something that the Jesus of Matthew 5:46 says that even tax-collectors and pagans do.
The context is radically different: Matthew refers in context to the matter of loving one's enemies; John refers to love within the community of believers. Still and all, why should the fact that it is done by pagan in any way make it less a command to believers?
- In Mark 8:11, Jesus refuses to ever give a sign. In John 2:11, 2:23, 3:2 , 4:48, 4:54, 6:2, 6:14, 7:31, 9:16, 11:47, 12:8, 12:37, 20:30 there are many signs.
Jesus does no such thing; what he refuses is the request for a sign from heaven -- if it meant all signs, then even Mark has Jesus doing that.
- In John 2:23, Jesus is in Jerusalem, the capital of Judea. He talks to Nicodemus and then goes, in John 3:12, into the land of Judea. Notice that the NIV tries to get around this by translating 'ge' (land) as countryside, so that Jesus goes into the countryside of Judea. This is the only time that the NIV translates 'ge' as 'countryside', and 'countryside' (chora) is translated correctly everywhere else in the NIV. The translation is done just to avoid a contradiction.
I think Carr means John 3:22 here, but at any rate, since in this passage Jesus goes out and joins John out in the country in the middle of nowhere, I really don't see why the translation is misleading. I hardly think this can be read to suppose that John, if asked about this, would say, "Oh, yeah, Jesus wasn't in Judaea before."
- Jesus is in Jerusalem for all of chapter 5. Then in 6:1, he goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. How could he go to the other side, if he is not already at one side, but is in fact three days journey away.
Once again, we are hard-pressed to see the problem. It makes perfect sense to see John as referring to the "other side" of the Sea as Jews would always think of it: That side which was not where everyone usually hung out and lived.
I once lived near a large lake that is populated on only one side. If I speak of the "far side" of that lake, everyone here will know which side I mean quite clearly.
- Peter asks Jesus 'Lord, where are you going?' (John 13:36). Thomas says 'Lord, we do not know where you are going' (John 14:5). Very soon after, Jesus says to the disciples 'None of you ask me - Where are you going?'. (John 16:5). It seems that chapters 15,16 and 17 have been spliced on to an original story.
In the latter case, the statement is made in the context of a speech where Jesus is giving a farewell address, and Jesus says that now that he is going, none are asking.
- John 12:44-50 is out of any context as Jesus has just gone into hiding (12:36).
How so? In the latter verse, it does not say who Jesus cried out to -- and we have no reason to suppose it was the same crowd he just hid himself from.
- John 3:31-36 is another passage that does not seem to have any context. Is it the
narrator speaking, or John the Baptist, or Jesus?
It's obviously not Jesus, because Jesus has not spoken since verse 21. The narrator is a possible candidate, if only because ancient writers did not have the benefit of quotation marks; but in all likelihood, the speaker is John, since the words continue from his own (v. 27) and fits nicely with what is said in the previous verses by John.
- In John 5:26-30, he virtually repeats what he said in John 5:19-25. John 6:51-58 is very repetitive of what Jesus has just said in 6:35-50.
They look sufficiently different to me, and even if they aren't, isn't restating what you said before in a different way a normal teaching technique?
And so, we really find nothing from Carr that overturns traditional arguments favoring the Gospels as from the sources we claim them to be. However, we will pursue some of these questions further as/if Carr shows an inkling towards defending his theses more adequately.
Carr's third article concerns Paul's knowledge of Jesus. As such, it has many parallels to the work of Earl Doherty, and fails on the same counts. He describes the solution of previous Christian knowledge by Paul's audience as "silly" but apparently doesn't understand the argument at all, as evidenced by the questions he produces (a couple of which parallel Earl Doherty, so we'll leave them out), which we shall address in turn:
- 1 Corinthians 15 was written because the Corinthians doubted the Resurrection. Were the people who doubted the Resurrection also the people who knew the gospel stories off by heart?
Actually, it was not that the Corinthians doubted the resurrection, but that they had questions about the nature of the resurrection body, a matter which the Gospels provide no concrete answer to.
- In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul chides the Galatians for following different gospels. Were the
people who followed different gospels also the people who knew the gospel stories off by heart?
No, they were people who preached different gospels, period -- i.e., they did not recognize the validity of the gospel Paul preached; in any event, in the context of Galatians, it is clear that Paul here is referring to purely theological matters, not matters of straight history. The Gospels would have been no help to him here.
This also ignores Paul's rhetorical use of the word "gospel", a matter we have discussed elsewhere.
