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PaulS

Was Paul gay?

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In another thread I said that the Apostle Paul was a repressed homosexual.  I was challenged by Burl in that thread to provide evidence (as he thought it was an 'absurd' proposition) but as I didn't think we should hijack that thread (which concerned a separate,  although somewhat related matter - gay marriage in Australia) so I suggested a new thread be started if he wanted to discuss the matter.

That wasn't taken up by Burl and was misinterpreted as me not 'having' any 'evidence' and so not wanting to discuss the matter.  Of course, I am always very happy to share my thoughts and opinions, although I have no need to 'prove' any of them..  So I have started a new thread myself for anyone who cares to have a discussion about this.  I respect if you have a different opinion and wish you all the best in any event. :)

A footnote for me - I couldn't care less if Paul was gay or not, and when it comes to 'evidence' from the New Testament, I acknowledge that the closest we have to the 'real thing' concerning the NT books and letters dates some 300 years after Jesus, so really, calling anything from the NT as hard evidence is dubious in my opinion.  I also acknowledge that much of what goes for 'evidence' from the NT is often open to interpretation and speculation.  Each to their own i say (unless it hurts others).

A well known progressive christian, Bishop John Shelby Spong, made an excellent case for Paul's repressed homosexuality in his widely acclaimed book 'Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism'.  Spong's basic tenet was that in re-reading works attributed to Paul, but reading them again as though Paul was a reprerssed gay man, made so much more sense of Paul's issues with self loathing/wretchedness, lack of self-control, his 'thorn in his side', and misogyny (admittedly Paul was living in a highly patriarchal society that often treated women like property, however he is a sole voice in the NT when it comes to putting women 'in their place').

To me, reading Paul in this way makes so much more sense.  It's like listening to some politician or priest preaching immorality condemnation of homosexuality, only to be caught out a few years later with a computer full of kiddie porn or busted hooking up with men at a public toilet.  It reads like repression of the highest order to me.  Now is that 'evidence' that would hold in a modern court of law?  Of course not.

However, does the bible disprove of Paul being gay?  If the burden of proof was reversed, how could one demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that Paul was not a repressed gay man?  In fact, even measuring against the lower scale of 'balance of probabilities', I would say that Paul was most likely a repressed homosexual.

It's okay to refute my view and say it's absurd because I can't prove it.  Each to their own.  But by that token wouldn't it be 'absurd' to say Paul was straight because there is no 'hard evidence' to support that notion either?    Do our lenses affect our vision?

Cheers

Paul

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12 hours ago, PaulS said:

In another thread I said that the Apostle Paul was a repressed homosexual.  I was challenged by Burl in that thread to provide evidence (as he thought it was an 'absurd' proposition) but as I didn't think we should hijack that thread (which concerned a separate,  although somewhat related matter - gay marriage in Australia) so I suggested a new thread be started if he wanted to discuss the matter.

That wasn't taken up by Burl and was misinterpreted as me not 'having' any 'evidence' and so not wanting to discuss the matter.  Of course, I am always very happy to share my thoughts and opinions, although I have no need to 'prove' any of them..  So I have started a new thread myself for anyone who cares to have a discussion about this.  I respect if you have a different opinion and wish you all the best in any event. :)

A footnote for me - I couldn't care less if Paul was gay or not, and when it comes to 'evidence' from the New Testament, I acknowledge that the closest we have to the 'real thing' concerning the NT books and letters dates some 300 years after Jesus, so really, calling anything from the NT as hard evidence is dubious in my opinion.  I also acknowledge that much of what goes for 'evidence' from the NT is often open to interpretation and speculation.  Each to their own i say (unless it hurts others).

