David Wenham, Did St. Paul Get Jesus Right? The Gospel According to Paul (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2010). (Amazon.com)
In 2011 I read Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited and it helped me connect the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus to that of Paul. In 2012 I had a similar experience while reading Daniel Kirk’s Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? A Narrative Approach to Pauline Christianity. If I were to teach a class on the topic of how Paul relates to Jesus, these two books would be required reading. Now, in 2013, I have found another book that does a good job addressing the criticism that Paul invented a Christianity that has nothing to do with Jesus, or that Jesus would not have recognized: David Wenham’s Did St. Paul Get Jesus Right? The Gospel According to Paul.
Wenham’s book is aimed for a popular audience. In the preface he addresses some of the sensational responses by the media as concerns Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, and other alternative Christianities that capture public imagination.
Message of the Book
This book argues that Pauline Christianity is faithful to the person of Jesus, to his message, and to the earliest traditions about him. Wenham is diligent to connect the Pauline Epistles to underlying Jesus traditions, showing that the Jesus who appears in narrative form in the Gospels is presupposed by Paul, and that Paul knew these traditions. Contra those who argue that Paul created a Christianity that has nothing to do with the real Jesus, Wenham presents a Paul who was careful to innovate within the evolving Jesus tradition.
Summary of the Content
This book is eleven chapters long, each chapter serving as a short essay on something related to Pauline Christianity. In Chapter 1: What is the Question and Why is it Important? Wenham establishes why this subject matters. He provides a short introduction to Jesus, then to Paul, then he summarizes the accusation against Paul that his Christianity has nothing or little to do with Jesus. Wenham’s thesis statement is as follows (Kindle Location: 126-134):
This short book is an attempt, by someone who has been interested in the question for a long time, to show that Paul did not invent Christianity or change the religion of Jesus, but that he got Jesus right.
This chapter ends with a summary of the forthcoming chapters.
Chapter 2: Can We Use the New Testament as Evidence? is where Wenham shows that he won’t be arguing his position by begging the question that the Bible is true because it is the Bible. Rather, Wenham aims to establish (Kindle Location:147-153), “…a serious historical case on the basis of serious historical evidence.” Wenham defends the usefulness of ancient documents for reliable investigation of the past. He compares the reliability of New Testament documents to other first century historians or the preservation of other ancient documents via their manuscript tradition. In other words, the NT does give a useful picture of early Christian belief about Jesus, by Paul, and even from Jesus.
Chapter 3: How Paul Got Jesus…or How Jesus Got Paul: The Evidence of Paul’s Conversion investigates the Pauline and Lukan portrayals of Paul as a persecutor of early Christians, who was a respectable Pharisee, who claims to have had an extraordinary conversion experience. Wenham is careful to show that Paul desired to align his understanding of the person of Jesus with that of the Jerusalem Church.
Chapter 4: Was Jesus Interested in the Real Jesus? Evidence from Corinth on the Crucifixion and Resurrection investigates Paul’s reception of traditions about Jesus’ crucifixion, about the Passover/Communion tradition (i.e. 1 Cor. 11), about Jesus’ resurrection (i.e. 1 Cor. 15), and how the earlier date of this letter helps us understand Paul’s relationship to Jesus’ early disciples.
As to why Paul doesn’t write a lot about the “life of Jesus” like the Gospels Wenham presents Paul as a “trouble-shooter” addressing communities who were already aware of the traditions that would be included in the Gospels, assuming their relevance, and addressing the struggles of local congregations with the Jesus tradition in the background, informing his words.
Chapter 5: Sex, Apostleship, and Love: More Evidence from Corinth and Beyond presents Paul’s struggle to apply Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage to his Corinthian context as useful paradigm for understanding how Paul understood his apostleship in relation to Jesus’ teachings.
