He told them: "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Gospel of Luke 24: 46-48)

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Review and Critic of John Dominic Crossan's book: ‘The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant’


John Dominic Crossan’s book ‘The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant’ had at one point a great impact within the third Quest of the Historical Jesus. Crossan presented a new strand within the Quest adopted by a range of modern scholars, such as Marcus Borg, Gerald F. Downing and Burton Mack in which Jesus being born a Jew of the first century, leans slightly towards a Hellenistic mindset, namely in this particular case the Cynics. This approach has resulted in two strains of reactions in modern scholarship; those who strongly favour innovative ideas and approaches, and those who consider Crossan to be highly speculative, to the point of even loosing his academic integrity.

The Situation

In his book Crossan’s historical methodology includes a triadic process, the anthropological, historical and literary approach to history, in which he carefully analyzes the economic, cultural and social-political environment of the Mediterranean world. He proposes the idea that the Historical Jesus can only be discovered by considering not merely the specific era and location of Jesus in Palestine, but the entire environment of the Mediterranean world and situation alike.

Crossan’s assessment depicts the Mediterraean society as notoriously corrupt, unjust and suppressive; mainly controlled by the minority rulers, landowners and corrupt organised religion. He describes vividly the devastating situation of women, children, slaves and particularly the suppressed peasant society; these being deprived of their human rights and drained by imposed taxes.

Desperation caused various rival groups to emerge, such as revolutionists, the bandits, and the thaumaturgical response of prophets and magicians; their aim was to challenge the societal structure.

Jesus according to Crossan

According to Crossan, Jesus grew up in Nazareth, in Crossan’s view a highly Greco-Roman influenced environment due to its proximity to Sepphoris, a Gentile city and regional centre.

Jesus however begins his spiritual journey as a follower of John the Baptist, a prophet promoting an apocalyptic message. Crossan envisages a sudden turning point in which Jesus changes his mind about John and his message. Jesus embarks in a new direction excluding all elements of apocalypticism and the supernatural; which indicates that Jesus turned perhaps to the philosophy he had been exposed to in Sepphoris prior to his association with John, that of Cynicism.

Crossan’s main evidence is Sepphoris’ proximity to Nazareth combined with certain aspects of Jesus’ teaching and his wandering lifestyle. Being a Cynic, Crossan describes Jesus as repulsed with the evils of society, he becomes an introvert who escapes the typical life and structure of society. Yet unlike a Greek Cynic, Crossan’s Jesus is a Jewish Cynic, his mind is set on reformation, to create a new egalitarian society.

His mission begins with a band of disciples, to whom he offers a social program; they challenge the authorities, and seeks to deliver the less fortunate from societal and religious suppression.

To challenge the suppressive societal system and delivering its victims, Jesus and his followers devised two perfect means of resistance, what Crossan entitles ‘magic and meal.’

Magic to Crossan, in this case Jesus’ miracles, is unofficial religion, basically a rival reaction to official religion. Yet to Crossan healing-miracles were not supernatural they were merely declarations.

According to Crossan, the problem was rooted in the priestly system, that had succeeded in applying the idea of sickness as divine reaction to individual sin. This concept had led to mental degradation and suppression, in which the necessity of temple rituals and the cost of ritual participation were the only means of salvation. Others such as lepers were merely ostrized and excluded from society. By declaring the sick pure the priestly system lost its power and those caught in its grip were reintegrated back into society.

Jesus’ focus on exorcism suggests a similar motive, while Crossan in his book excludes any notion of personal demons he describes exorcism as deliverance and recovery from traumatic and mental disorder; particularly of individuals who had been victimised by the unjust structure of society or colonial powers.

The second mean of reform included a meal of commensality. Crossan effectively describes the vitality of sharing a meal, as it symbolised social status and identity. By eating with the poor and the sinful outcasts, Jesus broke the barrier of the class system and the religious exclusion; indeed therefore, to Crossan Christianity is the religion of the poor, the excluded and outcasts, the humble and the victims.

The Jesus of Crossan is also purely sapiental, whereas divine, prophetic and messianic descriptions are considered later myths; Jesus performed no miracles, and his resurrection is considered to be a later invention.

Jesus opposition to the priests and the temple culminated in his death. Initially he was arrested, crucified under Pilate, died, and his body was thrown in a ditch and eaten by the dogs.

Criticism and Evaluation

Generally Crossan’s appraoch has been strongly criticised. His focus on the Gospel strata, his preference to non-canonical Gospels, including the construction of his own, the so called ‘Cross Gospel’ and his criterion of multiple attestation has been deemed highly speculative.

Furthermore, his methods fiercely oppose the rules of archaeology, by basing his assessment from the earliest strata toward the later, while archaeology can only work the other way round.

Also his use of multiple attestation is questionable! Crossan appears highly inconsistent in utilizing this criteria and frequently refrains from this criteria when the information does not suit his own theory and conclusion, such as Jesus’ prediction of his apocalyptic return (Allan, 106).

A third matter relates to the Mediterranean environment, how relevant was it for Galilee and Judea of Jesus time.

The whole Cynic idea has also been criticised; Witherington points out that there is little resemblance in neither message, lifestyle and practice; these two are clearly distinguishable. In fact his focus on the commensality meal might even contradict the Cynic view, as Cynics considered begging to be an honour (Witherington, p.72). Witherington also points out that the proximity of Sepphoris to Nazareth plays little role, as enmity would separate the locations. Furthermore, no evidence remains that cynic influence flourished in Sepphoris.

Speculative interpretations also mark Crossan’s picture; Jesus change of view relating John the Baptist needs explicit evidence, and his reference to miracles and exorcism as a means of social deliverance is not explicitly evident from the context.