A well known progressive christian, Bishop John Shelby Spong, made an excellent case for Paul's repressed homosexuality in his widely acclaimed book 'Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism'.  Spong's basic tenet was that in re-reading works attributed to Paul, but reading them again as though Paul was a reprerssed gay man, made so much more sense of Paul's issues with self loathing/wretchedness, lack of self-control, his 'thorn in his side', and misogyny (admittedly Paul was living in a highly patriarchal society that often treated women like property, however he is a sole voice in the NT when it comes to putting women 'in their place').

To me, reading Paul in this way makes so much more sense.  It's like listening to some politician or priest preaching immorality condemnation of homosexuality, only to be caught out a few years later with a computer full of kiddie porn or busted hooking up with men at a public toilet.  It reads like repression of the highest order to me.  Now is that 'evidence' that would hold in a modern court of law?  Of course not.

However, does the bible disprove of Paul being gay?  If the burden of proof was reversed, how could one demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that Paul was not a repressed gay man?  In fact, even measuring against the lower scale of 'balance of probabilities', I would say that Paul was most likely a repressed homosexual.

It's okay to refute my view and say it's absurd because I can't prove it.  Each to their own.  But by that token wouldn't it be 'absurd' to say Paul was straight because there is no 'hard evidence' to support that notion either?    Do our lenses affect our vision?

Cheers

Paul

Pleased to know you accept the writings of Paul as factual.  That's definitely a good thing.  Lenses affect our vision, but starting with a conclusion then sifting for evidence is not using different lenses.  It is looking through wrong end of the telescope. 

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”

― William ShakespeareThe Merchant of Venice

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No Burl, you well and truly miss the point if you think I think the writings of Paul, as we have them reported some hundreds of years after Paul's reported existence, are in fact factual.  However, I note for the sake of discussion, that we don't actually have much else to work with, so kay sera sera.  

But let's pretend that it is you who is looking at Paul incorrectly (after all, I did offer several coherent reasons for suggesting Paul's repressed homosexuality).  Do you care to provide any evidence that Paul was in fact a committed heterosexual?

"There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."  William Shakespeare.

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17 hours ago, PaulS said:

A footnote for me - I couldn't care less if Paul was gay or not, and when it comes to 'evidence' from the New Testament, I acknowledge that the closest we have to the 'real thing' concerning the NT books and letters dates some 300 years after Jesus, so really, calling anything from the NT as hard evidence is dubious in my opinion.  I also acknowledge that much of what goes for 'evidence' from the NT is often open to interpretation and speculation.  Each to their own i say (unless it hurts others).

Just a question: "closest we have to the 'real thing' concerning the NT books and letters dates some 300 years after Jesus" - what do you mean?

Paul dates from the 50s some 20-25 years after Jesus and it is probable his ministry begins within 3 or so years after Jesus. And, all the gospels date to the 1st C CE - so 40-70 years after the crucifixion. The 'official' canon comes later but the 'book' include in that canon are roughly dated this way. 

Before saying, "...and misogyny (admittedly Paul was living in a highly patriarchal society that often treated women like property, however he is a sole voice in the NT when it comes to putting women 'in their place')" which letters are you attributing to Paul?  Some are from Paul's hand and others are (seemingly) not Paul's writings. Also, Paul writes about women in the Church and Christian society, including leadership roles, in very un-misogynistic ways.

Edited by thormas

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I don't care about speculating about Paul's sexuality.  I could not even define sexuality in the NT period using 21C concepts.

If you do not believe the basis of your speculation is factual this cannot be a productive conversation.

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3 hours ago, thormas said:

Just a question: "closest we have to the 'real thing' concerning the NT books and letters dates some 300 years after Jesus" - what do you mean?

Paul dates from the 50s some 20-25 years after Jesus and it is probable his ministry begins within 3 or so years after Jesus. And, all the gospels date to the 1st C CE - so 40-70 years after the crucifixion. The 'official' canon comes later but the 'book' include in that canon are roughly dated this way. 