Chapter 6: “Abba”, and What Happens When We Die: Evidence from Galatia and Thessalonica discusses the unique use of the Aramaic “Abba” in conversation with a Greek speaking audience as evidence of Paul’s awareness of some of Jesus’ teachings. Wenham compares Paul’s vision of the parousia with the language attributed to Jesus in the Gospels (including Dan. 7 imagery, “thief” language, “falling asleep” and the Thessalonian misunderstanding of Jesus’ teachings about his return and the death of disciples.
Chapter 7: Was Paul the Inventor of Christian Doctrines? wrestles with whether language about the atonement and incarnation should be rooted in Paul the innovator, or if earlier traditions (e.g., Phil. 2) informed Paul. He does a very good job of presenting Paul’s controversy as having to do with Jewish-Gentile relations rather than things like atonement or incarnation, ideas he gives almost no effort toward defending, but rather assumes to some degree.
Chapter 8: Did Paul and Jesus Really Agree? surveys the differences and similarities between Jesus and Paul. This chapter is helpful, because Wenham isn’t trying to ignore where Paul may be different from Jesus, but rather he wants this distinction framed correctly and accurately.
Chapter 9: Is Paul Behind the New Testament Gospels? addresses the claim that similarities between Jesus and Paul in the Gospels exist because the Evangelists were influenced by Paul. Wenham shows that while there may be some connections, the evidence points away from this, especially the Gospel of Matthew.
Chapter 10: But Paul Was Certainly a Controversialist emphasizes that Paul was controversial, but as mentioned above, he was controversial in areas different from what modern critics assert. Chapter 11: So Did Paul Get Jesus Right? summarizes Wenham’s argument and, of course, reaffirms his thesis statement that Paul did understand Jesus’ message correctly.
Wenham has studied this subject for years now. This is a popular summary of his scholarship. It is very readable. It presents complex arguments with simplicity. For those who cannot see the connection between Paul and Jesus, or who believe Paul invented a Christianity completely disconnected from Jesus, this book, along with the aforementioned books are worth your time.
I’m reading a commentary about Matthew right now and there are some apparent contradictions between what I have perceived Pauline and Johanine salvation to look like, “not by works, grace and faith, whosoever believes in Him”,etc. and some of the comments Jesus made in Matthew, “forgive so your Father in heaven will forgive you” which with me would = a “work”.
It’s not that easy to figure it out. So, the more I study, the more questions I come up with. Maybe it’s as simple as who is being addressed and maybe the 2 different passages are dealing with temporal as opposed to eternal salvation, I just don’t know yet.
There is a tension between the Gospel of Matthew and the Pauline Epistles (like there is a tension between the Pauline Epistles and the Epistle of James). Whereas Paul’s Gospel is radically inclusive at points, and though he does speak of the Law as holy, yet insufficient, most misunderstandings may arise from presenting Paul as a libertarian, antinomian Jew. Paul affirmed the “Law of the Spirit”, the “Law of Christ”, which corresponds well to James’ “royal Law” (or, the Law of the King, i.e., the Law interpreted by Messiah). If we begin here, then we read the Gospel of Matthew presenting Jesus as both the perfect teacher of the Law, and the fulfillment of Israel’s history, including the Law, then I think we find a starting place for discussing where Paul, James, and Matthew have commonality.
That’s probably the key I am missing. Some of it seems to be that IF one has believed in Christ, one would “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit Me in prison”, etc.
It’s kind of odd, the James tension I don’t feel because I think James is discussing(based on his examples given in the troublesome passage) uber maturity types of believers(Rahab and Abraham) who passed great testing and using words we’ve associated with eternal salvation, yet he isn’t discussing that issue.
He used a word there, “perfecting” their faith and I think the Hebrews author used the same Greek word for Christ’s faith. He also had His faith “perfected” by suffering as a human.
I think that’s the issue with James. Our faith is meaningless in demonstrating Christ’s love to the world IF we don’t act as opposed to just believing in Jesus as Messiah/Son of God for grace oriented entry into the body of Christ.
That’s my take on James anyway for now.
Anyway, thanks for the reply and your blog.
