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Hippocrates is reported to have remarked to the effect that desperate situations require desperate measures. In a similar vein, in order to maintain his thesis that Jesus did not exist, Earl Doherty is required to adopt an inordinate number of other fringe-level theses. Our purpose in this essay is to look at some of these.
Gospel and Acts Dates
Our first issue is one that we have already covered here - the dates of the Gospels. Doherty covers much of the same ground we have answered elsewhere: The usual litanies regarding the supposed geographic errors of Mark, for example. Because of this, our treatment on this topic will be brief.
What is Doherty's basic premise here? Of the gospels, he argues, "there is no good reason to date any of them before the very late first century..." and Acts is relegated to the middle of the second century. Now he admits that this is a non-consensus position, of course, and that "All 4 Gospels have generally been placed within the period 65 or 70-100, with Acts somewhere in the middle of that span." However, as that dating tends to dampen the idea of a Christ-myth somewhat, he must reject the consensus, just so:
My own preferred dating is to see Mark no earlier than perhaps 90, with the others following by 125, and Acts not appearing until around 150, perhaps even a little later. This, of course, refers to the earliest versions of the Gospels, which did not enjoy any notable circulation at first, and which were not finalized in any canonical form until after Justin.
This is offered little in the way of argumentative support; rather, Doherty is content to rely mostly on authority for this position, which rather sidesteps an independent evaluation of a matter which ought to be crucial to his Christ-myth theory. Now we have already been down this track, so there is really not much to cover here. Let's take a look at the few remainders of original/independent thought we have from Doherty.
One of our primary sources for arguments for early dates for the Gospels comes from J. A. T. Robinson's programmatic piece, Redating the New Testament. Now I have been looking for refutations of this piece, and at last report found little more than this sort of argument, as promulgated by Doherty:
On the other hand, there is almost no scholarly agreement with the picture of the late J.A.T. Robinson. His very early dating of the Gospels (with John as the earliest!) has even been labelled "donnish antics".
That there is "almost no scholarly agreement," combined with name-calling, serves little in the way of refuting Robinson's thesis. Nor does it help when Doherty solemnly says that "(o)ne could devote much space to discrediting Robinson's theories." One could? Then please do so. Certainly someone who writes so profusely on obscure topics like the Odes of Solomon has time to pursue the more central matter of the dates of the Gospels.
However, apparently not being inclined to analyze the issues critically or encourage others to do so, Doherty instead "refer(s) the reader to G. A. Wells' The Historical Evidence for Jesus (Prometheus Books, 1982) in which he tackles Robinson's position in several places." Wells, he tells us, "deals very convincingly, for example, with the question of whether Luke's reworking of the Markan apocalypse (Mark 13) shows that the destruction of Jerusalem lies behind him."
Wells does no such thing; he offers no more than speculations, special pleas, outdated sources, and weak arguments in favor of his cause, including the "argument from authority/most scholars" venture. Here is a sampling from the work in question [Well.HistEv]:
- Re that matter of how Luke deals with the apocalypse: Wells finds fault with Luke's presentation, saying that "flight from a city surrounded by armies might well have been difficult." (115) And so it might be, unless one surrenders themselves to the Romans. In that case, flight from the city is no problem whatsoever.
But actually, see here -- Josephus records a momentary "pullout" by the Romans that gave the Christians a chance to flee.
- Noting the argument that Luke's account provides little in the way of detail that would link it to someone who knew of the fall of Jerusalem as Josephus did, Wells writes (115):
Luke's brevity is due to the fact that he is restricted to an insertion that he is making in the Marcan apocalypse that he is adapting, while trying at the same time to retain the enigmatic character of the Marcan original.
Wells also goes on to suggest that Luke's lack of detail is "intelligible enough if Luke was not a witness of the events" (117) as Josephus was. So it ends up that too much detail would be proof that the prophecy was written after the fact; on the other hand, not enough detail simply proves that Luke wasn't present to get details, and the prophecy was STILL written after the fact.
- Noting the argument that Luke's presentation is in the language of the Septuagint, a fact which would suggest a date before 70 as well as help erase any notions of the material being written after the fact, Wells answers (117) that Luke is writing "in a solemn, deliberately archaic Old Testament style, befitting -to his mind - his holy subject matter."
Aside from the anachronistic notion likening Luke to someone who prefers King James English, we may ask if this is true why Luke has also not written all of the rest of his Gospel in the language of the LXX, since presumably the subject matter therein was just as "holy" in his mind as everything else he wrote.
- And of course, all the usual litanies are repeated: The problem of the census, the Theudas problem.
In short, we have nothing worthy of consideration from Wells. But Doherty adds:
For me, one very strong, indeed overwhelming, argument against dating the Gospels so early, is that they do not show up in the rest of the Christian record until Justin, almost a full century later. Acts puts in an appearance only subsequent to Justin, in the 170s!
As we shall see in our chapter on the second century apologists, this argument is not correct. The Gospels put in appearances earlier than this, and Acts was known to Marcion in the 130s (for he knew Luke, and only a few on the fringe suppose that Acts and Luke were written by different people).
I would consider that a passage like Luke 19:41-4 ("For a time will come upon you, when your enemies will set up siege-works against you, etc."), and even Q's (third stage) "Look, there is your temple forsaken by God" (Mt. 23:38, echoing Jeremiah 22:5), are pretty clear indicators that these writers knew of the destruction of Jerusalem. Even Mark 13 can be regarded as specific enough for such a conclusion.
Luke's description is nothing more than typical of the predictions of destruction in the Old Testament, which are also overall no different than fixed descriptions of ancient expeditions of punishment; that threats against the Temple were, if Josephus is any indication, made in advance of 70 AD; and, that none of the Gospels are specific or in some respects accurate (in terms of human reactions) when compared to the siege of 70 against Jerusalem. Not one bit of this is dealt with by Doherty.
The testimony of Papias is rejected thusly:
Eusebius reports that in a now-lost work written around 130, bishop Papias mentioned two pieces of writing by "Matthew" and "Mark." But even these cannot be equated with the canonical Gospels, for Papias called the former "sayings of the Lord in Hebrew," and the latter also sounds as if it was not a narrative work. Moreover, it would seem that Papias had not seen these documents himself.
We have dealt with the identity of Matthew in the link above. As for the rest, how does Doherty justify these assertions? In what way does the reference "sound as if it was not a narrative work"? How does he say that "it would seem that Papias had not seen these documents himself"? Where is the justification for these assertions?
What of the vivid detail of the Gospels, which indicate eyewitness accounts? "All good fiction writers use vivid (and often accurate) circumstantial detail to bring their stories alive." How then do we tell fiction from truth? Simple: Those "faking it" tend towards detail that is too vivid - as we have noted elsewhere in our response to Robert Price.