- If stories need not be mentioned because audiences are already familiar with them, why does Paul mention so many stories from the Old Testament? His audience must have already been familiar with them as, as for example in 1 Corinthians 10, he mentions many details from Old Testament stories in passing, expecting his audience to pick up the references. He does not allow the fact that his audience knew the stories to stop him mentioning them. Why does he allow the 'fact' that his audience knew the Gospel stories to stop him mentioning them?
Actually, we do not know that Paul's mostly-Gentile churches were already familiar with the OT; in fact, they probably were not. Moreover, this objection must deal with Paul's reasons for using the OT in the first place (which he does overwhelmingly only in Romans, Galatians, and the Corinthian correspondence).
- We know of early Christian writings that flatly contradict the Gospel stories. The Epistle of Barnabas (12:31-12:35) says that Jesus was not the son of David, in a contradiction of Matthew 1:1.
Actually, it is not clear that the passage given denies any such thing. It seems rather to say that Jesus' Lordship is pre-eminent over his sonship. But even if not, so what? The Epistle of Barnabas does stand against the rest of the NT -- Matthew, Luke, and Paul, and other places where Jesus is alluded to as a "son of David" or as descended from David's line.
- A famous passage in the Gospels has Jesus saying 'Abba'. Christians make much of this, saying that only the Son could use such an intimate term of the Father, even though Geza Vermes , in his book 'Jesus , the Jew', gives an example of a Jewish prayer, using the word 'Abba', in a way which many Christians say was impossible for Jews to do. Paul , in Galatians 4:6, uses 'Abba', and never hints that Jesus set an example of how to use the word.
Which would not be in the least necessary, if it was already known and had been taught for years -- and we have already shown that Vermes' argument is invalid.
- In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Paul says 'Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!' Can Paul really have heard the
teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the mount 'Judge not, or you too will be judged'?
We have shown that Matthew 7:1 is not relevant here and does not refer to ALL judging, just hypocritical judging.
- In Galatians 2:11-13, Paul describes how the early Christian Church leaders quarrelled with each other over the vital issue of whether or not to eat meals with Gentiles. Why did Paul never think of quoting Jesus's words about eating with sinners from Mark 2:16-17?
Because "sinners" and "Gentiles" are NOT the same thing. The Judaizers would not have eaten even with a virtuous Gentile.
Carr goes on to propose as his solution for this alleged problem that "Paul never mentions Gospel stories because he did not know them." We strongly suggest that he take some time to consult the work of David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? to see just how familiar Paul was with the words of Jesus.
Carr also repeats the standard error made also by Robert Price concerning the time needed to build legends, and throws in a suggestion of conspiracy: "we only have (Paul's) word for it that his teachings were correct while his enemies teachings were wrong." We also have a strong social context and the rest of the NT to follow.
Carr also asserts allegiance to the conception of Christianity as a too-diverse movement. In the process he misuses Paul's reaction to Peter in Antioch (he tells us that Paul told Peter he was wrong to his face, but fails to explain WHY Paul did this, and what it was about -- it was about the matter of table fellowship, not core Christian beliefs) and tries to mine as much division as he can from Galatians 1.
Since we assert that these issues were resolved by the time of the Apostolic conference (Acts 15), if Carr wants us to accept his premises, he will have to go into far more detail.
Paul's letters insist that it was not the eyewitnesses of Jesus who went on missionary strategies,
but people like Epaphras ( Colossians 1:7), Appollos (sic) (1 Cor. 16:12), Phoebe (Romans 16:1),
Prisca and Aquila (Romans 16:3), Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7)...Paul makes clear in 2 Corinthians 12:12 that being an eyewitness of Jesus's life was not what singled out an apostle.
Actually, not one of these first verses say that these people were not somehow eyewitnesses (though I think that only Apollos to some extent and maybe Prisca and Aquila were), and they do not indicate at all that eyewitnesses did not go on missions - in fact, that Paul refers to Peter and other apostles traveling around suggests the opposite.
As for the second verse, all it says is that signs, miracles, and wonders accompanied an apostle, which only implies that one need not have been an eyewitness to be one. Being an eyewitness helped, but it was not the key sign; otherwise Judas Iscariot and the unconverted Pharisees could have been apostles to some extent.
We will close our own article with some comments on Carr's material on the textual reliability of the NT. Here Carr takes on the F.F. Bruce, Josh McDowell, and Nicky Gumbel, but shows no signs of having consulted any professional textual critics other than Bart Ehrman, who is not the only one out there -- Biblical or otherwise.