I don’t sense a tension with James as much as I did in the past. I think Paul’s salvation by grace through faith and not by “works” doesn’t deny that we are created unto good works. I think James may have reacted against a deformed Pauline Gospel that was antinomian. Paul does say in Romans that there are some who accuse him of such things.
Thanks for this thorough review, Brian. Again, you help me a lot to know what is being addressed, in what ways and by whom (tho often, as in Wenham’s case, the author is little known to me, as my time for broad reading in biblical studies is limited).
I’ll have to say that it does appear to me that even an in-depth treatment like this book does not address some (or most?) of the areas I’d be interested to see if conservative or “traditional-leaning” scholars are addressing, and that I think are vital to a broader pic of things like how much Paul did or didn’t “invent” the core of what became orthodoxy. I will also say, however, that I’d probably agree with some of Wenham’s correctives on the rather superficial (and often misguided) ways both lay people and some critical scholars make too wide a gulf between Jesus and Paul, or Jewish-Christian believers and the heavily Gentile/Hellenized followers of Paul and the core of proto-orthodoxy after the destruction of Jerusalem.
But if his attention, as far as setting the record straight, so to speak, is mostly toward the people and issues you mentioned at the top, it probably won’t speak to me. I’d it may largely fail where I find conservative scholars generally doing so, in my limited exposure: addressing the core issues of the development of theology in different lines (and results); and of the great diversity and in-fighting which we DO see pretty clearly in not only Paul’s genuine epistles, but James, the Cath. Epistles, the Gospels (mostly indirectly here), etc. For example, Hyam Maccoby is one Jewish scholar, VERY knowledgeable on Paul and early Christianity, who did some very detailed work, particularly in “The Mythmaker – Paul and the Invention of Christianity”. He is far, far from the only one to closely examine the differences in Luke’s Paul (in Acts) and Paul himself…. the significantly different spins on the conflicts, just how central they were (or were not), just how the lines of authority ran, etc.
If this book doesn’t go into some fair depth in addressing these kinds of issues which are actually quite apparent even on the surface to any careful reader, then I’m not sure how much stock one could put in it. That said, again I’ll add that I DO think evidence indicates Paul took the core of his understanding of Jesus from earlier tradition. But I have little question that he also took that in cosmic and personal soteriological directions that were largely or entirely his own invention… which dynamic he more than once claims himself. He drew on not only his Jewish training, but an apparent (not surprisingly for Tarsus) early immersion in pagan/hellenized religion and thought forms to do this. His was a masterful synthesis of what we might call “proto-gnosticism”, Greek philosophy, and mystery religions connected to Judaism’s heritage and the early core of Jesus-belief, especially that of his soon-return and establishment of the Kingdom of God.
This book is aimed for an audience who is seeking a quick introduction to the topic. David Wenham has written many articles and books on the relationship between Paul and Jesus over the years, so I am confident that he is more than able to address concerns or accusations set forth by someone like Maccoby, but this book isn’t the book for someone wanting a more in-depth study. It is aimed for a popular audience.
Wenham wrote a similar book about 20 years ago called: “Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity?” It was a good book, and mined all the places where Paul’s advice could be rooted in something Jesus said.
Still, I have to agree with Howard. No doubt there are more echoes of Jesus in Paul than many scholars might want to admit, but there is also little doubt he took it in a radically different direction. The communion is a good example. The evidence from the Didache, as practiced by the Jerusalem followers of Jesus, is that the original form was Jesus blessing the bread and the wine and giving thanks to God.
Paul turned that into drinking blood and eating the body. (Which is also seen in Luke, who had the original form of the communion followed by the Pauline version back-to-back.) Sure, there are similarities in words and practice, but the differences turn it into something else entirely, and that is probably why James could not accept Paul’s teachings.