What about the problem of contrary witnesses? Aside from referring back to the late date, a reader making an enquiry in this regard is told:
...I don't think you appreciate the extent of the upheaval created by the first Jewish War throughout all of Palestine. Three quarters of the population were either killed or dispersed. There wouldn't have been too many records, memories, or warm bodies around from the earlier period which were in a position to dispute anything the evangelists wrote. And those that were could simply be ignored or condemned as the product of Satan, an attitude we can see from writers like Ignatius...
I don't think Doherty appreciates the fact that the population of Jerusalem during the Passover season was SIGNIFICANTLY LARGER than it was normally. Jews came from all over: Not just from Palestine, but from the Diaspora - plenty of confounding witnesses, and far too many to either ignore or put down as Satan's kids without leaving some significant track marks.
By way of summary, before closing this section, we may also note these few places where Doherty's arguments and our previous works cross paths:
- Allusion is made to the trial of Jesus as reported by the evangelists, with the usual charges answered in our piece on the trial narratives.
- The usual litany about the "anonymity" of the Gospels is offered up, as is the notion of the evangelists creating material to suit the needs of the church.
- The concept of the Gospels as ancient biography is bypassed in favor of the Gospels as collected stories created like a string of beads. Charges are made to the effect of "wholesale changes" made by Matthew and Luke to original Markan and Q material, but no notice is given to oral transmission processes that might effect such changes, which are hardly fittingly described as "wholesale".
- Although not clearly stated, it is indicated that Luke and Acts were NOT written by the same author, although it is indicated that they were gone over by the same redactor - a necessary argument to pile upon the original speculation, in order to date Acts extremely late.
- The litany is repeated: "There are huge discrepancies between Acts and what Paul tells us in his letters. Scholarship has been forced to admit that much of Acts is sheer fabrication." On the contrary, the "discrepancies" are minimal, and easily recognized as rhetorical/polemical, and whoever "scholarship" is, he is far and away from the general view of Acts as a document as reliable as any historical document from the period. (For more on this, see here.)
- Uncritically accepted are the notions of Q and Markan priority, Burton Mack's "Q community," Spong's/Goulder's "Gospels as midrash" notion, Crossan's idea of Scripture-searching Christians writing events tailored from the OT, and a thesis shared by Hyam Maccoby that Judas Iscariot was an invention.
We have answered a great deal of what Doherty has said elsewhere, and there is no need to go into detail further. The reader may consult various parts of our website for answers to a number of Doherty's arguments.
As a final note, however, it should be noted that these is a special problem for Doherty's theories, thanks to his extraordinarily late date assigned to Acts.
Elsewhere Doherty maintains standard early dates (50-60 AD) for Pauline letters that he considers genuine. The problem is that most of the data used to fix Paul's letters chronologically COMES FROM the book of Acts. If Acts is not a reliable document, then what grounds are there for dating Paul's letters early? (It will not do to suggest, as Doherty does elsewhere, that accurate bits of tradition have filtered down into Acts - that merely begs the question.)
Doherty writes that, "If the orthodox picture of Christian beginnings were correct, we would expect to find reference to a system of missionary preaching which traced its impulse back to the group in Jerusalem known in the Gospels as the Twelve." Glenn Miller has shown that this is indeed what we find, although naturally Doherty does not recognize this as such, having consigned most of the evidence (from Acts) to a second century grave and having also presumed an incredible diversity in early Christianity based upon rather slim evidence entirely contrary to what we know of ancient fictive kinship groups.
An example of this latter feature is found first in his treatment of Paul's opponents in 2 Corinthians, and second in his treatment of Apollos.
Our first topic, on the matter of Paul's 2 Corinthians opponents, we shall treat but briefly. Doherty observes that "For traditional scholars, 2 Corinthians 10-12 has proven a particularly tough nut to crack. Who are these rival apostles (not to be confused with an earlier set in 1 Corinthians, which will be dealt with below) who have come into Corinth behind Paul and won over the hearts of his congregation?" In answer to one major solution to this alleged puzzle, he writes further:
Many have been the attempts to identify these rivals with the Jerusalem group around Peter and James, or to give them some connection to that body, but there are those who sensibly recognize that such uncompromising ire and condemnation cannot be directed at the Jerusalem apostles. Rather, these are unknown missionaries of the Christ, with no connection to the Jerusalem sect, and they carry ideas about the divine Son which Paul regards as so incompatible with his own that he consigns them to Satan's realm.
Those who "sensibly recognize" such things, may I say, are not aware of group/organizational social dynamics and Greco-Roman polemical methods, in the latter of which Paul was well-versed. Furthermore, Doherty has painted a black-and-white picture here without validation: What justification does he give for saying that these missionaries were "unknown" and had "no connection" to Jerusalem whatsoever? None is given, and none can be given; he is presuming in these stark terms for the sake of his theory.
Concerning the former issue, re social dynamics, it is not terribly difficult to find - both in Judaism specifically and in socio-religious and political contexts as a whole - places where internal division occurs on issues of all levels of import that cause even "founding members" of a group to disagree, even violently. More often than not, unfortunately, the matter leads to a split in the group. On a few occasions, matters are patched up - or the factions agree to disagree peaceably.
Certainly Skeptics would agree that within a religious context, both sides of an issue can attribute their views to that of some founding person or document. Thus, in this regard, it is not impossible at all that Paul's opponents were bona fide members of the Jerusalem community, who had perhaps gone their own way on certain issues.
Doherty asserts of Paul and his opponents that "they are all on a level playing field." Actually, the furthest that the data can prove is that they all claimed to be on a level playing field; obviously, the field could not truly be level - either one or the other, or neither, was staking their claim in the territory of truth, but not both.
Now for the latter issue, which supplements the former. We have noted previously the study of Schlueter [Schu.1Th2] in regards to 1 Thess. 2:14-16; this study also shows that, contrary to Doherty, this "uncompromising ire and condemnation" is quite compatible with identifying Paul's opponents as Jerusalem apostles - perhaps even with Peter himself, although this is not likely. Within Jewish polemical circles, there were certain conventional insults delivered to rivals: Charges of deceit, blindness, blasphemy, dwelling in darkness.
These charges did not necessarily serve to finally and definitively exclude the subject from the group in question. Thus, for example, even within the Qumran community, accepted members could be reckoned as being mouthpieces for Belial; likewise Jesus could one moment give Peter a good report and the next moment refer to him as Satan.
