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The arguments of Earl Doherty against seeing a historical Jesus in the Pauline Epistles are ineffectual, but there is yet more for them to confront.
In this essay we will take a special look at three key Pauline passages that plainly and unequivocally assert the existence of a historical Jesus who walked the earth. These are passages that Doherty absolutely MUST eliminate in order for his thesis to have a fighting chance.
In highlighting these we are not meaning to imply that there are no other passages of this nature: Some, including a few yet to be referenced by Doherty in any fashion, I would assert manifest similar proving power. Those cites yet unreferenced, however, we shall deal with when/if they are dealt with by Doherty. Here we shall concentrate on cites already addressed by Doherty.
This essay will also concern the testimony of extrabiblical writers and how Doherty addresses those.
1 Corinthians 2:7-8
No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Certainly this refers to an earthly Jesus who was crucified by the political powers of his day. Not so; rather, we are told, that nebulous authority, "Most Scholars", says "that (Paul) is referring not to temporal rulers but to the spirit and demonic forces...which inhabited the lower celestial spheres..."
Two words get our attention. The first, which we translate "rulers" is the Greek archon, is defined thus:
758. pres. part. of G757; a first (in rank or power):--chief (ruler), magistrate, prince, ruler.
Now there is no question that this word is used of earthly rulers; even Doherty freely acknowledges this, and that it is so used by Paul. (Rom 13:3) However, he adds that:
...it is also, along with several others like it, a technical term for the spirit forces, the "powers and authorities" who rule the lowest level of the heavenly world and who exercise authority over the events and fate (usually cruel) of the earth, its nations and individuals.
This, then, is the argument: In our passage, Paul is referring to a spiritual sort of archon grouping that crucified Jesus in the nether-heavens. Does this assessment bear out under scrutiny?
No. Let's see how Doherty's arguments line up.
- Argument from authority. As above, Doherty appeals to majority opinion, stating that: "...my tally indicates that over the last century a majority of commentators, some reluctantly, have decided that (Paul) is referring to the demon spirits."
This is an interesting observation, but hardly reflects anything in and of itself: What was the "score" of this tally? How did the arguments fare pitted against one another? Are members of the "majority" simply following previous views uncritically?
These are the things that truly count, and appeals to alleged majority views means nothing. That said: My own tally indicates the balance for this century in favor of the "earthly" interpretation.
- The interpretation of aion. Here is our second Greek word, that which emerges in our verse as "age." Doherty asserts that this term, either in the singular or in the plural, "was in a religious and apocalyptic context a reference to the present age of the world, in the sense of all recorded history, since the next age was the one after the Parousia, when God's kingdom would be established."
This is true according to my preterist eschatology, but it offers no argument in favor of interpreting our verse in terms of a non-corporeal Jesus. Yet Doherty says:
One of the governing ideas of the period was that the world to the present point had been under the control of the evil angels and spirit powers, and that the coming Kingdom would see their long awaited overthrow. Humanity was engaged in a war against the demons, and one of the strongest appeals of the Hellenistic salvation cults was their promise of divine aid in this war on a personal level. Thus, 'rulers of the age' should not be seen as referring to the current secular authorities who happen to be in power in present political circumstances...
I actually agree that the end of the age (70 AD) saw an overthrowing of such powers, but it ALSO involved an overthrowing of powers and reigns on earth, and the word "age" by itself tells us nothing about the location of the rulers.
Doherty's comment is followed upon by Doherty's interpretation of the "rulers" as supernatural beings, but it seems to me that the aregument has advanced too quickly here. Paul several times uses aion in a plain and temporal sense (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:20, 3:18), and we are left wondering how the "religious and apocalyptic context" of this particular passage (as opposed to the others which are in "religious" or "apocalyptic" contexts, the two of which we have specifically listed are necessarily in the same "context") requires some sort of reading of our word that thereby changes the meaning of archon. As we are not told, there is little that can be said.
- Parallel Pauline passages. Although they do not actually use the word archon in their text, Doherty cites a few parallel passages from Paul to prove his point, and he begins by quoting Ephesians 3:9-10:
...and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms...
We have used a different translation than Doherty, but the nexus is the same. "Here the rulers are clearly identified as the ones in heaven," we are told.
es indeed: That is quite obvious. This is exactly the sort of "clarity" that is missing in 1 Cor. 2:8. Clarity is found, however, in Ephesians 2:2, the only other place besides Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul does use archon:
...in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
Here archon is used in a singular sense, and again Paul adds modifiers - "of the kingdom of the air"; "spirit" - which differentiate this ruler from an earthly ruler. Where is the modifier in 1 Cor. 2:8? In fact, none specifically is needed, for as we shall see shortly, the entire context of Paul's argument indicates that earthly rulers are intended.
A second example is offered from Colossians 2:15 -
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Here we have no specific modifier, but Paul uses this phrase "powers and authorities" in Colossians (1:16, 2:10) to designate powers that include the supernatural. (Let it be added here that if 1 Cor. 2:8 really DOES mean supernatural powers, then it is somewhat inconsistent with this verse above: For in the first instance, the "powers" would be responsible for crucifying Jesus; here, Jesus' crucifixion is an act of triumph over them.- Fee.1Cor, 104)
Similarly quoted is Ephesians 6:12 -
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Once again, we have clear modifying words and phrases that indicate that Paul is referring to supernatural rulers. This, again, is lacking is 1 Cor. 2:8, and thus these three cites by Doherty actually serve as counter-evidence to his position, for they tell us that Paul was careful to indicate when he meant cosmic rulers as opposed to earthly ones.