I am skeptical of this “great divide” between Paul and Jesus on the Eucharist/Communion. Paul speaks of receiving the tradition it in 1 Corinthians 11. Where does Paul present the Eucharist in a drastically different way that Mark or Matthew? In Mk 14.22ff. he speaks of his body and blood. In Mt. 26.26ff. he is presented as doing the same. I don’t see how Lk. 22.14ff. differs drastically from those two. Why can’t Luke be reliant on Mark and Matthew? How do we explain the Johannine depiction in Jn. 6.54ff., if Paul is responsible?
If we have a disconnect between Jesus and Paul, then we have a disconnect between Jesus and all of the Evangelists. You are correct that the Didache doesn’t present the Eucharist in the same language, but where do we get hard evidence that the Didache is connected to the Church in Jerusalem, and how does James connect?
I suppose presentations (wording, form of the ritual) of Eucharist are of some importance, but in my thot, what is more significant (and maybe implied by you Gordon?) is what is taught and understood as to the symbolism. (Or the assumed “magic” — sorry, RC’s, but transubstantiation and even CONsubstantiation, Lutherans, seems the equivalent of magic to me). Substitutionary atonement concepts got poured into what was probably a normal cultural form as originally “performed” by Jesus at a memorable “last supper”.
As to “disconnects”, Brian, I think we can readily see, between the lines, that they do exist between Jesus and all the Evangelists, as well as Paul. And as to Luke, he clearly is an apologist and PR guy for Paul. I have basically zero doubt (after quite a bit of study) that his agenda included and was probably the most about building a bridge between the Jerusalem “church” and Paul/Pauline churches, by historical spin, with his personal theology being closer to Paul’s. I see no reason that would NOT affect his presentation of Eucharist, along with how it was perhaps actually being observed by his writing.
“John’s” gospel is more of a puzzle to me, in its relation to both the Synoptics and to Paul and I’ve not studied that as much. But clearly there was a sort of competition with Thomas going on, and clearly the author was much influenced by and interested in Greek concepts like logos.
There is good evidence that concepts related to the Eucharist and to substitutionary atonement are based in the Jewish worldview shared by Jesus with the evangelists. As to atonement, we should begin with 2 Maccabees, where the martyrs satisfy the judgment of God on the nation, and their death is seen as atoning for the people. If martyrs can be presented as such in 2 Maccabees, then the idea that Jesus saw his own death as lifting God’s wrath from the nation is quite plausible. Now, did Jesus universalize it? We can’t know that. The Evangelists may move to a universalizing principle in their interpretation, but herein lies the problem: the only Jesus we have is the Jesus given to us by the Evangelists!
Prior to quickly dismissing the Eucharist as pagan magic we must deal with scholarly works like Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist ( http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Jewish-Roots-Eucharist-Unlocking/dp/0385531842 ), a work I hope to read after hearing a presentation at SBL in SF a couple years ago.
As to Paul being “clearly” a “PR guy”, well, sure, he appreciates Paul, but if he is a “PR guy” he is terrible at it being that he tells more about Paul’s persecution of Christians that Paul tells about himself in his epistles. Before we write off Luke as a man with a purely political agenda we must ask why he didn’t do a better job at it.
I’d like to see where all of this leads to Paul inventing Eucharist ideas, Paul being the sole source of later atonement theories, and so forth. I know these are popular claims, but I fail to see good evidence being presented here.
I don’t think the Eucharist is pagan magic, but clearly there is a difference between the death of martyrs having some larger meaning and an actual drinking of literal blood and eating literal flesh, which was completely against Jewish practices.
Luke’s last supper presents a version that makes sense within the Jewish context — Jesus blessed the cup and said it is the last cup they would drink together before the apocalypse. Then he has the Pauline formula communion, eating the body and drinking the blood.
What’s curious, as scholars have pointed out, is why he does he do the cup twice? It has the makings of combining two sources. First, the blessing of the wine that would have fit with the tradition of the Jersualem group of Jesus’s followers, almost completely in synch with the blessing of the Didache, and then the Pauline Christian version.
