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NT Reliability

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Thanks Thomas for answering my question.

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1 hour ago, JosephM said:

Thanks Thomas for answering my question.

No problem though it took some time. The discussion with Paul motivated me to study the subject in more depth and that took some time and is continuing. 

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So who's right on this subject?        I am!             Kidding :+}

It is apparent that both Paul and I have valid points that are supported by the best scholars in the world. 

Repeating Bart Ehrman, whom both Paul and I like, this scholar states in the strongest terms that:  "we can never 'know' what the authors wrote, if by that we mean 'know with absolute certainty....."  Ehrman adds, "for most of us that doesn’t matter much.for those with a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible, it does.

So, since this is a progressive Christian site, in all probability the issue of absolute certainty doesn't matter to most of us. 

But that is not the end of the story as Ehrman also states in the strongest terms: "let me say it clearly:  it is NOT my opinion that: “We have no idea what the authors of the New Testament original wrote.” Continuing, he writes, "I’m willing to stake a position on, as a working assumption (that) I think it only makes sense to suppose we have a “good idea” about what the authors wrote. That’s a working assumption because it really does work. In one of his latest blogs, Ehrman asked, "is it reasonable to think that most of the time we have a pretty good idea what the authors originally wrote?" And his answer was, "sure." 

So while acknowledging Paul's concern that there is no absolute certainty, Ehrman affirms that it is reasonable that critical scholars (and others, I assume) think that most of the time the canonical sources are reliable, in that we have a 'pretty good idea' what the gospel writers wrote. 

And, other critical scholars agree. All acknowledge the issues, such as numerous manuscripts, many, many thousands of variations, the reasons for the variations, the type of variations (including spellings and punctuation) and the insignificance of the vast number of these variations, while already aware of significant variations, such as, the ending of Mark, the story of the adulteress, the pseudo Pauline letters, Gospel of Thomas, etc.   

Some of these scholars include:

Larry Hurtado: "... it’s an exaggeration.... to suggest that we can’t know what the authors actually wrote.  We can continue to practice NT studies with the confidence that our modern critical editions give us substantially what the Gospels authors (and other NT authors) wrote.

Michael Holmes: the Gospels seem to display “....microlevel fluidity and macrolevel stability" His essay, 'Text & Transmission in the 2nd C' in the book 'Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue, The Reliability of the NT' suggests an answer to the question, "How well does the text of the NT as we have it in the late second/early third century reflect the state of the text in the late first century? -  "there is little if any evidence of any major disruption to the text (I'll leave it to you to read it). 

Dale Allison"I do not contend, because I do not believe, that all this material comes from Jesus, directly or indirectly. Nor do I insist that any of it is word-perfect memory. .....the Synoptics are not primarily records of what Jesus actually said and did but collections of impressions." To that end, Allison, agreeing with Ehrman's 'working assumption' that we have a good idea about what the authors wrote - identifies general patterns (see above).

 

I found two other interesting consideration regarding the transmission and therefore the reliability of the gospel texts (I am still reading about both so my personal jury is still out): one is the Church Fathers who often quoted texts in their works - it seems to have been the practice, that such sources were not always cited - texts which seem to reflect what is found in the canonical gospels. The second issue is Brian Wright's work on the communal, repeated reading of texts in liturgy as a factor in the transmission of the texts. As these texts were read (early as the later 1st C and the beginning of the 2nd C) and became the property of those who heard them Wright shows that people were often concerned to have a reliable version of the wording of texts, and could object when any significant alteration was attempted of well know texts. Again, Michael Holmes noted how some early Christian texts ......particularly those that early on acquired a scriptural status and usage, exhibit “micro-level” variants. Wright’s emphasis on the role of the repeated communal reading of texts helps us to account for this.  Those texts that were read out communally more frequently acquired a comparatively greater textual stability."

This rights true for me and I have to explore it more. It rings true because when my daughter was very young, before she could read, there were books that we read to her constantly. After a time, she could look at a page in the book and she knew exactly, I mean exactly (again before she could read), what we were about to read to her. And god help us or any reader who made a mistake. So I get that a community or small group of people, who placed incredible value on Jesus (he was after all the way of their very salvation) and who came to value a story(s) of Jesus, would come to know these intimately and both know and be upset if the texts were changed (definitely on the macrolevel but perhaps, like my daughter also on the microlevel). 

Ehrman writes that "If these gist memories are accurate we have a fair outline of information about the man Jesus himself during his public life..." It appears - given the 'working assumption' - that both the gist listed by Ehrman (above) and the general patterns of Allison (above) are reliable. If so, then one (if this is important to them) simply has to make the personal decision as to whether or not s/he accepts these impressions as indicative of who Jesus was and what he did and then comes the even more personal decision: whether or not this is significance in one's life.