So Paul himself offers no support for Doherty's interpretation; what else can he resort to?
- The argument from (ancient) authority. We are informed:
Scholars who balk at (a supernatural) interpretation of Paul's words and declare that he simply means the earthly powers which the Gospels specify, are bucking even ancient opinion. Ignatius uses the term archin in a thoroughly angelic sense (Smyrneans 6:1). Origen regarded the archonton of 2:8 as evil spiritual beings, and so did the Gnostic Marcion.
- First of all, I find it curious that Doherty, who so often "bucks" ancient opinion when it suits him, here makes an appeal to it.
- Re Ignatius: Let it be noted that Ignatius does NOT have any reference to 1 Cor. 2:8, and that he, too, offers specific modifiers:
...even heavenly powers and the glory of angels and the rulers, both visible and invisible...
- As for Origen and Marcion - I daresay that the former, with his tender mysticism and penchant for allegorization, and the latter, with his tendency towards Gnosticism, are hardly authoritative sources on the matter. They would be inclined to interpret ANY passage in a mystical sense if possible within their own paradigms, as the evidence of the rest of their works demonstrates.
Doherty rightly rejects the solution (once offered by Cullman) that suggests that Paul is somehow combining earthly and spiritual rulers into one reference, with the latter controlling the former. Truly, there is little need to go beyond the data offered in 1 Corinthians itself. Consider these verses following, 1 Cor. 1:17-2:16:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"-- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
Note that the emphasis both before and after our verse of concern is on human wisdom. The context, then, indicates that a reference to some sort of supernatural rulers would be out of order. A reference to human rulers, however, would be especially important for Paul in this context: Earthly rulers, by the thinking of Paul's age, "were those most often assumed to be gatherers and purveyors of the sophia (i.e., wisdom)." [With.JS, 313]
l is thus offering a bipolar contrast between the wisdom of God on one hand, and the wisdom of humans - including those supposedly the wisest: scholars, philosophers, rulers - on the other.[See MillG.NewL; Carr.RA] Or, as Hays [Hays.1Cor, 44] puts it:
Paul's point...is straightforward and rhetorically telling: the human power-wielders were so completely clueless about God's way or working that they actually crucified the Lord of glory. Why, therefore, should we pay attention to human notions of wisdom and power?
On John 12:3
Doherty does not appeal to this argument, but some have suggested that John 12:3, 14:30, and 16:11 [where Satan is called the "`ruler of this world''] is comparable to the Corinthians passage which states "the rulers of this age.'' This is a desperate grasp at straws: First, there is absolutely no linguistic connection between the phrases; second, the phrase "the ruler of this world'' belongs to John's special vocabulary. - Fee.1Cor, 103-4)
Therefore, Doherty's interpretation of the 1 Cor. 2 archonton as referring to above-earthly powers fails. It is supported neither by the context of Paul's arguments nor by Paul's usage of the word itself, both of which clearly indicate a reference to earthly rulers who crucified an earthly, non-mythical Jesus.
Why, then, is Doherty able to find scholars who insist upon supporting the "supernatural view"? It may be, as Fee suggests, that "those interpretations that see Gnostic backgrounds to much of what is being said here are particularly dependent on this interpretation to make them work." [ibid.] We shall have occasion to discuss THAT aspect of the issue before we are through as well.
1 Thess. 2:14-16
In the next two sections, Doherty appeals to the idea that two specific verses or sets of verses are interpolations. It is worthwhile to take a quick look back at some relevant general data.
To charge that any selection is a late interpolation is quite serious. Textual critics will seldom, if ever, identify any selection as an interpolation without hard, textual evidence - e.g., a manuscript of early enough provenance without the text in question.
This is especially important in the letters of Paul, for as we have noted here, the literary conventions of the day would suggest that Paul himself was the first to collect his letters. Custom further dictated that Paul would make a copy of any letter he sent for his own personal reference - a safeguard not only against loss of the letter in transit, but also a guarantee that he possessed an authoritative copy, should anyone decide to make their own changes to the text.
Now of course some person may well have made changes in the text of Paul's letters; but such a person could not by any means take the whole of the textual tradition under his influence. Only Paul himself, with the authoritative collection he had assembled of his own works, had any chance of doing that. It is quite nearly impossible that someone or some group could insert new material and at the same time wipe out all contrary textual witnesses. (Although this may not stop some from making rampant speculations about various widespread conspiracies - charges which, being unreasonable, have no reasonable answer.)
It is therefore, ultimately, the only true test of interpolation that hard, manuscript evidence be found in favor. All other considerations, if they are to overcome this lack of data at all, must do so in strong cooperation.
So now to our text -- 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16:
For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.
This passage, we are told, contains an "obvious interpolation" in verses 15-16. But Doherty only offers two arguments on this point. (For an overview of all of the arguments in favor of interpolation, and the answers to them, see Schu.1Th2.)
The first reason appealed to is that this passage, referring to the wrath of God coming on the Jews as last, contains "an unmistakable allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in verse 16, an event which happened after Paul's death." Is there any reason to see this verse as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem?
Several suggestions have been tendered as to what Paul refers to here. Some have suggested, as Doherty notes, the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius. Doherty rejects this suggestion, however, saying that this "gleeful, apocalyptic statement is hardly to be applied to a local event which the Thessalonians may or may not have been aware of several years later." He adds that, since verse 14 refers to persecution by Jews in Judea, "Offering a local event in Rome as a punishment for either crime (i.e., the persecution or the Crucifixion) seems somehow inappropriate."