Before saying, "...and misogyny (admittedly Paul was living in a highly patriarchal society that often treated women like property, however he is a sole voice in the NT when it comes to putting women 'in their place')" which letters are you attributing to Paul?  Some are from Paul's hand and others are (seemingly) not Paul's writings. Also, Paul writes about women in the Church and Christian society, including leadership roles, in very un-misogynistic ways.

Actual hard copies of any books attributed to the NT date no older than about the year 300.  Scholars date the general content of those documents to the dates you mention, but with a gap of 200-250 years who knows how true to the originals such documents may be.  I think we can say they may generally be similar but who really knows what's been added, removed, or incorrectly transcribed during the years.

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3 hours ago, Burl said:

I don't care about speculating about Paul's sexuality.  I could not even define sexuality in the NT period using 21C concepts.

If you do not believe the basis of your speculation is factual this cannot be a productive conversation.

You already do speculate about Paul's sexuality - by assuming he's heterosexual when there is no evidence to prove such.  It's just that you seem happy to accept that particular speculation.  Each to their own.

I think many a productive conversation has been had speculating about the factuality of biblical texts, but I think I understand how you see it differently.  No problem.

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I do not assume Paul was heterosexual.  There is no evidence of that either.

Show me evidence Paul was a choir director and I will reconsider your wild guess.

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3 hours ago, thormas said:

Before saying, "...and misogyny (admittedly Paul was living in a highly patriarchal society that often treated women like property, however he is a sole voice in the NT when it comes to putting women 'in their place')" which letters are you attributing to Paul?  Some are from Paul's hand and others are (seemingly) not Paul's writings. Also, Paul writes about women in the Church and Christian society, including leadership roles, in very un-misogynistic ways.

Oops, forgot to address this bit.

It's a bit of a sliding scale but I think Paul probably wrote Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galations, Collossians, Philppians, Philemon and 1 Thessalonians.  I'd speculate that he may or may not have written Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians, and I lean more heavily towards Paul not having written 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.  But i reserve the right to change my views depending on which biblical scholarship I am subjected to at the time :) 

I also generally think Paul had issues with women but do acknowledge there are contradictions and he isn't always spiteful towards them.  I wouldn't bet my house on it that he was a committed misogynist, but I'd probably have a smaller side bet. :)

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9 minutes ago, Burl said:

I do not assume Paul was heterosexual.  There is no evidence of that either.

Show me evidence Paul was a choir director and I will reconsider your wild guess.

My response is in light of you calling it 'absurd' that Paul was a repressed gay male.  You can't have it both ways - sit on the fence when it suits but belittle another point of view.  You obviously are making some assumptions about Paul to say it is absurd that he could have been gay, otherwise it can't be absurd.

And Paul may well have been a choir director for all I know.  I don't consider that absurd, but I don't read anything that might indicate that, which is a lot less than what I read that indicates his homosexuality.

Does it matter - no, but I think it makes for an interesting discussion.  I don't need to prove it either way.

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2 minutes ago, Burl said:

If I had to I would guess Paul was asexual.  

Possibly, but I think unlikely (for an asexual person he does seem to have a bit to say about sex and sexual relations). 

But it's not absurd and obviously you make some assumptions to get to that point.  All power to you, Burl.

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29 minutes ago, PaulS said:

Actual hard copies of any books attributed to the NT date no older than about the year 300.  Scholars date the general content of those documents to the dates you mention, but with a gap of 200-250 years who knows how true to the originals such documents may be.  I think we can say they may generally be similar but who really knows what's been added, removed, or incorrectly transcribed during the years.

Hard copies - what do you mean? Scholars only date the general contents, what does that mean?

What gap? Irenaeus in the mid to later 2nd C CE refers to 20 or 21 of the 'books' of the NT canon. If he is doing this as a middle age man, then by the middle of that century, most of the NT canon (general content - 20 of 27 books?) were known and accepted by the Church. This is roughly 50 - 70 years after John's Gospel is dated. Where is the 250 year gap? Scholarly source?