Paul shows distinct signs of using polemical hyperbole of a recognized sort (notably irony) in this letter. In 2 Cor. 11:20 he refers to his opponents as "making slaves" of the Corinthians, and uses imagery associated with slavery, like being slapped in the face. Now obviously the opponents did not literally come and make slaves of the Corinthians; this is a case of polemical hyperbole. Likewise, in Paul's lists of woes upon himself (2 Cor. 11:23-8), we see effective rhetorical amplification: Many of the sufferings he lists are duplicated within the list.
Thus, we may argue, Paul's opponents may indeed be true Christians who, because they have disagreed with him on what he considers to be a fundamental point, he describes with the utmost polemical hyperbole as false apostles. And if Jesus can call Peter Satan, why can Paul not refer to members of the Jerusalem apostolate (if he indeed goes that far) as false apostles?
I find Schlueter's case quite compelling, but this is not to say that the ordinary position, which sees these opponents of Paul as "truly false" apostles, is not viable. Georgi [Geor.Op2Cor], for example, although not informed by polemical techniques of the time and too wedded to notions of Gnosticism in Corinth, makes a quite compelling case for identifying Paul's opponents as something equivalent to some of our "prosperity" preachers of today - representatives of a church missionary group (Georgi says, with no justification, perhaps a majority representation) who emphasized "pneumatic displays" and the earthly life of Jesus as a Moses-like figure.
Summey (Opponents of Paul, 79ff) after a detailed survey concludes that the only sure thing about Paul's opponents is that they believe that the apostles should be impressive figures who produce pneumatic displays, whereas Paul they say is not; his conclusion is more conservative than Georgi's but if a modern parallel could be made, would be like Kenneth Copeland claiming Billy Graham is ineffective because he does not drive a Rolls Royce and/or does not speak in tongues.
What is not viable, however, is Doherty's interpretation of the matter: He reads into this situation competing visions of Christ, whose participants are "all on a level playing field."
Again: They all perhaps CLAIMED a level playing field, but there is no evidence within Paul's letter that takes us further than that. None of them, Doherty says, "attempts any link to the man himself (i.e., Jesus) who is supposed to be the center of their message." Actually, Paul does just that, when he appeals to his vision in 2 Corinthians 12; as for his opponents, we cannot say what attempts they made exactly, but since they denigrated Paul's apostleship, it fits quite nicely to say that they appealed to a personal contact with Jesus, for if theirs was like Paul's, a vision (in line with Doherty's spiritual Christ theorem), then there would have been no grounds for argument, or at least the argument would have been on different terms.
However, if Summey is correct and the issue is a matter of then-present apostolic lifestyle and commitment, then an appeal to Jesus in any sense is no appeal at all.
Doherty's ultimate point in this is to say that the application of the term "apostle" to "all and sundry," along with "the absence of any early evidence" (actually, his dismissal of all early evidence) for a narrow use of the term applied to a select group chosen by Jesus, serves as proof that the Twelve are a later invention.
Actually, it shows no such thing; Doherty has not even cursorily examined the practical use of the term "apostle" throughout the NT, and is so far from proving his case here that it is not even worth addressing in detail. Merely quoting Bultmann as an authority on the matter, when far more detailed studies have been done since Bultmann, is of no use. (And in fact, merely quoting Bultmann to the effect that the Twelve was a fictional body, while ignoring his assertion that there is "little doubt" that Jesus was a real person who taught and gained followers, smacks rather of picking and choosing authority. If we wish to do that, let us use the opinion of E. P. Sanders, who avers that the collection of a group of Twelve [albeit in his view as a slightly fluid group] around Jesus is one of the most solidly-attested facts of his ministry.
As noted previously, factions within groups that retain a unifying core are nothing new. The schools of Hillel and Shammai, and the Essenes, would all claim the same authority; yet obviously not all of them were correct or on a "level playing field" no matter what the demands of our age of political correctness are. Similarly we cannot doubt that in the preaching of the early church there were various add-ons or additions to the basic gospel by various people, some of whom may have heard Jesus speak.
It is a mistake, however, to suppose that there was no central core of agreement, and that there was no "penumbra" of acceptable diversity. This issue we have referred to elsewhere and will not repeat our information here. The point for our purposes is that Doherty is not examining the use of the term apostle, not doing not even the barest minimum of investigation, and not "solving" the authority issue by saying that the Twelve as we understand them, and their Master, did not exist.
Apollos vs Paul?
In furtherance of his view of the early Christian apostolate, Doherty must assert the existence of a gulf between representative parties - and he finds these gulfs in some of the strangest places and in the most innocent of comments. In this particular instance, we are invited to view Paul and Apollos as rivals, even antagonists. Let's look at some preliminaries before moving on the basic issues.
Our first preliminary is the treatment of Apollos in Acts. For a reminder, here are the key verses, as quoted by Doherty, Acts 18:24-8 -
(24) Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures. (25) He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the Spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. (26) He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the new way (or, the way of God) more accurately. . . . (28) For he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Verse 27, which is not quoted, tells us that Apollos was welcomed and encouraged by the brothers.
Re-asserting his "very late" position on the date of Acts, Doherty follows upon this by saying that the redactor of Luke and Acts (see above) "has left telltale contradictions in his account" and refers the reader to the commentary by Haenchen. (With due respect to Haenchen, for such a broad topic, one might have hoped for a larger range of sources.) For the nonce, however, only one "contradiction" is of concern:
One evident contradiction exists between statements in verses 25 and 26. The first says that Apollos taught accurately concerning Jesus, the next states that Priscilla and Aquila had to correct his teaching. Further, if Apollos taught accurately as a Christian apostle, how is it he knew only the baptism of John?
It seems to me that if Apollos knew about the resurrection of Jesus, but not about Jesus' missionary instructions or about Pentecost, then we have a perfect scenario whereby he could teach accurately about Jesus, but still know only the baptism of John (as opposed to Christian baptism). The difference is one of time. It is possible to teach accurately but not be up to date.
But now to the matter of Apollos. We have two key questions to ask in response to the matters raised by Doherty, and the first dovetails into the second:
- What was the relationship between Apollos and Paul like?
I have been told . . . that there is quarreling among you . . . that each of you is saying: 'I am for Paul,' or 'I am for Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas' or 'I Christ'." (1 Cor. 1:11-12)
We will begin by noting a rare agreement with Doherty. We do not think it likely that there were actually cliques dedicated to Peter and Christ; we would maintain that Paul uses these designations rhetorically.
On the other hand, Doherty finds too much in terms of rivalry here. The terminology used by Paul indicates something analogous to cracks in a rock, or rips in a garment, that has for the most part remained whole. The Corinthian church is divided, but not split, and they still have a unifying base in spite of their disagreements.
But even this would reflect only what the congregation is doing; is there any evidence that Paul and Apollos themselves are having problems?