Finally, Doherty alludes to assertions by Hare and Pearson that "question whether any such persecutions of Christians took place prior to 70" A.D., which would support the idea of an interpolator who did not know he was being anachronistic.
- This is an example of how Doherty has not interacted with arguments on all sides. The assertions of Hare and Pearson that there was perhaps no persecution of Christians by Jews prior to 70 is widely disputed. Indeed, it is countered by the evidence of Paul himself, who admits in his own letters that he was once a persecutor of Christian churches. As Schlueter notes, quoting Sanders: "The best-attested fact (for such persecution) is that Paul himself carried out such persecution." [Schu.1Th2, 47]
Hare and Pearson have correctly counteracted the notion that persecution of the church was always of the same sort as highlighted in Acts - i.e., Stephen's martyrdom was an unusual case, rather than the rule. (As Acts itself, with a careful reading, tells us: For Luke indicates that there were extended periods of peace for the church as well - cf. Acts 9:31.) Their arguments do NOT, however, support the idea that there was no persecution at all; the testimony of Paul of his own actions (cf. Gal. 1:13, Phil 3:6, referring to his "zeal" in persecuting the church), the persecution he himself suffered after his conversion (cf. 1 Cor. 4:12; 2 Cor. 11:24, 12:10), and the reference to the death of James found in Josephus, by themselves are sufficient evidence of the church's early difficulties at the hands of their Jewish brethren. But it would be correct to say that the overwhelming majority of the persecutions were of a much lesser nature than the stoning of Stephen.
- Re a "gleeful, apocalyptic statement" - The former is simply Doherty reading his own emotive values into the text; the tone within the context of the letter, as we shall see, offers an entirely different interpretation. However, let us grant the "gleeful" interpretation for the sake of further argument.
What event, first, is Paul referring to? It may indeed be the Claudian expulsion; despite Doherty's assertion, this was hardly a "local" event, since the Jews in question undoubtedly scattered to the four winds. (Priscilla and Aquila, after all, went as far as Corinth.)
Some indeed may have settled in Thessalonica, and the disgrace associated with being a member of a group expelled from Rome may well have had repercussion on Jews throughout the Empire - just as surely as oppressed African-Americans throughout our own nation "felt the sting" in a variety of ways in the aftermath of riots and inhumane police actions in the South.
The key, however, is that in an apocalyptic/eschatological context, ANY event of any sort that caused harm to the Jews would or could be seen by Paul as a demonstration of God's final wrath. Schlueter, referring to Jewett [Schu.1Th2, 106], notes the expectation of the parousia in 1 Thessalonians (1:10, 3:13, 4:15, 5:2, 5:23) and writes:
...(G)roups which expect an imminent end to the age and various catastrophes to signal that impending event, would interpret any fateful happening, however small, as part of the beginning of the end.
Jewett [Jewe.Ths, 37] adds that there is, in the argument to see a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem:
...an unmistakable quality of retrospection...From the perspective of those who know about the Jewish-Roman War, it is surely the most appropriate choice. But to someone who lived before that catastrophe, several of the other events could easily have appeared to be a final form of divine wrath.
Let us use two examples to further clarify the matter. Suppose that the eschatologically-oriented Essenes learned of a Roman military disaster in Germania which caused the loss of several legions. This would be a "local" event, and would not be connected to any event local to the Essenes; on the other hand, they would undoubtedly report it with glee. Would they not have seen such an event, disconnected as it logically was to their own situation, as an example of the "final wrath" of God on the hated Romans?
To use a more modern and extreme example: Suppose that during the Branch Davidian siege, an FBI office in Bangor, Maine had collapsed and killed several agents. Would the Davidians have not gleefully cited this as evidence that God was displeased with the FBI and was dispensing His final wrath upon it?
Thus, we may suggest, the Claudian expulsion; a riot/massacre referred to by Josephus in 48 AD in which 20,000-30,000 Jews were massacred; a famine particularly afflicting Judea - any one of these or a combination thereof, or any given event of some seriousness, may have been thought of as the beginning of the "final" wrath upon the Jewish persecutors from Paul's perspective. Paul may have even been speaking proleptically of the wrath he knew was coming due to the rejection of Jesus, without having an event in mind. [WillD.12Thess, 48; cf. Rom. 1:18] To see in this citation a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem is presumptive.
We move now to the second objection tendered by Doherty against this passage: "It does not concur with what Paul elsewhere says about his fellow countrymen, whom he expects will in the end by converted to Christ."
Truly? Is it to be supposed that Paul never got angry, even at his countrymen? As Jewett remarks, "only those desiring a sanitized picture of Paul and the early church" could accept this argument. [Jewe.Ths, 39] And Williams [WillD.12Thess, 47] adds: "A frank recognition of guilt does not preclude love for the guilty."
To put this in perspective: Romans was written some 7-10 years after 1 Thessalonians, according to the general dating schema. Even if Paul's sentiments in these letters are so incompatible as to be impossible to be held at the same time - and we would say that they are not - does it not occur to critics that Paul is a human being who was capable of having "second thoughts" on a subject?