Where do we find this uniquely “Pauline Christian version”?
How confident are you that a devout Jew would tell his devout Jewish followers to worship God by drinking blood? And that they wouldn’t object or question that advice? Can you imagine James the Just drinking his brother’s blood in the Jerusalem temple without making a scene?
No one denies that this language would cause scandal. Obviously, the Fourth Gospel brings attention to how Eucharist language causes offense. We have the Gospels of Matthew and John, which are very Jewish in worldview, presenting us with this idea of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ’s blood. Did they think of it like later Roman Catholic/Orthodox theologians present it? Probably not (though by the time of Ignatius of Antioch, late first century to early second century, language had emerged that sounds a lot like Roman Catholic/Orthodox Eucharist language), but that doesn’t mean it didn’t originate in a Jewish matrix. Likewise, Paul is a Jew.
What it seems you are proposing is that Paul invented this in a pagan context. I am asking for evidence of this. Observing the scandalous language of body and blood doesn’t prove what you are aiming to prove, at all. All it proves is the obvious: this language would have been scandalous. Did James the Just participate in this ritual thinking of it as symbolic of the broken body and shed blood of his brother? We will never know, but it should be noted that Paul passively notes he received this tradition, and he speaks of spending time with Peter and James, who he understood to be important figures in the Church. That is what we have before us.
Brian, re. your comment of 11:11 a.m.: First, as to Luke’s handling of Paul and him NOT being good at it, I don’t see that in your example. Maybe you have others. Rather, if anything, Luke’s accounting heightens the significance of Paul’s conversion. If his just-prior life WAS what Luke says it was, it makes the conversion the more dramatic and more impressive. Paul probably DID persecute Jesus-followers and probably DID have a sudden and probably visionary conversion (not of religions per se, but of beliefs and probably of ethics with it). Anyway, much more could be gone into around this, it being indeed an important development and accounting of it as well. But basically, telling the “bad” with the good re. characters in the Bible of course is common and generally doesn’t ruin their influence, etc. Paul on bad Paul (Saul) or Luke on bad Paul seems to fit this pattern well.
The other reason Luke was not bad at fulfilling his aim is that it WORKED well enough to set the basic understanding of early Christian development. But that doesn’t mean he gives us trustworthy history or a story with relative objectivity in terms of what is told (and NOT), what is emphasized, theological themes introduced and/or pushed, etc. The defenses made of Luke’s historicity, as far as any I’ve found, don’t deal with the real issue areas. His naming of little-known governors, places, events, etc. does not in itself substantiate his larger narrative nor theological interpretations. He did enough research and may sometimes have known areas, etc. to where he sounds credible. But when one looks thoroughly and at details, things often unravel seriously and the spin becomes more and more apparent. I hesitate to give examples, bec. the subject is not fresh enough in mind to think I’ll give the stronger ones, the more problematic ones.
But one example would go back to Paul’s conversion trip to Damascas. Numerous commentators and historians have pointed out the several major problems, historically, politically, etc. as to right “facts” there. Plus there’s major conflict in the post-conversion days/weeks with Paul’s accounting, on key authority-related issues and Paul vs. Jeru. leaders, as well as more historical aspects (such as who was “after” Paul that he needed to flee, and why). Differences on Paul and Luke re. the Peter in Antioch incident may be another important one. Sorry… it’s too late to go do some checking to pull the most clearly problematic stuff, but Maccoby (mentioned above) gives many in detail, as I’ve read similarly from several other sources (in addition to my own direct comparisons)… just off top of head, perhaps including Barrie Wilson, Bart Ehrman (an agnostic, I know, but almost always careful and accurate, relatively objective), L. Michael White, Burton Mack, Joel Carmichael, Richard Horsley (?), Martin Hengel (?), Steve Mason (“Josephus and the NT”, with a good comparison of Jos. and Luke). Such authors are not grasping at straws or making something out of nothing out of a perverse agenda… they are well-trained and careful, thorough scholars who know both historical disciplines and theology/the Bible, not advancing tenuous stuff to sell books or “make a name.”