Proponents of the Paul-Apollos boxing-match view seldom note the end of the first Corinthian letter, where Paul says: "Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity." (16:12) If Apollos and Paul were having problems, it seems unlikely that Paul would want to send him - much less "strongly urge" him - to go see the Corinthians. Some have tried to read further rivalry into this verse, but it is a wish fathering a thought. Paul clearly regards Apollos as a "brother" in favor.
We may now add further insight as well from Bruce Winter's After Paul Left Corinth [32ff] which provides a perfectly reasonable contextual explanation for what actually happened in Corinth. Winter describes the ancient pupil-teacher relationship as practiced in Corinth particularly based on descriptions by Dio Chrysostom to the area between 89-96 AD. Dio noted that public orators there ran schools, and their students were called "disciples."
These disciples were expected to imitate their teacher in everything -- manner of speaking, manner of dress, even manner of walk. (This fits in as well with criticisms of Paul's poor oratory skills, which were considered a defect; see more here -- Paul's own "disciples" would lack something important to imitate.)
Parents looked for the best teacher for their son to imitate, and of course such teachers competed for students, and zealous students would hover behind rival teachers doing things like correcting their grammar and also do verbal battle with other teachers' students.
In this context, what happened with Paul, Apollos, and the Corinthians is clear. The Corinthians behaved like others in Corinth (3:1-3) and thought that they could declare exclusive loyalty to one teacher, and then proceeded to fight over it, and most likely even played the game of verbal battle (which also makes sense of critiques of Paul's speaking by others).
Thus Paul's reply is also reflective of this, for he reminds them that all the Christian teachers are of one body (not rival schools) and stressed their different roles in the same work. There is no rivalry but the one imagined by Corinthians following the methods of teachers and pupils in their own city.
And now we also have further insight from Jerome Neyrey's Render to God [170f] which affirms our points. Paul offers what Neyrey calls a "map of time" (Paul preceded Apollos chronologically). This "map of time" does mean that Paul does provide himself with more honor than Apollos merely by virtue of having been in Corinth first, and so he is also placed above Apollos in terms of a "map of persons" by virtue of his having been in Corinth first.
However, Paul's more explicit references to himself and Apollos as both being "servants" having the same role assigned by God means that he wishes not to emphasize the superiority of honor that he has rightfully earned.
Against this, is there any evidence of rivalry? Doherty thinks so, but he is hard pressed to explain the absence of clear evidence for his position, and of course has no idea about anything explained by Winter or Neyrey. There is obviously no overt attack on Apollos; Doherty explains this by saying that Paul "is trying to handle the rivalry as diplomatically as possible" and "wants to win back his Corinthian congregation without an overt attack on Apollos and those who have responded to him."
This, we are to believe, of the man who wrote the Galatians and called them foolish; I suppose Paul could be such a widely diverse personality as suggested (he was not a cardboard cutout, after all) but there is no evidence from the rest of the Corinthian correspondence that he is in a "diplomatic" mood at this time.
What he have here, in fact, is a begged question used to explain away contrary or "non-" evidence. The only "diplomacy" in evidence, per Neyrey's analysis, we would regard as Paul diplomatically downplaying his own earned position of advantage over Apollos.
In 3:6 Paul states: "I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it; but God made it grow." This pride of place Paul claims for himself in the Corinthian garden (since Apollos came after him) is supplemented by another analogy in 3:10-17, that of "God's building". Here Paul "laid the foundation", which he declares is "Jesus Christ himself," meaning his personal doctrine about the Christ. Upon it, another (he uses no names here, but Apollos is clearly implied) has built a construction. And now Paul lets his animosity shine through, for he warns that the quality of that construction will have to suffer the test of fire on the day of judgment. Then, styling the Corinthians as God's temple, he warns (3:17) that "anyone who destroys God's temple will himself be destroyed by God," and he concludes his little diatribe by revisiting the theme of the foolish wisdom of the world vs. God's wisdom (which is to say, what Paul preaches).
That Apollos comes out on the short end of the critical stick in all this, or that he is to be identified among "those who fancy themselves wise" (3:18) and are in danger of divine destruction, is hardly to be doubted...
Let's look at these verses in full, rather than just select quotes:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise.
Note that the emphasis shifts from one person to "each one" - Paul is moving from particulars to generalities here, and this is further emphasized by his direct warning to the Corinthians ("Don't you know...", "any one of you"). Apollos as a subject has been long left behind, and polemic against Apollos can only be found by the most uncharitable of readings.
As for the "pride of place" bit, this is impractically false: Certainly someone had to come first, Paul or Apollos; Doherty is merely reading rivalry into reported chronological order. Furthermore, the agricultural motif supports the idea of Paul and Apollos as co-workers continuing in the same tradition. Rivals seldom water each others' fields - they would be more likely to uproot what was already planted. Winter's explanation indeed shows how Paul is specifically countering such ideas as were known in Corinth.
But now to our second and more critical question on this matter:
Referring yet again to Haenchen, Doherty suggests that Apollos may have been "the one responsible for leading Paul's Corinthian congregation astray, offering the view that the believer, through the reception of divine wisdom, could enter immediately into a state of spiritual perfection."
And what specifically was Apollos preaching that so bothered Paul? Doherty offers:
The fact that he came from Alexandria in the middle of the first century makes it highly likely that he offered a type of wisdom theology which came out of the Hellenistic Judaism of his home city, that stream of philosophy expressed in the writings of the Jewish Platonist Philo, and in the document known as the Wisdom of Solomon. Apollos was probably a teacher of revealed knowledge which in itself claimed to confer salvation (Koester calls it a "life-giving wisdom"). And it may be that his preaching represented an evolution beyond earlier ideas in seeing a spiritual Christ as a concrete divine figure who was responsible for this revelation, a Christ who had grown out of Alexandrian traditions of personified Wisdom (Sophia) wedded with the Greek Logos.
One is starkly reminded here of the efforts of J.H.A. Hart, referred to by Hurd [Hurd.1Cor, 98n] - who similarly "speculated elaborately on Apollos' Alexandrian (and therefore Philonic) theology." Indeed one wonders whether critics think that any Jews OTHER THAN "Philonic" sorts lived in Alexandria. But does our text truly offer support for any such notion as this?
In fact, a clue to the true "problem" is given in the Acts account which Doherty rejects. A second clue is found in our earlier analysis of the 1 Cor. 2 passage which Doherty incorrectly interprets as referring to spiritual beings rather than earthly rulers. The issue is not Platonic philosophy, nor is it theology. It is, rather, that well-familiar matter of preference for a "better speaker" per the issue of oratory as noted by Winter. Paul is being given the short shrift by Corinthians who like Apollos' speaking style better than his own.