At the time 1 Thessalonians was written, it appears that Paul had reason to be angry at the Jewish establishment: Acts reports that he had been chased out of several cities by Jewish persecutors; 1 Thess. 3:3 notes that other trials were taking place. Is it not possible that Paul here is "venting" his frustrations? Would such venting preclude the love he has for his countrymen as displayed in Romans 11? Is it not possible that Paul is experiencing some "cognitive dissonance" as he wrestles with the multi-fold problem of the persecution of the Thessalonian church, the need to bond with the Thessalonian community and give it support, and his own troubled feelings regarding his personal, incomplete break with traditional Judaism? Anyone who says "no" simply lacks insight into the complex and dynamic motivations of human personality.
This alone is enough to validate our passage, but we can get into more detail:
- We may add that Paul's condemnations here are no more serious or "hateful" than that found regularly in other Jewish or Greco-Roman writings. Condemnations of Jews killing the prophets, as Doherty admits, are found in works penned by Jews (cf. 1 Kings 19:10; Neh. 9: 26; Jer. 2:30), even if he denies (without any justification given) that the condemnations have any historical basis. (Paul here, however, clearly "follows a rhetorical tradition of exaggeration," a subject we shall embark upon momentarily. - Schu.1Th2, 66)
The charge of the Jews as "hostile to all men" is used by Tacitus, Juvenal, and Apion - and is not surprising in Paul's mouth, in light of his confrontation with Peter in Antioch. The association of a small segment of contemporary Jewish persecutors with past Jewish persecutors is found elsewhere in the NT (cf. Acts 7:52a; Luke 13:34//Mt. 23:37). Weatherly points out [Weath.Au1Th2, 89]: "One need not look far in Jewish sectarian literature to find examples of Jewish groups that excluded opponents from the benefits of the covenant." Johnson [JohnLT.AP] offers a comprehensive study of Jewish "slander" written by Jews, to Jews. Scott [Sct.PUDT] demonstrates that Paul's "slander" directly parallels condemnations offered in the Deuteronomic tradition of the Old Testament.
There is simply no reason why Paul, as a Jew, could not have written these verses against his countrymen, Romans 11 notwithstanding. All of these descriptions are instances of rhetorical hyperbole that exaggerate kernels of truth in order to make a point - and such descriptions are found in literature throughout the Greco-Roman and Jewish world, as we allude to in our next point below.
- Finally, we refer our reader to the thorough study of Schlueter [Schu.1Th2], who has demonstrated that a) Paul's words here are perfectly in line with Greco-Roman and Jewish hyperbolic/polemical conventions of the day; b) Paul made use of such polemic on very specific occasions that were similar in urgency to the Thessalonian situation. Let's take a closer look at this evidence.
What evidence is there that Paul made use of polemic/hyperbole? Some choice selections:
2 Cor. 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
Gal. 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.
Gal. 5:12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Phil. 3:2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.
Throughout these "attacks" Paul is clearly following both Jewish and Greco-Roman methods of polemical exaggeration, as elucidated by such Greco-Roman instructors in polemic as Quintillian. 2 Cor. 11:3 and Phil. 3:2 above, for example, exemplify the tactic of "accumulation" - piling up words for effect - as does our Thessalonians passage.
But would Paul use such polemic even against his own countrymen? Well, if he calls his brothers in Christ, the Galatians, "foolish" and refers to fellow apostles as "false" and wishes emasculation upon them, then where could there be an objection to his language in Thessalonians towards the Jews, especially as much as it is similar to condemnation ALREADY made against the Jewish people in their own sacred writings?
Not only so, there should be no objection to Paul seemingly "contradicting" himself in Romans, for as Schlueter notes [Schu.1Th2, 126]:
The reader of Paul's letters can identify many passages in which he used extreme language which, on some other occasion, he might modify or even retract.
...we can readily find another context in which he takes a more moderate position on the same topic.
As an example, consider these verses in Gal. 1:8-9 -
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Paul sounds like one angry individual here. But consider this sentiment from Romans 12:14 -
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
It seems that emotional consistency was "not a virtue" of Paul's after all. But keeping in mind the purpose of Galatians - as an "article of defense" for his own apostleship - it is not surprising to find Paul dipping into the polemical well just a bit. Indeed, it is precisely the sort of nuanced reading that knowledge of polemical tactics allows that helps us understand why Paul wrote the way he did in 1 Thessalonians.
Consider the nature of the Thessalonian problem: At this time of trial Paul must show unity with his beloved church, and he who said that he "became all things to all men" would certainly use every resource at his disposal to their benefit. Schlueter [Schu.1Th2, 112] sums up the picture nicely:
...(T)he symmetry of Paul's statements, the urgency of the current opposition the Thessalonians were facing, and the eschatological nature of the letter would induce readers to assent to the climax of the passage. To gather such assent seems to denigrate the opponents and to lead to the identification of the readers as among the suffering righteous.
Thus, Paul intends to encourage his congregation by identifying them with himself and the righteous prophets, the churches in Judea, and the Lord Jesus, who were killed and persecuted by hostiles of the same affiliation (and this, we may add, perfectly in line with the "group orientation" of the ancient world, within which the Pharisees can on the one hand warn Jesus of Herod's intentions, while also ideologically opposing him - the enemy of their enemy was their friend).
It is his way of saying: I empathize. And it is in precisely such "hardship" situations that Paul resorts to polemical language [Schu.1Th2, 164]: The defense of his apostleship in Galatians; the problem of the "false apostles" in Corinthians; the persecution of the Thessalonians; his use of "bipolar" language that drops out any possibility of middle ground, in several places (1 Thess. 5:5; 2 Cor. 11:23; Gal. 4:31; Phil. 3:15; Rom. 6:16-18, 9:22-3).