 

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10 minutes ago, Burl said:

If I had to I would guess Paul was asexual.  

Now that is interesting. Like Jesus, he believed the apocalypse / the Kingdom of God was at hand. No time to marry, no time to do anything but prepare since it was happening in their lifetime. So, I guess he had a sexual orientation but perhaps (most likely) didn't act on it - would have fit in perfectly with the Catholic Church (orientation if ok, you just can't do anything about it - love that compassion).

Paul, other than Spong, do you have actual biblical scholars who weight in either gay or straight on Paul? I have read a number of scholars but have to go back and check - I simply don't remember, so this was probably not a big issue for them. I truly like Spong (still do) but some of his claims are outlandish and have been questioned by biblical scholars - Spong is not such a scholar. 

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9 minutes ago, thormas said:

Hard copies - what do you mean? Scholars only date the general contents, what does that mean?

What gap? Irenaeus in the mid to later 2nd C CE refers to 20 or 21 of the 'books' of the NT canon. If he is doing this as a middle age man, then by the middle of that century, most of the NT canon (general content - 20 of 27 books?) were known and accepted by the Church. This is roughly 50 - 70 years after John's Gospel is dated. Where is the 250 year gap? Scholarly source?

 

What I mean is that we cannot say that what we read in the earliest available manuscripts (dated circa 300)  is identical to what was written, when it was written.  I think we can, from a historical context, put things together and determine that such books existed, but are they carbon copies of the original writings?  Were paragraphs added or subtracted in between whenever they were written and what we cite today as a genuine copy of the original?

For instance, your bible may have a Mark 16:9-20 in it, but now we have older mansucripts, older 'copies' of the original, that don't have that ending.  So which 'copy' is correct?

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32 minutes ago, thormas said:

Paul, other than Spong, do you have actual biblical scholars who weight in either gay or straight on Paul? I have read a number of scholars but have to go back and check - I simply don't remember, so this was probably not a big issue for them. I truly like Spong (still do) but some of his claims are outlandish and have been questioned by biblical scholars - Spong is not such a scholar. 

I do think I have read speculation by other scholars, but I cannot recall specifically.  Certainly Spong is the main antagonist concerning this view and yes, he can make outlandish claims at times.  I think it was Borg (I could be wrong) that said Spong was brilliant at breaking things down from the bible, but not as strong in reassembling them.

When I re-read Paul with the lens that Spong suggests, I see what Spong is saying.  But could he be wrong? - of course.  

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8 minutes ago, thormas said:

Now that is interesting. Like Jesus, he believed the apocalypse / the Kingdom of God was at hand. No time to marry, no time to do anything but prepare since it was happening in their lifetime. So, I guess he had a sexual orientation but perhaps (most likely) didn't act on it - would have fit in perfectly with the Catholic Church (orientation if ok, you just can't do anything about it - love that compassion).

Paul, other than Spong, do you have actual biblical scholars who weight in either gay or straight on Paul? I have read a number of scholars but have to go back and check - I simply don't remember, so this was probably not a big issue for them. I truly like Spong (still do) but some of his claims are outlandish and have been questioned by biblical scholars - Spong is not such a scholar. 

"No male or female".  "God is love".  Paul recommended not marrying unless one had a overriding compulsion for sex.

I know little about sexuality in the biblical period except a few factoids.  Male/male sex in Hellenic culture was often a pederast/catamite relationship between boys and men which echoed the pervasive patron/servant power dynamic.  There was also strong competition between the Christians and the all male cult of Mithras favored by the Roman military. 

In any event, biblical sexuality was certainly not conceptualized the way we see it today in 21C.  In Romans 1, Paul describes homosexuality not as a sin but as the natural consequence of denying God but I have yet to hear anyone preach on this passage accurately.  One cannot understand such a nuanced and individual characteristic by oversimplifying it into the intellectual 20C ghettoes of identity politics.