Let’s see if I can respond to each point you make here:
(1) We agree that Luke has an agenda. Where I think we disagree is that Luke was dishonest and manipulative about it. Your reconstruction seem to present us with a Luke who makes up this or that out of the blue to prove his point. My reconstruction suggest he orders and arranges material to tell the story he wants to tell, but that he was honest in his presentation, believing what he wrote to be true. Whether he was accurate is another matter that can be determined on a case-by-case basis alone. At the heart of our disagreement is a hermeneutic of trust v. a hermeneutic of suspicion.
(2) We should toss aside the myth that any scholar is “objective”, including those you listed. They are high quality scholars, and they are able to engage the materials available to them with knowledge, but none of those listed as objective, or even near objective. In fact, nearly all of them (save Hengal) fall fairly easily into one ideological camp. If I were to create a list that consisted solely of Darrell L. Bock, I.H. Marshall, C. Kavin Rowe, Craig S. Keener, Joel B. Green, and others you would be able to smell the deck stacking. Your list is essentially those on the opposite side of those I listed.
(3) As to whether Luke knew what he was talking about, or whether he was accurate, to most current, heavily researched work on it is the aforementioned Craig S. Keener’s Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1-2:47 (http://www.amazon.com/Acts-Exegetical-Commentary-Introduction-1–2/dp/0801048362/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360762947&sr=8-1&keywords=keener+acts) where in over a thousand pages he makes it as far as 2:47…and he is confident in Luke’s skills as a historian. Keener is confessional, but not an apologist, so before we accept the criticisms of scholarship from two decades ago we should see if there are any good responses. My prediction, based on Keener’s reputation, is that he will have done his homework and if he is wrong it will take equally good scholarship to prove it, not merely hunches and flippant reconstructions.
(4) As to “it worked”…with who? This presumes that right away Acts garnered a large audience that found Luke’s argument convincing. Does this match the reception history of Acts?
(5) In general, this post isn’t about Luke’s quality (or lack thereof) as a historian. Sadly, the nature of blogging, unlike writing a book, demands that people settle for their general, overarching perceptions. Maybe in the future I will do a series of posts on Acts.
Brian, I appreciate the detail of your response. Tho I’ve taken us afield some from the original book review points, I do think it is all related. Plus, I think Luke, particularly with his Acts, is a pivotal figure and his work not gotten actually enough re-examination, tho many books have been written, commentaries (which I admit to never reading much from for many years, whether Acts or other books), etc.
First, I think I grasp your meaning well enough to “confess” to an orientation that might fairly be called a “hermeneutic of suspicion” at least relative to one of trust. However, I don’t at all presume to be able to decipher the lines between an ancient (or even modern, often) author sharing honestly from his best info and knowingly picking and choosing to deliberately create a false impression. As the discussion over “objectivity” goes, we authors ourselves often can’t see when we may be crossing such a line, even if we’re trying to be balanced. When we rely on sources, it’s not quite the blind leading the blind, but certainly myopia is involved, with our sources and with us. As I may have said earlier, I do read mostly authors within a line I tend to follow as to Christian origins issues (my major historical/theological interest for several years, tho I do read broader and include some process stuff at times). You know, one author leads to another, or I browse the catalog or shelves at Westminster or the newer stuff at Barnes & Noble (there mostly lay level, I realize, but some solid scholars represented). But periodically (I might even say regularly) I do make a point, beyond just blogs like yours and McKnight’s, etc., to check the latest from the supporters of more traditional views on issues of dating, authorship of NT books, Christian origins, theological issues, etc. However, my limited time and slow-avg. reading speed limits my reading much from the “trust” perspective in depth.