Crossan’s approach to sources is also questionable; he values his interpretations as sufficient if they can be based upon any piece of preceded writings; in fact, in his book, Crossan uses this approach continually; but on what basis is such a conclusion evident, especially, when previous texts and immediate events are strictly exclusive of each other?

Positives about Crossan’s Book

Neverthless Crossan also points out issues of remarkable significance

His book challenges an often typical tendency of Christians to spiritualise even the matters which to Jesus were urgent and practical. While the tendency is to gaze forward and hope for an apocalyptic order and reform only, Crossan describes an immediate social reform against poverty and injustice in which the followers engage and get practical.

Similarly the commensality of shared meals, Crossan gets the point across effectively; while these may not have been the ultimate devise of changing society, Crossan is correct in its outstanding application; Jesus was publically breaking down the barriers of suppression.

Similarly with the healing factor, while the exclusive view of Crossan that healings were a mere announcement of acceptance; the healings certainly triggered such an effect.

Crossan’s view certainly encourages a modern Christian to seek the true values of life, to resist the temptation of pursuing wealth while others lack the basics, to get practical, to speak out where injustice occurs, to liberate the poor and the victims and to seek and fight for what may benefit a suffering majority rather than a benefitted minority.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Short introduction to the Christological aspects of the Historical Jesus: To what Extent has Modern Liberal Scholarship attempted to refute these?

This is my first work ever on the Historical Jesus, an essay I completed in 2005. If you are looking for a very detailed reading, this my not be what you are looking for, yet it might be worth a read.

Two years ago I completed two very detailed essays on the Historical Jesus: a much more extensive introduction and one on the Resurrection of Jesus in response to the modern theory that Jesus' resurrection was originally viewed as mere spiritual occurance in which the soul left the body.

I will post both essays here and probably on my website when it starts running as soon as I get green light from my university to post them.


The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) proposed that a focus upon the historical Jesus confirms nothing of significance to the Christ of our faith. He maintained that the appearance of the eternal in time ascends history and becomes trivialised within the frame of history; thus Christ in history is not comprehensible and is only perceived by faith.[1]
Kiergegaard’s proposition has however failed to receive a common consent among scholars. Macquarrie points out that if Christ ‘existed only for faith’ then how would this explain the fact that knowledge toward faith is historically bound?[2] And thus, should not the historical Jesus and his ‘functional Christology’ be combined?[3]
To combine the historicity of Jesus and his Christological role, three main issues become inevitable in our assessment: the date and authorship of the Gospels, the miracles, and resurrection of Jesus!

The Gospels, their date and authorship

Regardless of, whether the original Jesus was distorted or kept intact, a reasonable assessment requires first an estimation of the origin and era of transmission, composition and compilation of the Gospel text which conveys to us the information of his historical role.
Recent manuscript discoveries have placed it within the second half of the 1st century[4] and according to Maurice Casey who otherwise proposes a critical and negative conclusion in comparison to the Bible-believing Christian, such a compilation took place within the first sixty years of Christianity.[5]

The next step is determining whether the text underwent stages of developments or remained intact.

Here Sanders, who inaugurated the third Jesus Quest, suggests that an early and oral original account of Jesus indeed existed, yet this tradition was gradually corrupted by additions.

But how and why would the early church produce these additions?

Sanders, proposes three reasons:

  • Christological elements which developed through early Jewish-Christian debating
  • Assumed Old Testament predictions to Christ
  • Mythological elements meant to attract followers[6]

Here Sanders, summarizes parts of earlier theories of the First and Second Quest, e.g. the ideas of Schweitzer and Bultmann, who both suggested scriptural fabrication.

Schweitzer had earlier postulated that Jesus’ mission failed, which forced the fabrication; hence it was a cover-up, while Bultmann who utilized existentialist methods[7] assumed the same reason but elaborated further on the extent of the corruption as a result and a means of attraction.

Bultmann claimed that Jesus had predicted eschatology but not the Christological elements; these were the additions of the early Christian community,[8] which he coined ‘kerygma’, the mythological elements plagiarised from the Old Testament or contemporary or earlier religions.

Bultmann therefore asserted that any attempt to discover the historical Jesus required total demythologizing of the text, in which Jesus’ words had to be isolated from the kerygma,[9] however, which he rendered a task impossible to achieve, as he stated: ‘The problem of the Christology of the New Testament is the problem of the New Testament’.[10]

Bultmann’s theory was however deemed too complex and too biased.[11] It was refuted by succeeding liberals, such as Kasemann and Bornkamm who inaugurated the Second Quest.
These still focused on isolation but refuted the impassibility to get beneath the kerygma.[12]

Like Bultmann, Kasemann also perceived Jesus to be a mere teacher. He objected to the rigid mythological factor of Bultmann, yet stated that the Gospels were separate compositions which indeed contained authentic sayings with fabricated mythological additions.[13]

Another faction within the Jesus Quest, was that of the Jesus Seminar. Norman Perrin (1920-76) who provided its method, singled out assumed authentic sayings based upon:

  • Multiple attestation of two gospels sayings or independent pre-Gospel traditions.
  • The criterion of coherence: that the sayings have to be consistent with subject matter and tone with those already attributed to Jesus.
  • Exclusion from Jewish and early church elements, e.g. the Eucharist and John’s Gospel.[14]

By utilizing Perrin’s method the Jesus Seminar considers only ninety of the fifteen hundred sayings as authentic and these exclude all Christological and messianic notions.[15]

The integrity of the Jesus Seminar has however been severely challenged and is an approach abandoned by the majority of scholars; it is accused of a theological agenda which avoids the fundamental questions.[16]

Why place Christ outside of Judaism and early Christianity to determine his historical reality? On which basis do we have the authority to do so? Why not rather study him within available history? Meier points out that the same method could be applied to any figure of history and result similarly; this would however mythologize both Luther and Beethoven.[17]

Getting back to Sanders’ approach, he approached this from a different angle; primarily he questions the lack of biographical characteristics in the Gospel account to present an historical account.[18] Sanders reckoned that an account could only be fully reliable if the author presented all the details of every reference to individuals and events in their context.[19] Thus, the critical perception is two-fold but united: the Gospel account lacks historical data, and contains too much mythology. Today these arguments are fairly refuted, the majority of scholars perceive the Gospels as biographies.