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2 hours ago, PaulS said:

I do think I have read speculation by other scholars, but I cannot recall specifically.  Certainly Spong is the main antagonist concerning this view and yes, he can make outlandish claims at times.  I think it was Borg (I could be wrong) that said Spong was brilliant at breaking things down from the bible, but not as strong in reassembling them.

When I re-read Paul with the lens that Spong suggests, I see what Spong is saying.  But could he be wrong? - of course.  

Borg made an interesting point about Spong

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2 hours ago, Burl said:

"No male or female".  "God is love".  Paul recommended not marrying unless one had a overriding compulsion for sex.

I know little about sexuality in the biblical period except a few factoids.  Male/male sex in Hellenic culture was often a pederast/catamite relationship between boys and men which echoed the pervasive patron/servant power dynamic.  There was also strong competition between the Christians and the all male cult of Mithras favored by the Roman military. 

In any event, biblical sexuality was certainly not conceptualized the way we see it today in 21C.  In Romans 1, Paul describes homosexuality not as a sin but as the natural consequence of denying God but I have yet to hear anyone preach on this passage accurately.  One cannot understand such a nuanced and individual characteristic by oversimplifying it into the intellectual 20C ghettoes of identity politics.

Well, that makes things interesting - which letter?

"In any event, biblical sexuality was certainly not conceptualized the way we see it today in 21C." I get that but things still worked the same way, correct? 

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2 hours ago, PaulS said:

What I mean is that we cannot say that what we read in the earliest available manuscripts (dated circa 300)  is identical to what was written, when it was written.  I think we can, from a historical context, put things together and determine that such books existed, but are they carbon copies of the original writings?  Were paragraphs added or subtracted in between whenever they were written and what we cite today as a genuine copy of the original?

For instance, your bible may have a Mark 16:9-20 in it, but now we have older mansucripts, older 'copies' of the original, that don't have that ending.  So which 'copy' is correct?

It seems this assumes there is a substantial difference but, as stated above, Irenaeus is citing 21 of the 27 book in the NT canon. This was also a time of heresy and there would seemingly have been a 'standard' that men like he accepted and referred in order to 'comment' on other takes on Jesus. But, again, what manuscripts and do they (and if so how) differ from the 21 books that Irenaeus cited? And what sources are you using? 

As for Mark's ending, scholars have shown that it was a later addition - thus the earlier copy was the real Markan gospel. It is possible to make such determinations.

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9 minutes ago, thormas said:

It seems this assumes there is a substantial difference but, as stated above, Irenaeus is citing 21 of the 27 book in the NT canon. This was also a time of heresy and there would seemingly have been a 'standard' that men like he accepted and referred in order to 'comment' on other takes on Jesus. But, again, what manuscripts and do they (and if so how) differ from the 21 books that Irenaeus cited? And what sources are you using? 

As for Mark's ending, scholars have shown that it was a later addition - thus the earlier copy was the real Markan gospel. It is possible to make such determinations.

I don't quite understand your question Thormas - what manuscripts are you asking me to cite and provide sources for?  I am saying that we can't precisely substantiate the original sources of the now canonised works because we simply do not have them.  At best, we have copies that date some 200-300 years after the originals.  Who knows what changes they could have undergone during that period.

People like Irenaeus may well have had a 'standard' they considered appropriate, but who knows how they applied that standard.  There were several versions of early Christianity with one eventually winning out above all others, so i don't think it would be unreasonable to think there may have been different translations and copies made as time went on which offered the opportunity for the scribe to alter text, or improve it in their opinion.  Of course not having the originals makes it impossible to tell.  But we do see signs of tinkering with the writings, such as demonstrated in Mark.  That's one particular case but it demonstrates that fiddling with the sources did happen.