But further on “suspicion”: I’ve had enough input from a wide range, and been a student OF ideas and their histories and OF academic process, and such that I’m not naive about what goes on, and some of the psychological/social/practical (publication, keeping jobs, etc.) dynamics involved. In that vein, I’ve not been particularly attracted by deconstructionists… never read Derrida, e.g. (and not even sure if I’ve spelled it right). If an author “deconstructs” I also look for him/her to reconstruct, and with some solid evidence for it. Also, never got deeply into Form Criticism (great omission: never read a full book by Bultmann) nor was a follower of Jesus Seminar stuff, tho I find Crossan and Borg from their ranks to both be deep, interesting and often helpful.
Now to TRY to connect this all back to Acts as pivotal and Paul as pivotal within Acts. I don’t know much how biblical studies “schools” group, nor who is “in” them, who is relatively maverick, etc. But I realize much of my more-focused study is in the general line of those who do not accept nor propagate the “received” views re. the basic story of Christian origins. As a non-professional here, I can’t name any “school” or tight set of methods nor conclusions I tend to follow. But as to method, one principle I find generally valid and important/helpful is “tendenz” criticism… of which Maccoby is one representative, finding this approach valid and useful. Even his later work is around 20 years old now, and much has certainly been done since he and others, like Charlesworth, Mack, etc. and others I find capable and insightful have done much of their publication. Perhaps people like Keener (or Green, etc.) answer their findings effectively with another interpretation or counter-data. I may get into his work at least a bit as a sampling, tho it sounds like he is more detailed than I may have time to read extensively (ohh… if I could do even 500 wpm, let alone 1000!). But so far, even with some looking, I’d not found traditionalists who did… only superficial treatments which mostly ignored the crucial issues and the data that suggest Luke was indeed being a real apologist and creating as much a theological story (with direction-setting intents and results) as an historical review.
This is long already, but a final thing: In your #4, I can’t relate to “This presumes that right away Acts garnered a large audience that found Luke’s argument convincing….” I don’t assume “right away” as within years or even decades if that’s what you mean. But in that no other attempt at a similar history was even undertaken (that we know of) before Eusebius it was Luke’s work that came to be accepted as “THE story” from the Resurrection through around 60 or so (tho I’m convinced it was written much later, ending purposely where it does and curiously lacking Paul’s death and final days). As to your next statement, ” Does this match the reception history of Acts?”, I don’t know much about that history, and am willing to be taught or directed to a good source or two.
Also, as to your idea of maybe a series of posts on Acts, I’d find that of real interest. I can promise that I would at least read them (and probably not be able to resist responding :).
I just went to Amazon.com to look at this Wenham book. I see no customer reviews for it… As long as you have such a good one done, why not post it there? (I haven’t noticed if you’ve been doing that with your others, but think you sure should, if you haven’t.)
Brian, though you argue no scholar is ‘objective’ do you hold that some are more objective than others (or are all scholars equally ‘subjective’)?
I don’t mean to deny the validity of the scholarship that has come to us, whether critical or confessional. I would respond similarly to someone who listed a dozen scholars that might be labeled confessional. While I am more confessional than critical, I am not as conservative as most confessional people want. If Luke is wrong about this or that, it doesn’t ruin my faith, I don’t need a perfect, inerrant Bible to have faith. I do want to engage the text piece by piece, so at times maybe I would be convinced by someone Maccoby, at other times someone like Keener. As I said, maybe I can do a blog series on this someday. It would be fun and exhausting!
No, I don’t think it is all subjective. I think some scholars can be shown to have done harder work than others. This doesn’t guarantee their rightness, but it does garner my attention and respect. What I aim to avoid as much as possible is the idea that a whole camp of people can be right or wrong about a subject because of their affiliations. As noted above, if Maccoby is right about something in Acts I don’t want to reject him because he is “liberal”, and I wouldn’t want Keener to be rejected because he is “conservative”. Rather, good research and good argumentation matter to me.