Rather than being unusual for Paul, his statements in 1 Thess. 2 are actually reflective of his normal way of writing, showing Paul to be a child both of the Judaism and the educated Greco-Roman literary conventions of his day. There is simply no grounds to deny him these verses.
In addition, I now would maintain that there is greater reason to see these verses as authentic, as they make sense of an issue related to Pauline eschatology.
A final objection from Doherty is of the general sort he will make later; we include it here because of its relevance to our verse in question:
We might also note that in Romans 11, within a passage in which he speaks of the guilt of the Jews for failing to heed the message about the Christ, Paul refers to Elijah's words in 1 Kings, about the (unfounded) accusation that the Jews have habitually killed the prophets sent from God. Here Paul breathes not a whisper about any responsibility on the part of the Jews for the ultimate atrocity of the killing of the Son of God himself. This would be an inconceivable silence if the passage in 1 Thessalonians were genuine and the basis of the accusation true.
There is no place in Romans 11 for a reference to the killing of Jesus, for the point of the passage is not, as Doherty asserts, the guilt of the Jews for not heeding the message of Christ, but rather that there is indeed a remnant who will heed the message:
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah--how he appealed to God against Israel: "Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me"? And what was God's answer to him? "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
There is obviously no room for a reference to Jewish guilt concerning Jesus in this chapter - the thrust of the passage is in precisely the opposite direction!
To close out this section, we shall now, just for kicks, apply to this passage Robert Price's tests for determining if a passage is an interpolation. (See here.)
- Textual evidence. Doherty admits that there is no hard, textual evidence for this passage being an interpolation. In response Doherty again resorts to the opinion of "many scholars" who say that the Pauline corpus was first assembled in Marcion's time, so that there was time for an interpolation to be added. This assertion is decisively against the evidence (see link above), and at any rate, has little to do with the textual tradition of 1 Thessalonians itself. Record: 0-1.
- Ideological disparities. Doherty believes that there is evidence of this; we have shown that there is not. Record: 0-2.
- Stylistic/linguistic differences. This is an argument that is used by others who favor interpolation, including one of Doherty's recorded sources, Pearson. Doherty himself does not appeal to this argument, but answers to it may be found in the sources we have referenced. Record: 0-3.
- Incongruity of passage in context. This argument has not been made by any critic that I have found, although it may be intertwined with the objections recorded under item 2 above. Record: 0-4.
- Dependence on later literature/historical context. (Two tests combined.) Doherty alludes to the idea that this passage reflects later anti-Judiasm, and the appeal to the destruction of Jerusalem may come in here. We have shown that these arguments fail: It is just as "anti-Judaic" as contemporary polemic of that type - and certain passages in the OT. Record: 0-6.
- External attestation. If the passage is found in literature dated shortly thereafter, then the chances of it being an interpolation are much slimmer. Here there is no evidence for the specific passage in the nearest time period, but obviously this does not qualify as a "win" for Doherty since this argument builds upon the others.Record: 0-7.
- Textual variations. I have noted no argument on this issue in either direction, and so will consider this not proven. Record: 0-8.
- Explanation for the interpolation. Although not directly offered as an explanation, Doherty alludes to anti-Semitism as a reason for the interpolation. As we have seen, this is not a viable interpretation. Record, and final score: 0-9.
Therefore, by the standards of textual criticism, Doherty's argument for interpolation fails, and our pillar remains standing. We move now to our third pillar, which contains one of the most clear and informative references to the death of Jesus in the epistlatory corpus.
1 Timothy 6:13-15
In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time--God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords...
Now naturally, Doherty does not believe that the Pastorals were authored by Paul, and he alludes to all of the same arguments that we have dealt with in here: Vocabulary, teachings, church organization, lack of inclusion in P46, etc. He does not go into detail on these arguments, nor does he deal with counter-objections - and I would not expect him to do so. Of course, he could no doubt argue for interpolation of our specific verse anyway.
We must begin with an extended citation of Doherty:
Timothy's confession of faith before many witnesses (verse 12) is interpreted as referring to one of two possible occasions: either the baptismal ceremony upon his conversion to the faith, or his ordination as a minister. Scholars usually choose the former, since baptism is the more likely event at which one is "called to eternal life". The sacrament was publicly administered before the congregation, providing the "many witnesses" referred to. Timothy is confessing his faith before God and fellow Christians. The content of that statement of faith no doubt had to do with a belief in Christ.
This is a possible explanation, but another is possible, as we shall see shortly.
The way the reference to Pilate is introduced into the text shows that it is intended as a parallel to Timothy's confession in the previous sentence. But there is much which scholars find to fuss over in this assumption. Jesus' situation on trial before Pilate is hardly the same as Timothy's at his baptism. Timothy's confession is before God and friendly witnesses; Jesus' is not, and it puts Pilate in parallel to God, which is at best inappropriate, at worst irreverent. Jesus' declaration before Pilate is presumably a statement about himself, which is an awkward equivalent to the believer's declaration of faith in Jesus. With all of these difficult features in such a comparison, what would have led the original writer even to think of making it?
Commentators discount the possibility that the occasion of Timothy's confession was before a magistrate, when he might have been on trial for his Christian beliefs. No such event, from which the writer could have drawn, appears in the genuine Pauline letters. Besides, such a trial would hardly be called a summons to eternal life. However, some who suggest that the phrase in 6:13 looks suspicious have considered the possibility that a later scribe may have misinterpreted things in this way.