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9 hours ago, PaulS said:

I don't quite understand your question Thormas - what manuscripts are you asking me to cite and provide sources for?  I am saying that we can't precisely substantiate the original sources of the now canonised works because we simply do not have them.  At best, we have copies that date some 200-300 years after the originals.  Who knows what changes they could have undergone during that period.

People like Irenaeus may well have had a 'standard' they considered appropriate, but who knows how they applied that standard.  There were several versions of early Christianity with one eventually winning out above all others, so i don't think it would be unreasonable to think there may have been different translations and copies made as time went on which offered the opportunity for the scribe to alter text, or improve it in their opinion.  Of course not having the originals makes it impossible to tell.  But we do see signs of tinkering with the writings, such as demonstrated in Mark.  That's one particular case but it demonstrates that fiddling with the sources did happen.

Where are you getting your information, what scholars are you reading? And you have referred to manuscripts around 300 years after Jesus (330) or the originals (370-400) - what manuscripts do you mean? Where do the scholars say these manuscripts come from as they must be copying something? My reading indicates that we have relatively complete manuscripts of the Gospels around the year 200 (that cuts the time stated above by 130-170 years and with Irenaeus we bring it even closer to the originals and cut it by 160-200 years): these manuscripts were copies and one can allow for some changes but if copies were being made within religious communities (say the 'orthodox community) it is fair to say also that care was taken in the copying. 

My understanding of the different Christianities is that they had different 'sacred books' and the 'orthodox' had what became the canon. So, Irenaeus, being orthodox, referred to 21 of the 27 books of the NT canon in the middle of the 2nd C CE. I will recheck but don't think it was a matter of different versions/copies of the same books - it was the selection of different books altogether. I do agree there are some changes by scribes and even Luke and Matthew changed/added to Mark - yet we still seem to have books that make up the later canon, already existing in the 1st C and referred to both at that time (Matthew and Luke on Mark) and later Irenaeus and the 'Church' he represented. 

I have no problem recognizing the later canon, no problem seeing where scribes 'tinkered' to clarify(?) or perhaps with Mark, create an ending in line with developing belief (also done with Paul), but the use of tinkering and fiddling and the set canon date of the 4th C seems to suggest that we don't at that later date don't have - some, a lot or even most - of what came and was recognized earlier. It seems throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  One issue is when the official canon was recognized (mid 4thC), while the other is when we have relatively complete manuscripts much earlier, that point to even earlier accepted books (mid 2nd C).

Of course. it must be remembered that the gospels were not history or biography as we define those terms but faith statements. So, I guess, even in the beginning, it became less what Jesus said than what Christians believed about who he was.

It is fascinating stuff.

 

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Just following this thread ... I can't help thinking you guys need to get some more up to date books, and if you can't find any that meet the requirements, then work from first principles based on how we understand today how the universe ticks and apply that to gay rights (and pretty much everything else). I understand this might not answer the frightfully important conundrum of whether Paul way back then was gay or not, which in turn might inform our responses today to our modern biases.

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Well don't leave us hanging Rom, suggest some 'up to date' scholarly books on Paul, biblical scholarship and early Christian history that, having read, you think might help. I love recommendations. I seem to be current - ordering new books on Paul and early Christianity (by authors previously read) and referencing other books for our topics. Furthermore, the info on Irenaeus is out there and has been for a while, regardless of when the scholar wrote his/her book.

Already set on gay rights, so OK there - as for Paul it is simply an intriguing topic for some, although not earth shaking by any means - and it is the topic of the thread.

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7 hours ago, thormas said:

Where are you getting your information, what scholars are you reading? And you have referred to manuscripts around 300 years after Jesus (330) or the originals (370-400) - what manuscripts do you mean? Where do the scholars say these manuscripts come from as they must be copying something? My reading indicates that we have relatively complete manuscripts of the Gospels around the year 200 (that cuts the time stated above by 130-170 years and with Irenaeus we bring it even closer to the originals and cut it by 160-200 years): these manuscripts were copies and one can allow for some changes but if copies were being made within religious communities (say the 'orthodox community) it is fair to say also that care was taken in the copying. 