The social and literary clues collected by Winter and Pickett [Pick.Csc] in this matter tell the story. Note Paul's responses: He did not come to preach human wisdom (1:17); he did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom (2:1); his message was not with wise and persuasive words (2:4). An important social link here is that rhetorical skill in this time was thought to be proof of the speaker's possession of spiritual authority and power .
This again fits hand in glove with the larger picture, and Winter's explanation: Paul notes elsewhere that he was criticized as being strong in his letter-writing but weak in speech; 2 Cor. 10:10 - "For some say, 'His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.' "
Thus, Pickett concludes that Paul:
...was criticized for being socially inferior by a wealthy and powerful minority whose behavior was reported to be arrogant. They found in Apollos the very qualities they accused Paul of lacking.
In this regard, Pickett adds, it is significant that the specific phrases used by Paul in 1:17 and 2:1, 4 indicate a form of speech - a rhetorical device. What he have here is not a dispute over theology, but a dispute over who is a better speechmaker, and per Winter, who is better to be imitating. The wealthy Corinthians were impressed with Apollos' preaching style and linked it to his spirituality; Paul replies with his emphasis on the insufficiency of human wisdom, and goes on to emphasize the cross as a symbol of weakness that God has invested with power.
Paul and Apollos are no more at odds with each other than might be two prospective pastors of a modern church with different teaching styles that appeal to different people within the church. Some prefer the silver-tongued orator; others prefer the quieter or more easily understood preacher, but in any case, it is the congregation that causes the problem; the pastors themselves are not at odds with each other, and are most likely in this setting to be disgusted by the controversy.
Add to this the social significance attributed to good speakers in this context, and we have our picture of the Corinthian problem - one decidedly out of line with Doherty's abstractionist piece, with which, on this matter, we need review no further.
We will close this issue with a few incidental notes. Some part of Doherty's case rests on the issue of the folly of the crucifixion; we will deal with that in another chapter. Here are two paragraphs that require a special examination:
...we have to note that Paul, in his efforts to counter those who have in his view misled his Corinthian congregation, fails to make any reference whatever to an earthly Jesus or to any presumed wisdom teachings of his which the opponents have supposedly misused. In a dispute over how to interpret the sayings of Jesus, neither Paul, nor apparently his opposition (since he makes no mention of such a thing), appeals to those sayings!
This silence in 1 Corinthians is almost inexplicable-except on one basis: neither Paul nor his rivals knew of any such human teacher or teachings...
This side note is made, we surmise, in reference to 1 Cor. 9, where Paul makes the following appeal:
1 Cor. 9:14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
Now Doherty has rejected such notations as being from an earthly Jesus; rather, he has seen them, with no justification whatsoever other than his thesis, as "words from Lord" received in a spiritual ecstasy. Presumably Paul must add innumerable qualifiers ("In the same way, the Lord has commanded, about 20 years ago, while he walked the earth, this earth, not a Platonist spiritual plane of the sort taught by Philo...") before Doherty will be satisfied that we have genuine evidence of an earthly Jesus here.
Aside from the historical problems of this assumption that we have covered elsewhere, the question can be asked as it is to an extent by Doherty: Why is no appeal made directly to a saying of Jesus? Why does Paul not quote a saying here directly rather than alluding to a command?
The answer is found in a study made by Dungan [Dung.SJCP]. We will not here seek to rehash the entirety of his work, but the key points to be made are:
- Paul does not quote the command of the Lord here because - it is being quoted to HIM. Paul has been perceived as violating the command of the Lord to get his living from the Gospel. In that case, it hardly would do any good for Paul to simply quote the command back to the Corinthians.
- Paul later (2 Cor. 2, 12) finds himself having to justify his disregard for this command: He wishes to avoid burdening the poor; he wishes to disassociate himself from those who sell their preaching, and perhaps from pagan preachers who charge to teach. As Dungan puts it, it was better in Paul's eyes to disregard the commandment than to risk not being able to preach the message of salvation. 
In short, Paul was having the same problem missionaries today often have: The problem of presenting the Gospel in a culture where certain elements or commands require a different twist or application in order to get the message through. Jesus' command, made in Palestine to Jews and under Semitic rules of hospitality, had to be re-interpreted in light of Corinthian custom, which had a different idea about the matter.
We are now finished with this important aspect of 1 Corinthians, but there are a few other things that Doherty says about that book that we need to make note of. Much of what he says elsewhere concerns issues we have covered in our previous replies to Robert Price: In particular, Paul's use of the word "gospel". Much of what we said in reply to Price also applies to Doherty; at the same time, a bit of what we are about to say in reply to Doherty will also apply to Price.
In the interim, though, here are some of the necessary points. In a selection on the source of Paul's gospel, Doherty errs thusly:
In 1 Corinthians 9:1 Paul asks plaintively: "Am I not an apostle? Did I not see Jesus our Lord?" It would seem that for Paul the mark of the true apostle is the reception of the proper visionary revelation and authority from God.
There is no doubt that Paul considers reception of proper authority to be part of the issue. However, the "plaintive" bit is Doherty's own reading. The entire tone of 1 Corinthians urges us to read this not as a plaintive plea, but as a stern assertion. The text can only suggest that a "proper visionary revelation" is a mark of a true apostle, not the only possible mark.
In all of his arguments over the legitimacy of his position, Paul never addresses the issue in this way: "Yes, I know others were appointed by Jesus in his earthly ministry, but the way in which I was called was just as worthy..." Had there been such a thing as appointment by Jesus, can we believe that this, or a link to those who had been so appointed, would not be the ever-present benchmark by which all apostles were measured? Could Paul possibly have ignored such a standard throughout the many debates he engages in concerning apostolic legitimacy?
These other words serve to give us pause: What is Doherty expecting here? Why would Paul need to make such an obvious point in such an obvious manner? By the traditional view, the earthly commissioning of an apostle is a given; Paul's apostolic calling is "abnormal" and a comment such as is suggested by Doherty is superfluous. The Corinthians KNOW that the other apostles were appointed by Jesus on earth.
Furthermore, it would violate the rhetorical principle of brevity to rehash the matter in this fashion. As one versed in Greco-Roman rhetorical techniques, Paul would no doubt be aware of this sort of admonition from Pseudo-Demetrius [Jerv.GospP, 67]:
For it is felt to be more forcible when thus briefly put...Once the statement is made in detail, it resembles not a rebuke but a thing narrated...The passion and vehemence of the words are enfeebled when this extended.
This was a pretty strong situation for Paul - you can bet that he would not want to "enfeeble" his argument with superfluous commentary about what the Corinthians already knew.
But on the other side, what can Doherty show us to prove his point about Paul? He first tells us: "In 2 Corinthians 10:18, Paul declares: 'It is not the man who recommends himself, but the man whom the Lord recommends.' Here 'Lord' refers to God (cf. 3:4-6), which is in keeping with the way Paul regularly expresses himself about his call to preach the gospel."