I hope this helps (those who might be interested), I know it helped me arrive at a renewed appreciation of the reliability of the NT gospels (although I have longed agreed with Allison's contention on history vs. impressions and the patterns that he identifies.

 

 

 

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15 hours ago, thormas said:

Repeating Bart Ehrman, whom both Paul and I like, this scholar states in the strongest terms that:  "we can never 'know' what the authors wrote, if by that we mean 'know with absolute certainty....."  Ehrman adds, "for most of us that doesn’t matter much.for those with a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible, it does.

So, since this is a progressive Christian site, in all probability the issue of absolute certainty doesn't matter to most of us. 

But that is not the end of the story as Ehrman also states in the strongest terms: "let me say it clearly:  it is NOT my opinion that: “We have no idea what the authors of the New Testament original wrote.” Continuing, he writes, "I’m willing to stake a position on, as a working assumption (that) I think it only makes sense to suppose we have a “good idea” about what the authors wrote. That’s a working assumption because it really does work. In one of his latest blogs, Ehrman asked, "is it reasonable to think that most of the time we have a pretty good idea what the authors originally wrote?" And his answer was, "sure." 

So while acknowledging Paul's concern that there is no absolute certainty, Ehrman affirms that it is reasonable that critical scholars (and others, I assume) think that most of the time the canonical sources are reliable, in that we have a 'pretty good idea' what the gospel writers wrote. 

Apologies for the late tune in - but I just felt I didn't have anything further to add to our discussion, Thormas.  But I would like to make it clear that my main point of contention was not about the 'absolute certainty' of the Gospels we have today compared to the Gospels when they were written (although the unreliability of their accuracy does feed into my points that we may be mistaken about much of what we think these authors wrote because of the demonstrated inconsistencies and errors), but moreso I was trying to express to you my doubts about any scholarship being able to demonstrate or establish that the Gospels, even in their original form, must be regarded as an accurate depiction of the 'gist' of Jesus.  It appears to me, that the only evidence proffered is that we have nothing else, so assumptions seem to be that the Gospel writers must have been on the money or their views wouldn't have prevailed.  I simply don't think that is a sound conclusion.

I think there is certainly room for error and exaggeration about Jesus between when he lived and the next forty years before anything that we actually have left today, was written.  And even more room for the 'gist' to grow over the next 50 or so years when the remaining Gospels were written.  

So for me, when Bart says things like "If these gist memories are accurate..." he is acknowledging that these authors are the only 'existing' view we have of Jesus, but that doesn't make them accurate (even in their unadulterated form if we had it). 

I'm pretty sure I gave you Donald Trump as an example - if in 40 to 100 years time things were written about the 'gist' of Donald, I expect they would not all agree.  And if over the decades and centuries that followed, Republican followers of Donald became the dominant group and successfully shouted down or overgrew other views of his 'gist', and subsequently over time they drowned out and destroyed the writings of the other views,  then hundreds and thousands of years later, what would we be discussing as the relative certainty of the gist of Donald?  Of course we could only really consider what we had and not perhaps the other bits that were shouted down and destroyed, even with good intent, way back in the beginning.

So to summarize, scholars may reasonably know what the authors of the existing Gospels and NT wrote - but how do scholars establish these writings are an accurate portrayal of the gist of Jesus?  That these stories accurately capture the gist of Jesus and aren't rather just a particular stream of Jesus belief that won the day and eventually got canonised?

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1 hour ago, PaulS said:

Apologies for the late tune in - but I just felt I didn't have anything further to add to our discussion, Thormas.  But I would like to make it clear that my main point of contention was not about the 'absolute certainty' of the Gospels we have today compared to the Gospels when they were written (although the unreliability of their accuracy does feed into my points that we may be mistaken about much of what we think these authors wrote because of the demonstrated inconsistencies and errors), but moreso I was trying to express to you my doubts about any scholarship being able to demonstrate or establish that the Gospels, even in their original form, must be regarded as an accurate depiction of the 'gist' of Jesus.  It appears to me, that the only evidence proffered is that we have nothing else, so assumptions seem to be that the Gospel writers must have been on the money or their views wouldn't have prevailed.  I simply don't think that is a sound conclusion.

I think there is certainly room for error and exaggeration about Jesus between when he lived and the next forty years before anything that we actually have left today, was written.  And even more room for the 'gist' to grow over the next 50 or so years when the remaining Gospels were written.  

So for me, when Bart says things like "If these gist memories are accurate..." he is acknowledging that these authors are the only 'existing' view we have of Jesus, but that doesn't make them accurate (even in their unadulterated form if we had it). 