Sanders also pointed out a second matter, that the authenticity of the Gospels should be based upon confirmation of the actual authorship. He suggests that the Gospel account was written by the early first century church, while the names of the authors, such as Matthew or Mark, according to hearsay were added in the second century to provide them with apostolic authority.[20]

Hence, according to Sanders, the authenticity stands or falls upon the confirmation of the authorship of the four Gospels.

Sanders’ theory may however, not be fully compatible with early history. A look at early New Testament manuscripts and fragments and writings of early church fathers suggests that the four Gospels were fairly well recognised in all Christian centres by the early second century.[21] In fact, Eusebius’ (AD 260-339) reference to Papias (AD 100) in his The History of the Church, reveals that Papias referred to Matthew, Mark and John as contemporaries with those who provided him the information. He further describes Mark dictating the Gospel from Peter and Matthew writing his Gospel to the Jews in Hebrew.[22]

While full consent amongst scholars is lacking,[23] these three factors are of significance here: a) he interacts with first-century individuals who knew Matthew, Peter and John, 2) he was a disciple of Polycarp, himself a disciple of John,[24] 3) and he is supported by Justin Martyr (AD 150), who in his Dialogue 100.4 and 106.3 entitles the Gospels as the ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’, to which one is dedicated Peter.[25]

Therefore asserting that the authorship of the Gospel account was not recognised in the first century is willingly neglecting basic facts, and the issue is therefore not that of authorship but that of authorial integrity!

So far we can only assume that the church within the first century believed the Historical Jesus to be the risen Christ; at least this is what first century authorship indicates. The question we need to ask is: whether the authors were portraying an honest account on the historicity of Jesus? Were they covering up failure or simply attempting to attract followers?

A deceiving activist or psychiatric moralist: his resurrection and miracles

Did Jesus rise from dead in the first place? Within the first Jesus Quest, Herman Reimarus (1694-1768) was probably the first to have a significant effect on the historical search for Jesus. His motive was however not to discover the historical Jesus, but rather to discredit supernatural religion so as to make way for natural religion.[26] He describes Jesus as a moral teacher and political activist who despised Jewish legalism and predicted the coming of a future glorious kingdom.

Reimarus elaborates on this and asserted that Jesus’ predictions failed, particularly his resurrection; his book Fragmente eines Ungenannten, even suggests an early apostolic conspiracy, in which the disciples stole Jesus’ body possibly as a cover up.[27]

Scholars, such as David Strauss (1808-74) were unconvinced by Reimarus’ proposition. Strauss stated that the resurrection in its totality was an apostolic fabrication, that Jesus never spoke to his critics about his resurrection[28] and pointed out that speeches which included any indication of the kind, such as ‘his body being the temple’ or the ‘sign of Jonah’ were symbolic and unclear.[29]

He points out three main arguments against the resurrection: 1) the ignorance of the religious leaders;[30] 2) the legendary nature of the post-resurrection appearances which occur within the inner circle only; 3) and the variant elements in the accounts of the resurrection appearance.[31]

There are however objections to Strauss’ arguments, first and most the religious leaders did perceive these speeches, which Strauss considered as unclear, as predictions of Jesus’ resurrection (Matt.27: 62-6).

Secondly, Paul’s reference to five hundred individuals who saw Jesus at the same time (1 Cor.16: 5). Here, Pannenberg points out that Paul intended to challenge his contemporary critics; that the multiple numbers of witnesses welcomed any inquiries.[32]

Hence despite Strauss’ objections being reasonable, the paradoxes remain unsolved: if the resurrection was a fraud:

1) Where was the body located?

2) What was the impetus behind?

3) How about the risk of the hoax failing and leading to further assaults

4) What was the reason behind the hoax? Was it material gain or power

5) and if so, from where would it come?

The amounts of paradoxes are most likely to be solved if the resurrection proclamation logically made sense, being based upon individuals who clearly believed it. While this may not prove the resurrection account itself, it presents the possibility that the disciples truly believed the resurrection occurrence themselves.

Here Raymond Brown points out two factors on which Christianity rests. He declares that the empty tomb would not be sufficient to inaugurate the resurrection proclamation; the Christian faith would merely build upon an empty tomb; hence the post-resurrection appearances would be a necessary confirmation to launch the proclamation.[33]

Pannenberg also pointed out that without the appearances the early Christian community would be non-existing;[34] Strauss and Bultmann themselves seemed aware of the matter and even postulated that the disciples mutually or subjectively might have hallucinated the appearances.[35]

Yet the fact that the body was missing would in itself cause complications for the first century critic, if later Jewish polemic is correct then the body of Christ was presented to the Jerusalem community by being dragged through the streets (The Toledoth Yeshu).[36] But if later Jewish polemic is correct why then, was the Gospel proclamation not discredited?

Crossan elaborates further on the missing body of Jesus, envisaging that the disciples fled Jerusalem, and that the body of Jesus according to common practice toward crucified criminals, was probably eaten up by dogs.[37]

The Jesus Seminar however, proposes that mere ignorance is the only suitable solution, that we are simply unable to draw any conclusions; that the body was probably placed in a different tomb and rotted away.[38] While these possibilities remains, they fail to explain why the body was removed or forgotten; if Jews were behind the plot, why was the proclamation not discredited? If the disciples were behind it, how do we explain the impetus of the proclamation?