What of this? Even Jesus harkened back to the Father for his ultimate authority (Matt. 11:27//Luke 10:22 and John 5, for example), and God is still the prime mover and the first cause in Jewish thought, whereas Jesus, as God's Son and Word incarnate, can only do what the Father commands. Thus it is that Paul regards God as the one who assigned fields to the apostles (2 Cor. 10:13) and as the one who appointed apostles (1 Cor. 12:28).
At any rate, in this section, Paul is talking about PRESENT mission work - not all who engaged in this work, several years after Jesus' death, were those originally commissioned by Jesus or part of his ministry.
We now move briefly to the matter of the resurrection appearances. Concerning the Greek word ophthe used by Paul, Doherty writes:
...the sense of 'vision' may be too strong. In a study of the meaning of ophthe here, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. V, p. 358) points out that in this type of context the word is a technical term for being 'in the presence of revelation as such, without reference to the nature of its perception.' In other words, the 'seeing' may not refer to actual sensory or mental perception. Rather, it may simply be 'an encounter with the risen Lord who reveals himself...they experienced his presence.' If what we have here is more an experience of Christ's 'presence' than a full-blown hallucinatory vision, this would make it easier to accept that so many individuals and even large groups could imagine they had undergone such an experience.
It is far from clear, therefore, that Paul in 15:5-8 is describing anything more than a series of experiences in which many people, most of them within a group already formed for a religious purpose, felt a conviction of faith in the spiritual Christ, experiences which may well have grown in the telling.
This, Doherty asserts, "wipes out Easter" and makes this passage interpretable as being an account of people who "simply experienced a revelation of or about the Christ and his spiritual world activities." But is this truly the case?
At this point, we might seek to engage a discussion on the use of ophthe, but there is really no need. Let us simply assume, for the moment, that the point is correct. For Doherty's source here, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, makes the point above; but the point is also made that the question of the way in which the perception is made is "neutralised or subordinated to the theological evaluation." (359) In other words, it is said that no statement is being made about the nature of the appearances with this word.
Even if this is so, however, the context of Paul's remarks suggests a solid perception. How so?
Recall in our reply to Robert Price (linked above) that we have shown that Paul appeals to these appearances in order to establish "visual authority" for the nature of the resurrection body - a body which, we have shown, is entirely tangible. Thus Paul emphasizes here that the folks who saw Jesus DID see something tangible - it was not merely a vision or a "revelation" about Christ's "spiritual world activities", and cannot be interpreted as such - unless, of course, we do as Doherty has done elsewhere, and assume the very thing we set out to prove.
The "experience" of the Lord here was of a clear observation of Jesus' resurrected and tangible body. Measures without textual evidence, such as suggesting that the "burial" part was added later or that the tales grew in the telling, offer no solace for the critic: The text reads as it reads, with no evidence that it should read any differently; what Paul reports is in line with Jewish notions of resurrection, so that there was little that the concept could "grow" into.
Moreover, this serves in no way to address the died/buried/raised reports. Did the early Christians have a "revelation" of this as well? Perhaps, as we have seen, Doherty would argue precisely this - but it would still be begging the question.
We are next treated to a section on Paul's report of reception and transmission of the statements in 1 Cor. 15. Here, referring to verse 3 and its delivered/received pair, Doherty writes:
The first verb in the Greek is the past tense (aorist) of paradidomi: to hand over, to pass on, to deliver; the second, of paralambano: to receive, take over, learn or acknowledge. Commentators are quite right in pointing out that this pair of words is often, even usually, technical language for the receiving and passing on of tradition along a human chain of teaching and transmitted heritage. This sense is unmistakably present in the first verb of this passage. Paul is passing on his teaching to the Corinthians, and to everyone else he preaches to. But does it apply to the second verb, the "received" element?
Is Paul here talking about "receiving" this tradition from the other Apostles? Or does he mean something else - perhaps receipt of a vision of some sort?
In an attempt to discount the former, Doherty writes:
The difficulty is that it would make nonsense of verse 8. As noted above, the list of appearances are seemingly of a piece, including Paul's. Yet if Paul is speaking of things he learned from others, this would hardly encompass his own experience of the Christ.
And of course this is correct: Technically speaking, Paul had to learn about the other experiences from other people, and his own experience is not in that bag. But as Doherty later admits, albeit not clearly, this is also a "problem" if we see these reports merely as visions/experiences. The objection here is superfluous.
Citing Paul's use of the word "gospel" in Galatians, Doherty writes:
Paul could not make himself any clearer. The gospel he preached is not something passed on through human channels. He 'did not receive it from any man.' If the verb 'received' in 1 Corinthians 15:3 is claimed to represent such a thing, then the statements in the two passages stand in direct contradiction to one another. Given his passionate declaration in Galatians, it is not likely that Paul would turn around and say to the Corinthians that he in fact got his gospel 'from men.'
And of course this is familiar territory. Doherty, like Price, is off the mark here, and we refer the reader again to this essay. It is not plausible to read the use of "gospel" in such stark terms.
Doherty adds: "We are entitled to assume the strong likelihood that Paul would be consistent in his statements about the source of his gospel..."
Yes indeed: And we are also obliged to read documents in their social context. Once again, our critic who admonishes us to "let the documents speak for themselves" in fact does no more than "let the documents speak for the theory".
A few final words are needed. The first is on the word paralambano (received) used by Paul. A look at the Strong's exposition is in order. Concerning this word, and in an attempt to relegate Paul's report to that of some sort of vision, Doherty appeals to the word's compatibility "with the idea of divine revelation is its usage in the wider Graeco-Roman world." Referring to Schweitzer, who said that this word "signified the reception and communication of the revelation received in the mysteries," we are told that Paul was influenced by Hellenism here.
But Paul was a rabbinic Jew, was he not? No problem:
But to claim (as Schweitzer and others do) that Paul is not here being influenced by hellenistic usages and conceptions is to beg the question, since such an immunity cannot be proven. In fact, it goes against common sense, if only because Paul was himself a Diaspora Jew and could hardly have led a life insulated from hellenistic thought and expression.
The key, of course, is not whether Paul was "insulated" against such thought, but whether he really and truly thought in this way, and/or whether he would be inclined to think this way in the main. But the description of the tangible (and thoroughly Jewish-centered) resurrection body, again, puts paid to the entire idea that paralambano is being used here in a Hellenistic sense, and Paul's overall debt to Judaism and the fairly non-existent indications of Hellenistic thought in his work elsewhere (as documented by W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders particularly), should close the matter once and for all.
Notice too how Doherty has worked from "it can't be proven" to "it goes against common sense" - that's a rather large step to take without broader indications of Paul's alleged Hellenism.