He suggests that there's something wrong with the fact that evidence for the NT is compared to that for other ancient events and not modern events like the "Superbowl", issues the familiar objection about God not preserving autographa of the Gospels (see my essay on this), with an irrelevant comparison to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and generally shows no knowledge whatsoever of the principles of ancient textual criticism. As such, he offers little that is worth responding to directly on this subject.
Here is a place where he supposes that he has found a textual variation with doctrinal implications:
P72 is interesting. It is often claimed that no textual variation is important for Christian doctrines.
However, it seems that p72 does not like the orthodox Christian doctrine that God the Father is
distinct from Jesus the Son of God. In 2 Peter 1:2, other manuscripts read "May grace and peace
be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus." p72 drops the "and' to read
"God, our Lord Jesus". This is no accident. p72 altered Jude 5 to say that the saviour of the
people from Egypt was "the God Christ". p72 altered 1 Peter 5:1 to say that Peter was a witness
to the "sufferings of God", and not the "sufferings of Christ", as all later manuscripts read.
Of course, any textual critic knows that there is far more to this argument that just finding one testimony. Carr will have to do much better than this to convince us that there was some sort of doctrinal conspiracy afoot. He also raises an issue about parallel quotations of Matthew 19.17//Mark 10.18//Luke 18.19 in the Church Fathers, who sometimes render the verse "One is good, my Father in the heavens," though more often he offers quotes which say, "the/my" Father. He is right to suggest that the former may be a case of working from memory (which was done far, far more often in ancient times than direct consultation was), but one is hard-pressed to see the logic behind Carr's conclusion:
I wonder why this verse was changed. Bibles of today read that no one is good except God alone. This is fine for Christians who believe that Jesus is God. But if the manuscripts read that no one is good except the Father, then there would be trouble for Trinitarians, who believe Jesus is God, but not God the Father. So it was changed.
Well, I'm a Trinitarian, and I fail to see the problem. What is it, exactly? (For more on that, see here.)
In another article he reports the findings of Bart Ehrman, whose work we have briefly examined elsewhere and have considered further in other articles.
Luke 22:43-44, "And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground," is alleged to have been added to defeat docetism, but there was enough material in Luke to do that already, and Carr does not even consider that the verse could have been added based on reliable records, perhaps even by Luke himself in another edition of his Gospel (as there are also two editions of Acts). At any rate, it is hardly a key verse for Christian doctrine.
Carr also points at a few verses in Luke's resurrection account that he thinks were added later. That Luke 23:53 records that Jesus was placed in a tomb "where no one had ever yet been laid" is said to have been added along with Luke's words about the stone "to make sure that nobody could argue that people stole Jesus's body." Well, Matthew reports that same about the stone, and the fact that it didn't stop such rumors, so why would it have helped anyone to add this to Luke later on?
Luke 24:12, "But Peter, rising up, ran to the tomb; and stooping down he saw the linen cloths alone, and he returned home marvelling at what had happened," is claimed to have been added, on some fairly good evidence, and it is supposed that it was added "so that it could be shown that somebody found the witnesses to the resurrection to be credible." Paul's letter to the Corinthians does that well enough, so we hardly need Luke 24:12.
Luke 24:40, "having said this, he showed them his hands and feet," is similarly argued away, perhaps successfully, but the supposed reason for it -- "It would all help to show that the Gospels 'recorded' a physical resurrection." -- ignores the fact that Paul already does this, and that there was no other type of "resurrection" in Judaism, other than the body one died in, being the body one was raised in. We don't need this verse for the doctrine of the resurrection body.
Luke 24:3, it is said, has added the phrase "the Lord Jesus," "to make sure that the Gospels recorded that the women went to the right tomb," likewise verse 6, "He is not here, but has been raised" to clarify and "make sure that the women knew that Jesus had been raised."
I find it hard to see why this is problematic. The "wrong tomb" theory is bankrupt to begin with, and was there someone else in the tomb with Jesus who could have been raised? (If there was, then the later polemic would have reflected it.)
It is also suggested that Luke 11:19-20 ("And taking bread, giving thanks, saying ,'This is my body that is given for you. Do this in my remembrance. And the cup likewise after supper, saying 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood that is poured out for you'.") is a late addition, on the extremely tenuous grounds of hapax legomena, but since it also appears in 1 Corinthians, nothing would be lost even so, and the hapax are more likely (because of the evidence of Paul) due to Luke's use of a source.