This is where Matthew’s account becomes vital; in it the tomb and body are located and guarded until the resurrection occurrence (Matt.27-8). Reimarus, however questioned Matthew’s integrity; wondering why Matthew contains the only account to record the specific historical details. He suggests that Matthew fabricates a scene where the guards are not properly questioned and the incident is bribed away rather than assessed.[39] Here even Brown who critically assesses the scene, and despite considering the probability of the resurrection, perceives the Gospel account to be heavily interpolated.[40]

Yet again, even though Matthew would have fabricated his account, it does not undermine the fact that the impetus of the proclamation was somehow inaugurated, and the authors who were or knew the eyewitnesses themselves believed account! Furthermore, there were probably good reason why Mark, Luke and John did not include this incident in their writings as these being Greek writings in circulation would quickly attract the Roman interest a cause speculation of rebellion. Hence the incident only circulated in oral form and occurred in written form in the Aramaic written Matthew’s Gospel only.

How about the miracles? Do they reveal integrity or deception? While Strauss (1808-74) denied that Jesus deceived his hearers by predicting the resurrection, he did propose the possibility that Jesus in fact was a charlatan who through miraculous tricks deceived the illiterate and ignorant.[41]

Hence if Strauss and Reimarus were correct then the historical Jesus was originally a deceiver, his disciples including. But what would be the purpose behind the miraculous deception?

Within the Third Quest movement there is strong disagreement, e.g. Vermes who perceives Jesus as an extraordinary Jew, who simply followed the trend of the holy men movement;[42] or Crossan, who offers the possibility that Jesus’ miracles and predictions were fakes and means to organise the masses to political activism.[43]

Interestingly both the First and some Third Quest advocators present the possibility of Christ being merely or either a teacher, a political activist, or both. The main focus then, due to the miraculous elements is to ask whether he consciously utilized deceptive tricks or in fact performed them supernaturally.

Strauss envisaged that since Jesus purposely avoided miraculous tricks amongst the educated body of religious scholars, he revealed the risk of being exposed.[44] However, the Gospel account challenges this perspective: 1) miracles were indeed performed in front of the religious leaders (Matt.9: 1-8), 2) and the miracles of Jesus were perceived by the religious leaders not as hoaxes but as demonical (Matt.9: 34; 12: 24).

This indeed seems to be confirmed by contemporary and later Jewish writings. Talmudic writings describe him as a practitioner of magic (Sanhedrin 43),[45] while Josephus describes him as a worker of mighty deeds (Testimonium Flavianum, Ant 18.3.3, 63-4).[46] Hence deducing the Jewish material, these support the notion that Jesus’ miracles would mainly have been perceived as supernatural within the educated circles.

Concerning the integrity of the historical Jesus, another possible motive is introduced by Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), one of the originators of the first quest. He excluded the notion of deception or political activism and portrayed Christ as a moral teacher who consciously believed in his own future resurrection and exalted glory.
He describes Jesus as unique and vital for the ongoing ethics of human history but as a failure in his eschatological predictions;[47] hence Jesus was not consciously a deceiver!

However, Schweitzer leaned toward Strauss’ theory that Jesus’ high views of himself were caused by possible psychiatric and hallucinating problems,[48] and this was the problem which the disciples later had to deal with.

Yet again, while Schweitzer’s postulate needs consideration, it does not explain the resurrection account or the continuous proclamation.


The fact remains that historical Jesus Christ cannot be fully assessed from history any more than any other ancient historical figure. The only reasonable conclusions are based upon an individual’s recognition of available sources, whether the Gospel accounts or the information provided from early church fathers; hence in all fairness Jesus is historical.

So far the debate concerns the Christological functions, his miracles and resurrection and whether these were fakes or acts of the supernatural? The only evidences are the sources which have not been proven to be corruptions, and which are backed up by both the resurrection paradox and the existence of the continuous proclamation. We can only assume therefore that these are historical probabilities. Following this, since the historical Jesus is so combined with the Christological functions, they are difficult to separate.

Kierkegaard might be correct in his strong emphasis on faith; yet unless we can move beyond the philosophical and speculative propositions and present the actual evidences against Jesus as being Christ, it still remains an historical probability that the Christological functions of the historical Jesus reveal him to be the exalted Christ.


[1] Macquarrie, 1990:237
[2] ibid, 1990:240-2
[3] ibid, 1990:7
[4] Charlotte, 1998:149, 256-9
[5] Casey, 1991:97
[6] Sanders, 1993:57-63
[7] Allen, 1998:24
[8] Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 1958:11-8
[9] ibid, 1958:18
[10] Bultmann, Faith and Understanding, 1969:262-4
[11] Meier, 1991:27
[12] Charlotte, 1998:250
[13] ibid, 1998:250-3
[14] Charlotte, 1998:263-4
[15] ibid 1998:276-7
[16] James Carleton Paget, Quests for the Historical Jesus, in the Cambridge Companion to Jesus, pp.152
[17] Meier, 1991:173
[18] Sanders, 1993:57-8
[19] ibid, 1993:76
[20] ibid, 1993:63-6
[21] Bruce, 1998:117-96
[22] Eusebius, 103-4
[23] see F.F. Bruce’s The Date and Character of Mark, in Jesus and the Politics of His Day, 69-91
[24] Eusebius, 101-3
[25] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/
[26] Charlotte, 1998:114
[27] Ladd, 1989:41
[28] Strauss, 1973:704
[29] ibid, 1973:576-80
[30] ibid, 1973:704
[31] Strauss, 1973:718-44
[32] Pannenberg, 1968:97
[33] Brown, 1973:126-8
[34] Pannenberg, 1968:91
[35] Craig, 1984:182-185, see also Ladd, 1989:188, for a reference to Bultmann
[36] Voorst, 2000:122-6
[37] Crossan, 1989:154
[38] Charlotte, 1998:277
[39] Reimarus, 1970:154-5
[40] Brown, 1973:127
[41] Strauss, 1973:414-5
[42] Vermes, 1973:33-6, 69-80
[43] Crossan, 1989:102-22; 142-58
[44] Strauss, 1973:414-5
[45] Voorst 2000:114
[46] ibid, 2000:85
[47] Schweitzer, The Quest of the historical Jesus, 2000:477-87
[48] Schweitzer, The Psychiatric Study of Jesus, 1963:34-5, 40-1, 62-3, 72-3