In closing on this matter, Doherty does have this to say about the rabbinic parallel term:
Even in rabbinic usage, to which the most frequent appeal is made, the idea of 'received' is not always confined to the idea of passed on teaching through human channels. Hyam Maccoby, in Paul and Hellenism (p. 91-2), refutes Joachim Jeremias' argument that paralambano corresponds to the Hebrew 'qibel' which always refers to reception as part of passed on tradition. Maccoby proves that this is not so by quoting from the Mishna: 'Moses received (qibel) the Torah from Sinai.' Here we have 'received' used in the sense of direct reception from the divinity himself.
That Maccoby is used as a reliable source here is enough of a warning; but as to this use of "qibel" - well, aside from the fact that the Mishna is rather too late a source to be relying upon for matters related to NT times (are we not always told this in OUR arguments?), I wonder if Doherty really wants to suggest that Paul's reception of the tradition should be equated with Moses' reception of the Torah. Exodus tells us that "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." (Ex. 33:11)
This sounds like some pretty intimate conversation - not the sort of thing that lends itself to being interpreted as visions or ecstatic experiences. On the other hand, it fits perfectly with the notion of the Apostles passing their tradition on to Paul personally.
Doherty naturally assigns 2 Peter to a pseudonymous writer and to a late date. We will not now embark upon answers to these issues, but refer the reader to Glenn Miller's work on 2 Peter. What concerns us here is Doherty's attempt to bring 2 Peter into his "spiritual Christ" camp.
We have all of the usual litanies repeated: I.e., that things said by Jesus are not attributed to Jesus with a modern citation method. One unique objection is of a "silence" in 2 Peter 1:20, "where the writer says that 'no one can interpret a prophecy of scripture by himself.' " This Doherty finds as evidence of lack of knowledge of a historical Jesus, for "Jesus is represented in the Gospels as showing how to do this."
True enough: And as 2 Peter goes on to say, "...prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." One suggests that Jesus would be regarded as one who "was carried along" by the Holy Spirit thusly, especially as he is regarded as a member of the same Triune Godhead as the Holy Spirit.
Another "problem" is perceived in 2 Pet. 3:2 -
Remember the predictions made by God's own prophets, and the commands given by the Lord and Savior through your apostles.
Of this, Doherty writes:
Here the writer seems to lack any sense of Jesus having recently been on earth, issuing predictions and commands in his own physical person. Instead of saying that the Lord had spoken these commands during his ministry, and the apostles had passed them on, the writer is somewhat ambiguous, suggesting that the apostles served as mouthpieces for commands received through revelation or simply through personal judgment of what the Lord wanted. In fact, the parallel between the two phrases in the above verse, the former speaking of God making known his predictions through his prophets, and the Lord and Savior through his apostles, suggests that both God and Savior are using revelatory channels.
Actually, the parallel here would be predictions/prophets and commands/Lord, not commands/apostles. Even so, what is the issue here? Jesus is long gone from the earth; this writer, whether Peter or a later writer, could hardly refer to "the commands given by the Lord as you personally heard them" since most of his readers were probably not alive and/or grown enough to have heard Jesus personally. Much less could they have done so if they did not live in Palestine.
Our writer here is simply emphasizing the apostolic role in transmission (which would also serve to remind the reader that the apostles, not the false teachers of 2 Peter 2 [who undoubtedly appealed to Jesus as an authority], are the true conduit), and this no more indicates that Jesus was not on earth than a disciple of Confucius, passing the words of his master to a third generation of Confucians, in reminding his listeners of "the maxims given by Confucius through me" means that Confucius did not exist on earth.
This objection is then tendered, and it is the sort we are familiar with:
...we might note that 2 Peter is a polemical document, primarily concerned with countering accusations and contrary opinions from certain scoffers and errorists (e.g., 1:16, 3:3-4). Apparently these "brute beasts" are concerned solely with the Lord's power in the present and future, and nothing of his incarnated past, for the author of this epistle never addresses any point of dispute concerning Christ's life and teachings. No word or incident from the preserved memories about Jesus of Nazareth is offered to counter their objections, no miracle witnessed by many to answer the accusation that the power of the Lord Jesus Christ is based merely "on tales artfully spun" (1:16). And it is certainly a curiosity that nowhere does this author, who writes in Peter's name, play his best trump card by appealing to the fact that he (Peter) had been a follower of Jesus in his earthly ministry and his chief apostle.
And we reply again: Since the veracity of these tales is the very thing at issue, how on earth would simply re-iterating the events being criticized as fictions help? Doherty tells us: "If the writer faced such accusations, surely the most natural rebuttal would have been a spirited presentation of the things Jesus had said and done during his ministry on earth."
Is Doherty unable to recognize this as circular reasoning? With 2 Peter, the irresistible force had met the immovable object: That is no doubt why the matter had descended into this "brute beasts" and "we said/they said" polemic - it, and an appeal to the apostolic conduit as above, was all that was left.
Did Peter say that he saw Jesus walk on water? No problem, say the scoffers: You were imagining things! Or maybe you're lying! We agree with what you say, we just understand it differently!
Now we would argue, however, that Peter did indeed offer an appeal to an earthly event: The Transfiguration. This is recorded in 2 Peter thus -
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
It is this occasion that Doherty now puts under the microscope, and it is his intent to relegate this to the realm of ecstatic imagination. Doherty acknowledges that our passage is usually seen as "a reminiscence of the Transfiguration scene as recorded in the Synoptics: Mark 9:2-8, Matthew 17:1-8, Luke 9:28-36." But, he says, "this claim can easily be discredited." How so?
...(A)ny idea that this scene had taken place during Jesus' earthly ministry has to be read into things. The writer supplies us with no such context. Moreover, no mention is made of the presence of Moses and Elijah, or of Peter's suggestion that three tabernacles be set up, or that the voice came out of the clouds, features found in all three Synoptic versions. Nor is any mention made of Jesus' clothes or face being illuminated, features which might better identify the figure in the writer's mind as a human one. All this makes it highly unlikely that he has drawn his knowledge of this "incident" from a Gospel account.
First of all, we argue not that this writer drew from a Gospel account, but from personal experience, but that is only marginally relevant to our argument. Once again, has Doherty ever heard of the rhetorical principles of brevity? Once again, what need is there for all these details if the reader is familiar with the story? These arguments say much about Earl Doherty's expectations, but not a thing about what our writer was required to do.
We have our Gospel context, and no amount of argument will change that; all Doherty has is groundless, presumptuous objections based upon his own personal expectations of "what ought to be".