I'm pretty sure I gave you Donald Trump as an example - if in 40 to 100 years time things were written about the 'gist' of Donald, I expect they would not all agree.  And if over the decades and centuries that followed, Republican followers of Donald became the dominant group and successfully shouted down or overgrew other views of his 'gist', and subsequently over time they drowned out and destroyed the writings of the other views,  then hundreds and thousands of years later, what would we be discussing as the relative certainty of the gist of Donald?  Of course we could only really consider what we had and not perhaps the other bits that were shouted down and destroyed, even with good intent, way back in the beginning.

So to summarize, scholars may reasonably know what the authors of the existing Gospels and NT wrote - but how do scholars establish these writings are an accurate portrayal of the gist of Jesus?  That these stories accurately capture the gist of Jesus and aren't rather just a particular stream of Jesus belief that won the day and eventually got canonised?

The reason for canonization was that Constantine had 3 major churches, and he needed a single anthology that would be suited for public worship anywhere in his kingdom.

The reason we know the canon is reasonably accurate is that all three churches overwhelmingly agreed on almost everything except Revelation already.

There was no “win the day” moment.  It was “if you like your scripture, you can keep your scripture”. Constantine got his universally accepted canon.  The Alexandrites continued to include Enoch, and the Roman church kept the Apochrapha. 

Nothing was lost and almost everything had been agreed upon and in use for centuries before Constantine ordered a formal canon.

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12 hours ago, PaulS said:

I would like to make it clear that my main point of contention was not about the 'absolute certainty' of the Gospels we have today compared to the Gospels when they were written but moreso my doubts about any scholarship being able to demonstrate or establish that the Gospels, even in their original form, must be regarded as an accurate depiction of the 'gist' of Jesus. 

I understand your specific concern about the gist. The gist, as detailed by Ehrman (above) seems, in part, to be found in secular sources, such as Josephus. We know that a Christian had added some parts to Josephus but historians accept his own comments on Jesus. In addition, scholars, like Ehrman, have established that Jesus existed and some of the gist is part of that history. I thought the first 6 or 7 of the 11 points of the gist list were pretty bare bones. Thus it appeared that the historical gist matches up with (some of) the gist provided by the canonical gospels. 

Allison is working with the sources - so that doesn't alleviate your concern. However, scholars point to sources that predate the synoptic sources and are closer to the time of the historical Jesus: Q, M and L.  Ehrman says are these are "three hypothetical but highly probable" (sources) which were written, or oral, or both.  In addition to the earlier sources, which probably also included gist material, we have Paul writings that predate the gospels by 20 to 40 years and are predated themselves by his conversion and apostolic activity which began a few years after the death of Jesus (around 33CE). Paul, at this time, established a connection with the earliest post-Easter followers of Jesus when he 'received' gist material and the beliefs about Jesus that were reflected in his writings. I know you might have concerns about whether or not we have the original’ letters of Paul but it seems that Ehrmanworking assumption’ would also apply here: we have a 'good idea' what Paul wrote in his (authentic) letters. 

However, I suspect your concern remains. If we accept the 'working assumption' of scholars like Allison, Ehrman and others, we have a ‘good idea of what the gospel authors wrote’ - we have their gist and general patterns of Jesus. However, as you ask, do the gospels, even if they are the originals, provide an accurate depiction of the 'gist' of the historical Jesus?  It appears that some of the gist is set (see above) so I think your concern might legitimately encompass the rest of the gist which, in turn, might include Allison’s general patterns or impressions (Apocalyptic prophet, known as a wonder worker, spoke in parables, etc.). 

From my point of view, I believe the gospels reflect or capture the gist and/or the general patterns of the historical Jesus. In addition to the probable, earlier sources and Paul (discussed above), Hurtado and others recognize that devotional practices of the earliest Church are captured and transmitted in Paul, while Wright points to the devotional practices and stories about Jesus that were are cherished and transmitted in communities which are (hypothetically but probably) captured in pre-gospel sources, Paul and later in the synoptic gospels. Where we differ is that I think this is a sound reasoning and I accept Ehrman's 'working assumption' that we have a good idea what the authors wrote and indications (above) are that what they wrote is tied (i.e. gist and general patterns) to the historical Jesus.  I should note that I am not claiming absolute certainty. 

Even given all this, the reading continues but my recent study has reaffirmed the reliability (we have a good idea of what the authors wrote) of the canonical gospels and also the likelihood that they accurately portray (or portray as accurately as possible) the essence of the man: as Allison notes, Jesus did and said the kinds of things that are presented in the gospel narratives. 

Edited by thormas

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11 hours ago, thormas said:

The gist, as detailed by Ehrman (above) seems, in part, to be found in secular sources, such as Josephus. We know that a Christian had added some parts to Josephus but historians accept his own comments on Jesus.