Doherty goes on to offer an explanation for this supposed interpolation, but there is really no need to consider it, for he is incorrect as is:
- Re the comparison of Pilate/God being "at best inappropriate, at worst irreverent" - this is false. The analogy would be Timothy/Jesus and the witnesses/Pilate, not Pilate/God. God enters the equation not as someone before whom Timothy made a confession, but as someone Paul charges Timothy before. Paul is not saying that the nature or circumstances of Tim's confession is to be exactly paralleled with Jesus'. (Indeed, how could anyone's confession exactly match
that of Jesus before Pilate?)
The basic thought is this: "`Just as Jesus testified to the truth, so you, Timothy, are charged to testify to the truth as well.'' The point of the passage, ultimately, is a public confession of import.
- This relates to the comment re a confession before a magistrate. This possibility can hardly be ruled out on the grounds offered by Doherty:
- That no such event is recorded in the Pauline letters means nothing. Is it to be supposed that every event in the life of Timothy, and every significant test of faith he had, is recorded therein? How much are we to demand from these minimal Pauline windows onto the lives of others? Can we reconstruct anybody's life accurately based on doctrinal and admonitional letters?
- Re "a summons to eternal life" - actually, considering that such a confession before a magistrate might well lead to execution, as it eventually did for Paul, there is every possibility that admitting to being a Christian would end up being a "summons" to eternal life. Doherty here, as elsewhere, simply fails to take into account the Roman attitude towards Christianity as a highly subversive superstition.
It has also been pointed out that in the account of the trial before Pilate in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus barely says anything, maintaining a stoic silence. His simple agreement, "It is as you say," in answer to the question "Are you the king of the Jews?", is hardly a "noble confession" to inspire such a comment as we find in 1 Timothy 6:13.
From here, Doherty goes on to speculate that John's extended speeches by Jesus are the source of this "noble confession" idea, but we need not look beyond his simple category error above. Nobility lies not in the simplicity of the agreement, but in the content: In agreeing to the charge that he was the King of the Jews, Jesus was, in Roman eyes, admitting guilt to a capital crime - sedition. This made death virtually certain for Jesus, just as much as it made it a distinct possibility for Timothy - wherever and before whomever his confession took place.
Moreover, only a few verses later (6:16), when speaking of God, the epistle makes this sweeping statement: "No man has ever seen or ever can see him." If the man Jesus of Nazareth had recently been on earth, the one he has just placed before Pilate, a man who had in fact seen and come from God, I hardly think the writer could have said such a thing.
As Jesus is identified as the Lord and Christ, not merely a man, this verse hardly includes him under the rubric of men who cannot see the immortal God. Even then, we should note the tension in the OT between the advisement that one "cannot see God and live" and the fact that several OT figures - Moses, Jacob, etc. - wrestled with the apparent contradiction of having "seen" God themselves. This particular dichotomy obviously refers to something that transcends literal human sensibilities, and thus this verse, while polemically and factually true, does allow for special "exceptions" in terms of the OT background. God did appear before human men in various theophanies; however, that is quite a different thing than God revealing Himself in all of His glory, the "light which no man can approach'".
The possibility of interpolation is supported by something suspicious which occurs a few verses earlier. In six places in the Pastoral letters the writer uses a phrase like "wholesome teaching". In five of these, there is no indication where such teaching comes from; in fact, the first time the phrase appears, in 1 Timothy 1:10, the writer (speaking as Paul) says that such teaching "conforms with the gospel entrusted to me, the gospel which tells of the glory of God." This
pointedly ignores any identification of Jesus as the source of such teaching.
- Even granting this argument, it is hardly a hallmark of textual criticism that an interpolation in one place supports the notion that there is an interpolation in another place, no matter how close they are.
- Re the use of the "wholesome/sound teaching" phrases: 1:10 is an example of what we alluded to elsewhere -- God as the primary source; Jesus as the Word of God, His mouthpiece. Not even Jesus took credit for the content of his own teaching, but identified the Father as his source, as is quite clear within the Jewish context of the Father-Son relationship.
Three of the instances (2 Tim. 4:3, Tit. 1:9, 2:1) indicate in context references to teaching of church leaders, so that we cannot ascertain with certainty that Jesus could be credited as the source of the teaching. I cannot say where the last of Doherty's six references is, as he has not provided cites; perhaps he means 1 Tim. 4:16, which clearly indicates Timothy's own personal views and doctrinal standpoints, but there are a few other phrases that might qualify. Nevertheless, even if there were cites Doherty could trace in this regard, there is hardly any reason here to suppose interpolation, unless one has a theory to adhere to that requires it. (Is Paul limited to using the same phrasing in similar situations?)
With that, a linguistic appeal is made regarding 6:3 -
The phrase "those of our Lord Jesus Christ" (tois tou kuriou hemon Iesou Christou) bears the marks of a scribal notation originally made in the margin which later got inserted into the text. (This was a common occurrence in the transmission of ancient manuscripts.) If it were part of the original writer's text, the word "those" (tois) would have been redundant and would not likely have
been written. Rather, it conveys the impression of an afterthought. It also seems carelessly done, because the insertion fails to cover the succeeding phrase, "and with pious teaching," which should surely have been identified with Jesus as well. On the basis of these observations some scholars, such as J. N. D. Kelly (The Pastoral Epistles, p.113), opt for interpolation.