Friday, 18 December 2009

A Short Review and Summary on Barth Ehrman’s book: ‘Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew’

Barth Ehrman’s recent book ‘Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew’ is yet another evidence of the recent awakening of historical interest and sympathy toward early Gnosticism, primarily as an alternative to the traditional Christian faith.

In his book Ehrman effectively depicts a confusing matrix of early Christianity that consisted of several factions. Among these significant doctrinal differences emerged, ranging from the belief in one God versus several gods, a fully human Jesus against a fully divine, to a Jesus with mixed natures or persons and a variety of ideas related to his mission.

Ehrman’s book is erudite and insightful; Ehrman most certainly has an overall purpose and also a targeted enemy whose agenda he clearly opposes. Otherwise, Ehrman’s approach is fairly balanced, and without being markedly biased, Ehrman effectively elaborates on the very wide amount of religious diversity and the various scholarly approaches that critically assess these views. As an author however, he also appears elusive in his opinions, almost agnostic, and it must be admitted that this approach makes his writing even more curious and attractive.

The fundamental basis of the book is how Ehrman perceives early Christianity and its sources. Here Ehrman appears truly agnostic but nevertheless positive. He describes carefully the great diversity of early Christianity, comprising the Gnostics, the Marcionites, the Ebionites and what he entitles the proto-orthodox view.

Originally each of these views where considered equally valid.

Ehrman does not appear antagonistic to any of these factions. Rather he seems to value the excitement of such diversity. He perceives the Gnostic teachings as warm, sincere and moral, and apart from considering Herman Reimarus’s presupposition on Jesus, he defends even proto-orthodoxy, including Paul and describes Jesus and Paul as doctrinally united.

What Ehrman deplores however is the initial rise and power of proto-orthodoxy to become exclusively orthodox, which consequently suppressed this religious variety.

The objective of the book therefore seeks to identify the lost embryonic diversity of early Christianity and expose, not necessarily the proto-orthodox view but its leaders and apologists who forcefully established it as the sole criteria of truth.

Ehrman then launches a merciless attack on proto-orthodoxy leadership; four points are significant.

Firstly, he describes their attitude as particularly intolerant and ruthless, and describes their means to establish orthodoxy through ecclesiastical politics, polemics and the creation of nasty rumours to disgrace their opponents.

Secondly, Ehrman points out how this early diversity nevertheless has been vindicated by modern scholarship finally breaking away from orthodox suppression and in return resorting to debunk it.

Here particular references are given to Reimarus (1694-1768) who changed the traditional view of Jesus and Walter Baur (1877-1960) who attacked the historical foundation of proto-orthodoxy.

Thirdly, he attempts to exonerate the Gnostics from these accusations. Ehrman carefully examines Gnostic writings to deduce from them whether the accusations of immorality fit the character portrayed by the writers of proto-orthodoxy.

Fourthly, he assesses the attacks of proto-orthodoxy on the Gnostic doctrine of God and creation in which so much diversity exist that convergence is virtually impossible. Here Ehrman points out that Gnostics did not approach these matters literally but mainly through metaphorical descriptions.

Ehrman however, values some of the orthodox polemics for the sake of knowledge, particularly the ideas of Gnostic origins, which the apologists traced back to the Greek philosophers and which through early Jewish Hellenists were incorporated into a Christian framework. Ehrman points out that the Christian Gnosticism may have its origin in the dissolution of failed apocalyptic prophecy. Many Jews were probably losing their faith in the Old Testament God and considered such a God as evil, hence there had to exist another, greater God, namely the God of Jesus who provides salvation.

The main positive outcome of orthodoxy, according to Ehrman, was the result of unity, one faith, one creed, and one church, which provided the church with a

strong foundation.

Secondary to the objective of the book is Ehrman’s view of Scripture, its preservation and corruption. He makes a great deal out of Scriptural forgeries, both Gnostic and orthodox, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocalypse of Peter and the Acts of Paul; some forgeries even made it into the Christian Canon, such as the Acts of the Apostles, Second Thessalonians and the Pastoral Epistles. Thus he considers the majority of the canonical writings as somehow original, first century compositions, while the Gnostic writings originated in the middle second century and onward.

He does however point out that the New Testament manuscripts were written late and that hundreds of thousands of errors have crept in. These errors are however of minor importance, mainly spelling and grammar error and easily recognisable; furthermore most of the textual transmission can be traced back to its origin effectively. He does however point out that some particular manuscripts do reveal words having been changed to fit a particular doctrine or to argue against a heresy, but these are refuted by the majority manuscripts.

This does not suggest though, that Ehrman is predominantly sympathetic toward orthodoxy versus the contrasting diversity; his assessment so far concerns merely what we are able to assess historically at the present time.