My understanding of the different Christianities is that they had different 'sacred books' and the 'orthodox' had what became the canon. So, Irenaeus, being orthodox, referred to 21 of the 27 books of the NT canon in the middle of the 2nd C CE. I will recheck but don't think it was a matter of different versions/copies of the same books - it was the selection of different books altogether. I do agree there are some changes by scribes and even Luke and Matthew changed/added to Mark - yet we still seem to have books that make up the later canon, already existing in the 1st C and referred to both at that time (Matthew and Luke on Mark) and later Irenaeus and the 'Church' he represented. 

I have no problem recognizing the later canon, no problem seeing where scribes 'tinkered' to clarify(?) or perhaps with Mark, create an ending in line with developing belief (also done with Paul), but the use of tinkering and fiddling and the set canon date of the 4th C seems to suggest that we don't at that later date don't have - some, a lot or even most - of what came and was recognized earlier. It seems throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  One issue is when the official canon was recognized (mid 4thC), while the other is when we have relatively complete manuscripts much earlier, that point to even earlier accepted books (mid 2nd C).

Of course. it must be remembered that the gospels were not history or biography as we define those terms but faith statements. So, I guess, even in the beginning, it became less what Jesus said than what Christians believed about who he was.

It is fascinating stuff.

 

I think I'm referring to just about every biblical scholar I've ever read  Thormas.  As far as what I understand, there is no single, complete book from the NT discovered that pre-dates the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus (both dated around roughly 350CE).  Admittedly there are 'fragments' of other manuscripts but I am not aware of any complete originals or 'copies' of originals prior to the above-mentioned.  I don't think we need to go into chapter and verse of every piece of biblical scholarship, so I hope it suffices to say that much of what I lean on comes from Bart Erhmann himself, or other scholarly work that he has quoted.  I'm not restricted to Erhmann and have read several other scholars concerning different bits and pieces, but I don't keep records so find it a bit hard to recall who said what and when.  

To say that we have 'relatively complete' copies of the Gospels dating around 200CE is certainly a stretch.  The oldest 'fragment' we have of Mark for instance dates c250CE and contains 8 of the 15 chapters attributed to Mark - so nearly half of what is later attributed to the Gospel of Mark is missing until we get to the Codex Sinaiticus.  And this is the book that some would regard as the most accurate about Jesus and what he said/did (maybe there's a reason much of it went missing in the early centuries?).  It is a similar case for many of the other books - some fair better than others, but there are many books that fair a lot worse.

Yes, scribes at the time were copying something (presumably) but they were also altering the texts and adding things they thought needed to be added.  I wonder how pentecostal snake handling sects who drank poison felt when they found out that the ending of Mark that they so heavily relied upon was a lie?  We only know it was a lie because we found older manuscripts.  So essentially, we don't know what we don't know because we don't have the original manuscripts.

I am not throwing out the baby with the bathwater but simply saying that evidence is evidence - we can't change the definition - and if the originals don't exist, and there are large gaps between our earliest versions and later ones, then how can one say everything is hunky dory with the later versions.  It simply can't be logically concluded. Particularly in light of the evidence we have for tampering with the older version of the manuscripts.

Oxams razor - what is more likely - that the texts remain unchanged throughout hundreds of years of translation and copying, even in light of evidence of editing (some instances significant and thousands less so), or at best we say we have what we have and who knows precisely which missing bits from the earliest available manuscripts are 100% correct or not.

I agree it is fascinating stuff and often I have imagined being a Bart Erhmann or other who has gone down this career path.  And I certainly agree with you that these books are mostly 'faith statements' but as you know yourself, some people holds these words up as the dictated or inspired word of God and we have all seen the damage adhering to the bible word for word has caused throughtout time.  That is just why I find it paramount to be honest about what we have and what we don't have.

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