O.K… sorry for adding yet more here, but what I want to share regards Keener and fits best in the train of our discussion above, so here it is:
I went to Westminster Sem. Library today and looked for Craig Keener’s books. Unfortunately the commentary on Acts was out but I was drawn to “Miracles” and spent some time perusing it and reading a couple sections. I’ll have to say it IS impressive! Almost 900 pages (about 1/3 of it footnotes) before another almost 300 pp. of biblio and indices (in 2 vol’s. as you probably know). His coverage looked quite thorough as I found the categories and issues I’d expect to be addressed if it has real substance and depth. Headings plus the parts I did read indicated real wrestling with the complexity of the subject and lots of data and theory from a wide range of sources.
I’d actually go so far as to say it looks like the kind of treatment, with practical, pastoral and interesting issues raised to where I might suggest it to be required reading for pastors in training (contingent on a closer read, of course). I was particularly looking to see how he’d acknowledge and treat what I consider a misleading and unnecessary dichotomy we’ve come to accept and live with – that of naturalism vs. supernaturalism. In a strict linguistic sense, IF there were only 2 options, I’d call myself a “super…” But the problems of that terms’ connotations are great to me… including but well beyond views of miracles, seemingly suprahuman healings, etc. (I liked him using “suprahuman” as well as “extranormal” – just seen in headings so far… the latter may be a good alternative to “paranormal” with all its neg. connotations, too.)
I want to get back to “Miracles” sometime to read more, as it does seem he more than once treats the nuances of those categories… I couldn’t tell (yet) if he aligns with “standard” supernaturalism as to miracles, closer to panentheism, or what. You probably could say, and my guess is some version of supernaturalism and NOT “regular” panentheism, if any version.
As I’ve said before, here and on my own “naturalspirituality” blog (which name I hope tips my hand itself… combining concepts, and not meant to reflect “natural theology” exactly), Process is not free of difficulties either, but I find it the best expression/description of what we can perceive of reality; also that it substantially mediates the gap between pure naturalism and supernaturalism. I feel either it or something akin to it is sorely needed to help spirituality (both religious and non-religious) be more in synch with scientific methods and that aspect of science which is NOT as based on metaphysical assumptions as is typical theism. (The last part of that point – the duplicity of scientism – is one I did read Keener making, which I appreciated and agreed with, as I had with basically all I read. If Keener keeps proving similar, Brian, maybe we will be fans in common.)
Brian – that’s a reasonable answer.
I very much admire the mind of Noam Chomsky though I loath how political he makes things. (I avoided saying ‘I loath his politics’ because that pigeon holes him, and I believe politics are not actually nice tidy little container-categories people paint them to be).
WRT scholars, I can admire them by a commitment to sound logic even if I find I disagree with their premises. We all hold some particular axioms as true which we use as premises to build up other components of our world view. None of us holds precisely the same axioms as true and all of us hold both true and false axioms (in some proportion).
Even if we think someone else’s particular premise is false, as long as they deal with it consistently honestly, and build up conclusions from it reasonably (conclusions that we might also disagree with, because we deem the premise false) I find it much easier to admire someone who is rationally consistent even if I disagree with them, than someone who is irrationally dogmatic.
Similarly, I would much rather be humbled by having my own premises or logic proven false (fallacious) than be simply placated. Rational people who hold rational beliefs do so for rationally warranted reasons. In dialectic where there is a thesis and its anti-thesis, these reasons must either be rationally de-constructed, or rationally re-enforced through dialogue. Either way we must always be open to the idea our premises (or those of others) are wrong. Yet people fear scrutiny on their reason, and somehow the idea they hold false belief (in their world view). It’s just a function we are not perfect.
Back to objective vs subjective – those labels make it seem like there is a dichotomy. I believe it’s actually a gradient where ‘objective’ represents the end of the spectrum most approximating truth and subjective least .. So while I agree no one can obtain perfect truth, I don’t believe truth cannot be arrived at as an objective norm. (Consider the sum of an infinite sequence .. the sum never actually ends and yet we can reasonably consider the sequence’s sum to be obtainable ..)
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