There are some weaknesses in Ehrman’s approach. The picture he presents of first century equality of Christian doctrinal variance and the ambition of one faction to establish its view as the orthodox one, cannot be explicitly confirmed by history. Unfortunately, Ehrman’s main intention seems to be combating the front figures of orthodoxy, which seems to be a driving force of a personal vendetta. It seems that he virtually favours and praises any individual or group that either opposed orthodoxy or became its victim, namely the Gnostics, Ebionites, Marcionites, and even orthodox figures such as Origin and the Theodotians. It appears that conflict with orthodoxy is to Ehrman a sign of personal approval. While criticism is launched on the heretics too, this is not done in the same spirit of aggression; unfortunately, despite his tendency of balance and carefulness, this creates a flavour of bigotry.

While he seems to lean more toward orthodoxy in its historical aspect and strength, he is more attracted to the image of Gnosticism as it portrays a god that fits the modern agnostic view of a purely positive god, who contrasts the Old Testament God, who commits atrocities and deprives women of their equal rights with men.

If this observation is true it suggests that the particular faction he favours in his battle against orthodoxy, retrospectively is based upon modern philosophy, modern situation and its approach to life, and the debate related to God and the problem of evil. If these are driving forth the historical conclusions in the book it is dubious indeed.

One remarkable statement however, that he uses to support his view is his point that virtually every church associated with Paul was affected by some sort of heresy; how is that possible if orthodoxy was originally predominant

To those of us who lean toward the views of orthodoxy and exclusive Christianity

this book is certainly thought-provocative and unless such a person knows this field of study, the book appears seriously challenging altogether, but it is certainly worthwhile to read. One cannot say however, that the book promotes sharp criticism against the traditional Christian faith, but rather against those who represented it. This suggests a strong agnostic notion that nevertheless puts forward a positive attitude toward religion, and while at least appearing sincere about the search for truth, while admitting ignorance it appeals to people, wishing for a very pluralistic alternative to one exclusive view.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Did the Apostle Paul corrupt or contribute to the New Testament doctrine of Pneumatology

The greatest contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Bible derives from Pauline theology. Virtually no other writer enriches our understanding on the person and function of the Spirit more than Paul.
Certain questions are however raised as to the correctness of Paul’s description, whether his contribution involves merely a new humanly envisaged concept, or whether Paul provides a further insight of divine inspiration?
According to Turner, various issues may have led to Paul’s expounding contribution to Pneumatology: first and most, the wide time-span in which Paul managed to present his doctrine and furthermore the various circumstances and the themes which are related.[1] Heron proposes another vital issue, that Paul’s reference to the Spirit is richer than the Synoptic Gospels due his theological rather than narrative approach.[2] Others such as Menzies suggest that Paul’s doctrine on the Spirit, as evident from passages such as 1 Cor.6: 9-11, 15: 44-50 and Gal.5: 19-24 ‘find their origin in the mind of Paul.’[3]

The Spirit and Jesus Christ
It is Paul’s equation of Jesus and the Spirit which probably involves and causes the most significant ambiguity and discussion.
Both the Synoptic writers and Paul describe Jesus as being anointed and led by the Spirit (Matt.3: 13-7; 4: 1) (2 Cor.1: 21). Why is there a sudden shift in Pauline theology, from two separate beings to their oneness, the Spirit of Christ (Rom.8: 9) (Phil.1: 19)?[4] Guthrie points out that Christ’s Spirit signifies the duty of the Spirit ‘to act on behalf of the Son’[5] which indeed is in accordance with John 16: 14. But is that all? Paul seems much more explicit about the actual dwelling of Christ in the believer, which is why Dunn seems to imply a dynamic relationship between Jesus and the Spirit, in which the character of Jesus is somehow bestowed upon the Spirit.[6] Turner however, holds the view that the Spirit of Christ proposes Christ’s executive power, and self-revealing presence.[7]
The idea might be ambiguous, particularly in fitting interpretative frameworks as none of the explanations are explicitly found in the text. If Jesus was only a mere created being, the reference would be preposterous. If on the other hand Christ is a separated person within a Trinity, how do we avoid a mixing of Christ and the Spirit?
Here Menzies takes the negative approach and sees this as a sudden theological shift, an idea which was absent among the first Christians; he bases his conclusion mainly upon the silence of the synoptic writers;[8] hence he perceives the problem to be solved by accusing Paul of theological fabrication.
Yet all these propositions need to be assessed. In response to the theological ambiguity, their interpretations and Menzies criticism, Heron seems to present an effective picture in which Paul is not able to equate the Jesus-Spirit relationship more than he can dissolve it;[9] hence the relationship is correctly incomprehensible and the mixing is avoided.
Moreover, contrary to Menzies view, the Christ-Spirit concept was not alien to Matthew’s description. Here Montague makes an interesting observation, he points out that except for Matt. 10: 20 the Spirit is never mentioned as functioning within the disciples; elsewhere the authority, presence and person of Jesus proves sufficient. Even the commission, despite its reference to power and world-mission, does not refer to the Spirit but Jesus being present and all powerful. In other words, Matthew implies that ‘Jesus does not need the Holy Spirit to mediate his presence to the church, for he never really left it’.[10] This does not contradict Pentecost, but might confirm that Paul’s Spirit of Christ was not as remote from the early church as some might assert.
In John 14: 15-31 the same issue is brought up; here Jesus appears separated from the Spirit as he asks the Father to send him. Furthermore, Jesus refers to another ‘allos’ (counsellor), which confirms the Spirit to be another, but of the same kind.[11] Yet chapter fourteen reveals the same incomprehensible ambiguity as Jesus refers to his return to them, which is most probably a reference to the Spirit (v.18) and verse 23 in which Jesus and the Father take dwelling in the believer.
Also Luke, in Acts 16: 7 where he refers to the Spirit of Jesus, provides strong confirmation of this early concept. Here the possibility remains according to Menzies, that the Christian milieu had already been effected by Paul and simply alluded to his teaching.[12] Yet, considering Matthew and John, Menzies proposition is misleading. Indeed Paul himself was influenced by the early followers of Jesus.