The first question which should occur to us-and some scholars have asked it-is this: if the writer is seeking to offer something as "proof" of the power of Christ, something which supports the promise of eternal life for believers, why would he choose an incident from Jesus' ministry in which his clothes (and possibly his face) were made bright? Even the voice from heaven hardly tells us very much or makes this the most overwhelming of experiences. Why not offer something far more dramatic, something which Peter himself had supposedly witnessed: Jesus' very resurrection from death? The author could even have supplemented this miracle by enumerating the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his apostles. And if his readers are looking for guarantees of Jesus' future coming, why not add Jesus' own promises that he would return? Kelly (op.cit., p.320) acknowledges that "there are fascinating puzzles here which remain unsolved."
- Heter did NOT witness the resurrection - no one did. What he and the others DID indeed witness was the resurrected body of Jesus, as Doherty goes on to note, but in neither the Gospels nor in Paul is the resurrection body seen as something as "overwhelming" as the Transfiguration. After all, everyone will get a resurrection body, but only Jesus was transfigured.
- Re promises that Jesus made: This is the purpose of the writer alluding to the day of the Lord coming as "a thief" (3:10) - but of course, since we do not have a 21st-century footnote or attribution or citation, Doherty does not recognize the allusion as such.
- Finally, re Kelly: It seems that Doherty has a fondness for misusing quotes from this particular scholar. Kelly does indeed make the "puzzles" comment, but that is AFTER he makes FOUR suggested solutions - none of which Doherty mentions or deals with. (Of those four solutions, we find Kelly's first most likely: That the Transfiguration is used here because it was seen as a prefiguring of Jesus' return. More on that, as we progress.)
But now yet another attempt is made to link Christianity to Hellenism. Asking, "Is all this the language of eyewitness of earthly events?", Doherty tells us that:
- The verb "gnoridzo" (make known-"told"-in verse 16) is a technical term in the New Testament for imparting a divine mystery.
Well enough: It is used in cases where God reveals something to men, but this hardly requires any sort of esoteric connotation: The shepherds (Luke 2:15) use this word to describe their angelic encounter. All that Doherty is doing here is assuming thoroughly Hellenistic features upon a Jewish situation - as indeed he does here also:
- "Epoptai" (eyewitnesses) is also used of the higher grade initiates in the Greek mystery cults who had experienced theophanies (the perceived presence of the god).
What of it? We are still within a thoroughly Jewish context here, and in any event, even though the idea, as Kelly says, carries the connotation of "privileged admission to a divine revelation," this hardly excludes some sort of earthly event. Would the inscription of the Decalogue upon the tablets be considered something other than a "divine revelation"? And is this word used exclusive of mystical events? (Doherty makes no comparison, and the word is used only here in the NT.)
But what about the fact that Peter gives us a physical location for this scene, on the "sacred mountain"? Doherty offers this in reply:
Verse 18 might seem to suggest the presence of a human Jesus in this scene, but even here the ambiguity tends not to support such an idea. Literally, the Greek says: "This voice we heard borne out of heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain." The "being with him" is unlikely to refer to the Gospel context of the apostles going up to the mountain with Jesus, because in that case, it is the whole transfiguration event that would have taken place "while we were with him," including verse 16's appearance in majesty. Instead, the writer restricts himself to the voice from heaven, suggesting that he simply means that this particular manifestation (the voice itself) occurred 'while they were experiencing revelatory appearance.'
I fail to see the problem here. It seems that all Doherty has done here is, yet again, assume what must be proven: That this must be only a revelatory experience. Is some attempt being made here to say that, because the writer does not also specify that the change to glory occurred in the mountain, that he is somehow dislocating that event from the event of the voice? In other words, is Doherty demanding that Peter ought to have said:
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty on the sacred mountain. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. Remember: Both of these things occurred on the mountain!
That tried, an attempt is made to "de-historicize" the event by noting the "high scriptural content of this incident" (a la the suggestion of Crossan's Scripture-searching Christians) and the supposed atmosphere of the event as "similar to Old Testament theophanies of God." It may well be similar, but the implied assumption, that this means neither the theophanies nor this event are veridical experiences, is yet again assuming the very thing that needs to be proved.
We then move to yet another instance of misrepresentation of the views of J.N.D. Kelly:
That this passage is not a reminiscence of some event which happened during the ministry of an historical Jesus is clinched by what follows. Verse 19 presents us with a bizarre conclusion which the writer draws from this scene. Let's repeat the verse here:
All this only confirms for us the message of the prophets, to which you will do well to attend, because it is like a lamp shining in a murky place, until the day breaks and the morning star rises to illuminate your minds.
What is the writer saying? Are we to believe that the eyewitnessed glorification of Jesus of Nazareth into his divine persona, the very voice of God out of heaven acknowledging him as his Son, serves merely to support scripture?! That the entire ministry of the Son of God on earth is secondary to Old Testament prophecy?! (Kelly calls this "paradoxical".)
Our response here takes two parts:
- First, despite Kelly's description, the matter would not be "paradoxical" at all. We must recall again the overarching authority of the OT in the Jewish mind. If the Transfiguration had somehow contradicted something in the OT, then it would have been a strike against Jesus. But even so:
- Kelly may indeed call this "paradoxical" - but once again, he provides a solution, and Doherty offers barely a breath about it. What is this solution? Noting that while the translation which provides the above interpretation is "syntactically acceptable," Kelly writes [Kell.CPtJd, 321]:
The true meaning, which the Greek construction fully supports, is that in the light of the revelation the message of prophecy has been made 'more sure' in the sense both that God has Himself certified it as true and that it is already in the process of fulfillment.
Kelly offers examples from a few secular sources to back up his translation. But do we hear of this explanation from Doherty? Hardly. All we are told is that "Kelly, in his strained attempt to explain the anomaly of verse 19, passes over this astounding focus on scripture..." As a matter of fact, he doesn't "pass over" the matter at all, and his attempt is far from "strained".
Doherty closes this section: "2 Peter clearly regards the appearance of Christ in his glory as a forecast of the Parousia." Yes, we agree. "...Kelly allows (p.317) that there is some evidence in early Christian thought that the Transfiguration was an anticipation of the Second Coming." Indeed so: There is evidence to that effect. "But this is not how the Gospels themselves view it. Instead, Mark 9:9 shows Jesus linking it with his coming resurrection, when he would rise in glory."
Wrong: Let us remember that in Mark, the Transfiguration is recorded after these words by Jesus, and similar words are found in the other Synoptics:
"If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."
This sounds like the parousia to me -- so where does Doherty get the idea of a link to the resurrection? Perhaps from these verses following the record of the Transfiguration:
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.
And so on: The point being that "rising from the dead" became a second topic. It was NOT linked to the Transfiguration in any way; what the disciples discussed what Jesus' statement about himself - not the Transfiguration.