Any digressive phrase could be said to "bear the marks of a scribal notation," so this hardly means anything. At the same time, one might ask whether Paul himself could not have added afterthoughts of his own.
As for the alleged carelessness, we should recall that Paul throughout the Pastorals has a specific concern for correct teaching and doctrine within the church. The phrase has no intent of covering the "pious teaching" aspect, because Paul is talking about two different things: The teaching of Jesus, and the teaching of the church.
Doherty points out that even if 6:3 is NOT an interpolation, it could still fit his theory, since "it need imply no more than that the 'teaching' is considered to be revealed through the spiritual Christ" that he supposes Paul believes in. Since Doherty will repeatedly object that Paul and others nowhere identify Jesus as a teacher, it seems rather odd that he here posits an explanation that would remove the effect of any such references anyway.
But what of the Greek itself? It is true that the dative plural article tois appears in a non-standard position here; on the other hand, it is not necessary that it be translated those as the Greek article is quite highly idiomatic in its usage. It could very well be that the article is for emphasis; perhaps any tight English translation will not be able to bring this emphasis out. And of course, even if this IS an instance of poor writing - which we do not consent - Paul was no more immune to bad grammar or construction than any other human being, yours truly included.
In any event, though Kelly is a sober scholar worthy of attention, he does NOT, as Doherty asserts, "opt for interpolation" [Kell.PE, 133-4] - he DOES assert that a lack of a definite article in the verse requires a broader interpretation, that regards the teaching referred to as Christian teaching as whole rather than the specific teaching of Jesus; but he does not suggest interpolation at all. (Doherty claims in a response to this article that he misunderstood his notes.)
The text is evidence, and in that regard, the evidence is clear. There is no attestation against this verse. Furthermore, with due respect to Doherty's alleged proficiency in the Greek language, a check of four Greek grammar texts - including three that are universally referenced, particularly A.T. Robertson's A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research - say nothing about tois in this verse; and I daresay that if there was something unusual in the structure of this verse, one suspects that at least one out of four major grammars would say something about it. But they are silent.
Let us once again review this matter in terms of Price's tests for interpolation:
- Textual evidence. Doherty admits that there is no hard, textual evidence for this passage being an interpolation.Record: 0-1.
- Ideological disparities. This appeal is not made. Record: 0-2.
- Stylistic/linguistic differences. This appeal is not made.Record: 0-3.
- Incongruity of passage in context. Doherty makes this argument, not for our key passage (6:13), but for another one (6:3), thus arguing for "guilt by association" - but it finds no appeal here. Record: 0-4.
- Dependence on later literature/historical context. Doherty includes this possibility within his extended explanation for the interpolation, but his admission that no record of Timothy's confession is found in other texts (and this applies both before a magistrate and before friendly witnesses) takes a chunk out of this argument and precludes any appeal to it.Record: 0-6.
- External attestation. Here again there is no evidence for the specific passage in the nearest time period, so the same reasoning applies as before. Record: 0-7.
- Textual variations. I have noted no argument on this issue in either direction, so we will exclude this argument from consideration. Record: 0-8.
- Explanation for the interpolation.Doherty offers yet another extended, unproven, and unprovable hypothesis for the interpolation of this passage. As always, this argument is only really usable if a good number of the other eight are strong enough in either quality or quantity - which is not the case here.Record, and final score: 0-9.
What of the scholarly consensus that exists favoring the existence of Jesus? The Christ-myth is a minority view, we are told, "if only because the vast majority working in the field have been religious apologists, with their own confessional interests." In his latest essay, Doherty further suggests obliquely that the consensus on Josephus might be "due not a little to the operation of peer pressure and herd instinct." Where this leaves independent-minded and non-confessional people like Michael Grant and Morton Smith, we are only left to wonder.
What of the secular references? They are "anything but supportive of (Jesus') existence," we are told, with all the usual arguments repeated which we have answered in more detail elsewhere:
- The overall silence of Philo and Justus (which means nothing -- Philo may not have lived long enough to see Christianity become a threat, and make Jesus worthy of note; to report nothing about someone in your history was a typical means of oblique insult; and we know Philo at least never mentions Christianity either, so the silence about Jesus is hardly problematic -- as for Justus, we do not even possess his work, but from reports seems to have been concerned with political profiles)
- The silence of Pliny the Elder concerning the darkness at the crucifixion
- Lucian is given barely a mention, and of him, it is merely said that he and Celsus "were as misled by the Gospels as most Christians were, and seem not to have possessed the ability or opportunity to track down sources or analyze the documents themselves."
- Tacitus is dismissed in three bare sentences as one who "is not known as a thorough researcher, which is illustrated by the fact that he gets Pilate's title wrong."
- Pliny the Younger is interpreted as saying "nothing about a Christ who was a historical man."
- Thallus is rejected because he comes to us through Christian commentators, who "undoubtedly put their own spin on reports which originally had nothing to do with Jesus."
The only truly in-depth (and to any extent original) treatment - that is to say, the only reference given more than three sentences of attention - is to Josephus. Nevertheless the basic premises remain the same: Doherty votes for interpolation on both passages, reciting all the usual arguments. There are a few extra points specifically on Josephus that I'd like to make note of:
- It is noted that some argue that Origen may obliquely refer to the Testimonium Flavinium when he observes that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah. Doherty counters that:
If Josephus had said that someone else was the Messiah, Origen could draw such a conclusion and phrase things this way. And in fact, this is precisely what Josephus does: in Jewish Wars VI, 3 12-13, he declares that the Jews were mistaken in interpreting their ancient oracles (i.e. scripture) as promising that one of their own would rule the world; instead, he claims, these predictions about a Messiah were really about Vespasian, the Roman general who conquered Judea...