The Spirit of prophecy and Soteriology
The main theory depicts the Spirit as the Spirit of prophecy; according to Menzies the Spirit was not necessary for salvation in pre-Pauline theology, but was merely meant for empowering the believer. He proposes that a Spirit of soteriology was virtually unknown even in Jewish writings prior to Paul’s era,[13] who was the first to ‘articulate a soteriological pneumatology’.[14] Horn however, points out that soteriology in relation to the Spirit is clearly perceived through various Old Testament passages, particularly Ez.36: 25-7 which describes, cleansing from sin, a transformation of the heart and the entering of the Spirit.[15] Menzies challenges this argument by pointing out that the context of Ez.36: 25-7 relates to the restoration of Israel and its eschatological bestowal of the Spirit, which alludes to the Spirit of prophecy instead of soteriology and should be seen in the light of Joel 2: 28; hence the renewal alludes to the renewal of the Spirit of prophecy only.[16]
It is indeed a fact that Pentecost is related to Joel 2; furthermore, the Synoptic writers do not particularly relate the Spirit to soteriology but to prophecy, mission and manifestation; this might conclude that Paul has deliberately added to the original doctrine. However, Menzies fails to elaborate on the fact that the context of Ez.36: 25-7, the spiritual transformation, such as the cleansing, the removal of a stubborn heart and the new heart (v. 25-6), is equated with the Spirit that moves the believer to follow the Divine decrees. Here we need to ask whether the Spirit is the Law or whether he secures and increases the effort to complete it. Here Turner seems to be of the opinion, that the prophets predicted a Spirit of prophecy who was also a Spirit of transformation, which in the context appears to be the most accurate view.
Hence what we see in the New Testament is a focus on the Spirit of prophecy, particularly in the Synoptic writings and Acts and the focus on a pneumatological soteriology, which is the focus of Paul. [17]
However Menzies also points out that the context of the prophets (Is.44: 3) indicates that the renewal is located in Israel not gentile territory.[18] Turner responds to this allegation by proposing that Paul described a three-fold renewal, which included personal transformation (2 Cor.5: 17), a share in the blessing of Israel (Rom.11: 11-32) (Eph.2: 11-22) and finally the future glory (Phil.3: 20-21).[19] Hence we may assume that Paul had in mind the future national restoration, yet understood the individual restoration to be the beginning that leads to its culmination.[20]
The reference to the outpouring of the Spirit and Pentecost in the Gospel, in the Acts and Jesus’ own reference to Isaiah 61: 1-3 (Luke 4: 18-9) in which the essentiality of the Spirit is included as a source for restoration, seems to allude to this same renewal; this confirms that Paul was not the inaugurator of this concept.

Paul the Spirit and Law
According to Turner Paul’s teaching on the Spirit and personal sanctification alludes to Jer.31: 31-4, in which the new covenant was to be written on the hearts rather than tablets. It would result in the people knowing God and making the necessity of teaching each other redundant; further it would lead to obedience. Equating Jeremiah’s renewal with Ezekiel 36: 26 provides further insight which elucidates that this renewal will not merely provide information or standard but the inner transformation, which includes a new heart and a new spirit. Interestingly the cause behind the standard and obedient will be the Spirit of God dwelling in them that moves them toward obedience.[21] Hence the context of Ez.36: 27 alludes not only to soteriology but equally to sanctification, that the holy state of the believer will be sustained and productive. Paul makes a great deal out of this in Romans 6-8 and Galatians 4-5, in which the Mosaic Law appears to be excluded. Paul proposes that the Spirit produces holiness rather than the personal effort to abide by the Law. A negative comment from Menzies suggests that Paul may have attempted to undermine the function of the Law.[22] Certainly by assessing the Gospels and Acts, it seems that the Law was still practiced at least among Jewish Christians (Acts 21: 20). However, the Law was not strictly required to be performed by gentile believers (Acts 15: 6-11); furthermore, those acquainted with Scripture knew that the Sinai covenant would initially be succeeded by the New Covenant. Hence contrary to Menzies statement, Paul simply confirms Old Testament teaching and does not undermine the Law.[23]
Thus what is stressed in Paul’s letters is not the rejection of the Law but the vitality of the New Covenant, in which the Spirit somehow succeeds the Law; which indeed is the context of Ez.36: 27.
This is why Paul in the epistle to the Thessalonians describes the Spirit as the Spirit of holiness (1 Thess.4: 8)[24] who easily is grieved by deeds that contradict his nature (Eph.4: 30).
The passages depict therefore the Spirit as morally guiding and teaching. This might also allude to John’s epistle and the reference to the teaching effect of the anointing (1 John 2: 20, 27); which is the factor that distinguishes between a true and false Christian (1 John 3: 10). Indeed Paul states that only those led by the Spirit are the children of God (Rom.8: 14); this alludes strongly to the teachings of John (1 John 3: 4-10), and confirms that Paul and the apostle of John are in agreement.
Furthermore by referring to the Spirit of Jesus indwelling the believer, Paul proposes that the Spirit gradually transforms the Christian into the likeness of Jesus.[25] This might again be a further elaboration on the Spirit’s function, which is less visible in the Gospels. Interestingly here, Jesus described himself to fulfil the Law (Matt.5: 17). The wording ‘I have come’ has often been understood as describing the Christological aspect, someone with the authority even to succeed the Law. Yet if that being the case, the balance becomes obvious, he did not come to destroy the Law, yet he came to succeed it.[26]
Furthermore the call of discipleship which included the baptism into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt.28: 19-20) certainly confirms that religion of God now involves the Son and the Spirit as foundational for the new standard. John’s Gospel in connection to the Spirit of holiness and the believer’s transformation into the likeness of Jesus also points out that the Spirit and holiness are inseparable. In addition the duty of the Spirit is to glorify Christ (John 16: 14); is this an allusion to Jesus’ reference to being glorified in the believer (John 17: 1-2, 10, 24). It is not difficult to perceive certain allusions to Pauline theology here, that something new that impacts internally has succeeded the previous function which simply required the effort of every individual to obey.

The Spirit, the Giver of Life
Paul maintains that the Spirit secures us as a guaranty deposit until glorification (Eph.1: 14). In addition as we have seen, the Spirit also produces holiness (Gal.5: 16-8), hence it becomes obvious that the Spirit is involved in our glorification, which may explain Paul’s wording: ‘…the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life’ (Gal.6: 8). Kregal points out Paul’s illustration of the believer being the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.6: 19) to imply that the completion of the temple results in the dwelling of God, a state and inclusion of glory.[27]
Menzies however, seems to maintain that the Spirit being the source of resurrection and glory was an idea founded by Paul as it is absent from the Synoptic Gospels and Acts; furthermore, passages such as Acts 2: 33 only reveal that God was the source of Christ’s resurrection.[28] Paul certainly includes the function of the Spirit to be involved in the resurrection of Christ (Rom.1: 3-4) and the resurrection of the believer (Rom.8: 11) (Phil.3: 31).[29] Hence if Menzies is correct then Paul did envisage a new idea. However Menzies reference to the Synoptic Gospels does not provide explicit proof to confirm his case; particularly since the reference to the actual resurrection is fairly lesser than in the rest of the New Testament. Furthermore, neither the Synoptic Gospels nor the Book of Acts expound on the doctrine of the resurrection, as in the Epistles; indeed this was Heron’s proposition which envisaged that Paul’s description was richer, since Paul’s contribution was doctrinal rather than a narrative approach.[30]
We also need to consider that the Spirit in relation to the resurrection was not a foreign idea to the early Jews. Both Menzies and Turner confirm that the Spirit was linked to the resurrection in inter-testament texts. Here Menzies refers to the book of Wisdom 8: 17; 9: 17 in which the righteous make it to immorality by receiving the Spirit and rabbinic sources which base the concept upon Old Testament texts such as Ez.37: 14.[31] Hence the Spirit as the source of resurrection is an Old Testament idea and not a matter conjectured by Paul.

The claim that Paul invented new ideas might be an overstatement! Certainly Paul extends the matter like no other Biblical author; yet when we relate the Pauline doctrine of the Spirit to the Gospels and the Old Testament, it might be more correct to conclude that Paul who expounds upon the theology of the Spirit, engages not in conjecture but particularly in elaboration and utilizes Old Testament terminology and ideas as well as concepts already known among the early Jews and Christians.
Thus while Paul provides a much deeper and extended insight into the realm of the Spirit, there is no reason to conclude that his teaching was merely a product of his own motive, mind and reason.

[1] Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and the Spiritual Gifts Then and Now, England, Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1996: 103
[2] Alasdair Heron, The Holy Spirit, London, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1983: 44-5
[3] Robert P. Menzies, The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology: with special reference to Luke-Acts, England:
Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991: 302
[4] James Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, XPRESS Prints/SCM Press, England, London, 1995: 318-19
[5] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology, England, Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press: 1981: 551
[6] Dunn, 1995: 325
[7] Turner, 1996: 133-4
[8] Menzies, 1991: 295
[9] Heron, 1983: 47
[10] George T. Montague, Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition, Peabody, Hendrickson Publisher: 1998: 308
[11] Turner, 1996: 79
[12] Menzies, 1991: 294
[13] ibid, 1991: 282-3
[14] Turner, 1996: 109
[15] Turner, 1996: 110
[16] Menzies, 1991: 300-1
[17] Max Turner, Power from on High: The Spirit of Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press: 1996: 351-2
[18] Menzies, 1991: 300-1
[19] Turner, 1996: 120
[20] ibid, 1996: 120
[21] ibid, 1996: 114-5
[22] Menzies, 1991 295
[23] George A.F. Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old Testament, England, Carlisle, Cumbria, 1998: 330-1
[24] Montague, 1998: 128-9
[25] Dunn, 1995: 320-21
[26] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, Vol.1, The Christbook Matthew 1-12; Dallas, London, Vancouver, Melbourne,
Word Publishing, 1987: 166-7
[27] Bickersteth, Edward, Henry, The Holy Spirit and His Work, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501, Kregel
Publications: 1976: 189-97
[28] Menzies, 1991, 294
[29] Turner, 1996: 124-5
[30] Heron, 1983: 44-5
[31] Menzies, 1991: 294; see also Turner, 1996: 124-5



Bickersteth, Edward, Henry, The Holy Spirit and His Work, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501, Kregel Publications: 1976

Bruner, Frederick, Dale, Matthew, Vol.1, The Christbook Matthew 1-12; Dallas, London, Vancouver, Melbourne: 1987

Dunn, James, Jesus and the Spirit, XPRESS Prints/SCM Press, England, London, 1995

Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Theology, Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1981

Heron, Alasdair, The Holy Spirit, London, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1983

Knight, George A.F, A Christian Theology of the Old Testament, England, Carlisle, Cumbria, 1998

Menzies, Robert P, The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology: with special reference to Luke-Acts, England: Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991

Montague, George T, Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition, Peabody, Hendrickson Publisher: 1998

Turner, Max, Power from on High: The Spirit of Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press: 1996

Turner, Max, The Holy Spirit and the Spiritual Gifts Then and Now, England, Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1996