However, saying that Vespasian fulfilled prophecies thought to be of the Messiah, and saying that Vespasian IS the Messiah, is two entirely different things.
- Here's another concerning Origen's Contra Celsum, his refutation of the pagan critic Celsus:
In Chapter 46 of Book I he discusses the question of the wonders associated with Jesus. Here Celsus has said that he doubts the reports about the descent of the dove on Jesus at his baptism. In Chapter 67 there is an even more heated discussion about the veracity of Jesus' miracles about which Celsus is skeptical. Origen claims that Jesus' deeds were superior even to those contained in the Greek myths which Celsus accepts. In such debates, Origen would surely wish to draw on any evidence to corroborate the Gospels' claim that Jesus had performed miracles, especially evidence from a disinterested observer, as Josephus would have been.
Noting, then, that the Testimonium refers to Jesus as one who wrought "surprising feats," Doherty claims: "Any unbiased evaluation of this question must admit that since Origen does not draw on this statement by Josephus, his copy almost certainly did not contain it."
Any reader of Origen will see that this is an erroneous reading. What Origen is replying to is NOT Celsus' disbelief in the miraculous power of Jesus as a whole. What Celsus DOES object is that: a) SPECIFIC miracles said to have been wrought by Jesus did not happen; and, b) as for the others, they are attributable to Jesus' skill in magical arts he learned while in Egypt.
Now this understood, what possible help is Josephus' simple assertion that Jesus wrought "surprising feats"? Celsus doesn't disagree with that idea; he simply assigns Jesus' power to another source. Doherty has committed a basic category error.
- What of our smaller passage, referring to James as the "brother of Jesus the so-called Christ"? Doherty doesn't rule out the possibility of interpolation, but he has other explanations ready.
One is a "guilt by association" argument. Origen tells us that Josephus regarded Jerusalem's destruction as a payback on the Jews for the death of James.
Now Josephus does not say this at all, and Josephan scholars have decided that Origen here is simply confusing Josephus' account of James' death with that of the church historian Hegesippus, who did make such a statement. But does Doherty know about this?
If he does, he prefers to suggest that Origen had an entirely different copy of Josephus that DID say that the destruction was a judgment because of James, a copy that had also been doctored by Christians; and therefore, this serves as a pointer to the possibility that Christians inserted the reference to Jesus.
So then, not only does Doherty see fit to speculate about the current, solid textual tradition; now he must also deign to invent whole texts that are completely unknown and unattested.
Doherty also takes on the argument forwarded by Peter Kirby that this is some sort of "lost reference" to Jesus no longer found in Josephus. In spite of Doherty's criticisms of my own view of the matter, I would say that it remains a much simpler and more likely explanation that Origen got a little mixed up - rather than positing multiple unknown texts of Josephus to solve the problem.
- Finally, it is suggested that in referring to James as "the brother" of Jesus, Josephus may have meant no more than that James was a member of a group called "the brethren" of Jesus or the Lord. This, too, is a poor argument, and we will take a look in other essays in this series at instances where Doherty uses this argument regarding passages in the NT.
As for Josephus, all we have is speculation piled upon speculation: This peculiar and unusual use of "brother" by Josephus, unexplained by him and found nowhere else in his text; that Christian scribes changed the original reading from "Lord" (as in "God") to "Jesus"; that Josephus didn't explain himself here because he had only superficial knowledge of the group - theory atop theory, speculation upon speculation, a house of cards whose construction attests to the fact that the evidence, as it stands, clearly and unequivocally points to the existence of a historical Jesus.
Doherty insists that "There is nothing unusual...in an individual or a sect referring to itself as 'brother(s) of the Lord' in reference to a deity." However, he does not offer a single example of this actually being done, neither in a pagan context nor, more importantly, a Jewish context for that period.)
- Carr.RA - Carr. Wesley. "The Rulers of this Age: I Corinthians 2:6-8." New Testament Studies 23, 20-35.
- Fee.1Cor - Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.
- Hays.1Cor - Hays, Richard. First Corinthians. Louisville: John Knox, 1997.
- Jewe.Ths - Jewett, Robert. The Thessalonian Correspondence. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
- JohnLT.AP - Johnson, L. T. "The New Testament's Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of
Ancient Polemic." JBL 108, 1989, 419-44.
- Kell.PE Kelly, J.N.D. A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1963.
- MillG.NewL - "archonton tou ainos toutou - A New Look at I Corinthians
2:6-8." Journal of Biblical Literature 91, 1972, 522-8.
- Sct.PUDT - Scott, James M. "Paul's Use of Deuteronomic Tradition." JBL 112, 1993,
- Schu.1Th2 - Schluter, Carol J. Filling Up the Measure: Polemic Hyperbole in 1 Thess. 2:14- 16. Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.
- Simp.PP1Th2 - Simpson, John W. "The Problems Posed by 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 And a Solution." Horizons in Biblical Theology 12, 42-72.
- Weath.Au1Th2 - Weatherly, Jon A. 'The Authenticity of I Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional
Evidence." JSNT 42, 1991, 79-98.
- WillD.12Thess - Williams, David J. 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992.
- With.JS - Witherington, Ben. Jesus the Sage. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994.