Josephus' undisputed writings about Jesus are restricted to: “About this time there lived Jesus. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease.  And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”  I don't see that as a particularly strong case supporting the 11 dot points you outlined earlier as the gist of Jesus.

11 hours ago, thormas said:

However, scholars point to sources that predate the synoptic sources and are closer to the time of the historical Jesus: Q, M and L.  Ehrman says are these are "three hypothetical but highly probable" (sources) which were written, or oral, or both.  

Yes, but we don't have those so we don't know what else was in them (if they exist).  At best we suspect we think we know some of what was in them, those bits that did make it to soem of the Gospels.  Hardly compelling.

11 hours ago, thormas said:

In addition to the earlier sources, which probably also included gist material, we have Paul writings that predate the gospels by 20 to 40 years and are predated themselves by his conversion and apostolic activity which began a few years after the death of Jesus (around 33CE). Paul, at this time, established a connection with the earliest post-Easter followers of Jesus when he 'received' gist material and the beliefs about Jesus that were reflected in his writings. I know you might have concerns about whether or not we have the original’ letters of Paul but it seems that Ehrmanworking assumption’ would also apply here: we have a 'good idea' what Paul wrote in his (authentic) letters. 

Of course for a long time scholars have also proposed that Paul's writings contain teachings that are different from the original teachings of Jesus, so I'm not sure how anybody can demonstrate how or when Paul supposedly 'received' this gist material and beliefs about Jesus.  It seems to me that Paul quite possible went off on his own tangent concerning what Jesus' message was and what the gist of Jesus was, so again, I don't see the scholarly evidence supporting your assertion.  And again with Erhman's 'working assumption', he is using that term in the context of "this is all we have, so we run with it" type approach.  I don't think he is saying that this material is necessarily the accurate depiction of the gist of Jesus.

 

11 hours ago, thormas said:

From my point of view, I believe the gospels reflect or capture the gist and/or the general patterns of the historical Jesus. In addition to the probable, earlier sources and Paul (discussed above), Hurtado and others recognize that devotional practices of the earliest Church are captured and transmitted in Paul, while Wright points to the devotional practices and stories about Jesus that were are cherished and transmitted in communities which are (hypothetically but probably) captured in pre-gospel sources, Paul and later in the synoptic gospels. Where we differ is that I think this is a sound reasoning and I accept Ehrman's 'working assumption' that we have a good idea what the authors wrote and indications (above) are that what they wrote is tied (i.e. gist and general patterns) to the historical Jesus.  I should note that I am not claiming absolute certainty.  

I understand you're not claiming absolute certainty.  When you reference Hurtado (and others) about 'the earliest Church' we are still talking about churches +100 years after Jesus. Scholars have no evidence about churches existing around the time Mark was written.  The closest reference we have is Josephus (around 70CE) and he doesn't discuss the gist of Jesus or his teachings, so we are simply without knowledge. The fact that these churches later valued some writings written 40-70+ years after Jesus only demonstrates that those Churches accepted those writings and beliefs. Cherished they may be, but scholarly evidence that they accurately represent the gist of Jesus, they are not.

 

11 hours ago, thormas said:

Even given all this, the reading continues but my recent study has reaffirmed the reliability (we have a good idea of what the authors wrote) of the canonical gospels and also the likelihood that they accurately portray (or portray as accurately as possible) the essence of the man: as Allison notes, Jesus did and said the kinds of things that are presented in the gospel narratives. 

For some of the reasons I outline above I think that has to be a personal view and one not necessarily supported by the evidence.  If it works for you, all power to you, but I think as a discussion point I would have to say that at best, your 'evidence' is inconclusive.  More to the point, I think the scholarly evidence is severely lacking on the matter, which more or less is what triggered this initial discussion.  I don't think scholars can assert, if they in fact do, that we have the evidence that any Gospel 'gist' of Jesus accurately represents Jesus.  It may, but it may not too.

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You two are talking past each other.  Reliability and validity are two different questions.

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45 minutes ago, Burl said:

You two are talking past each other.  Reliability and validity are two different questions.

Precisely Burl - I am trying to say that the validity of the Gospels is not reliable! The evidence is simply not known to us.

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One thing i hope is not lost in this discussion (validity or reliability)  is the many inspirational messages that can be gleamed from the NT. If there is one book i read as a young man (over 50 years ago) that had a tremendous impact on my life, it would be "The Power of Positive Thinking" by  Norman Vincent Peale. Most of the inspiration from the book comes directly from the words of the NT. It uses a portion of the writings both of the Old and  New Testament that can be applied to unlearn a negative pattern of living. He shows how one can use optimism and faith to change ones pattern of mind and overcome obstacles. He does this by using positive re-enforcing writings from the NT that when put in practice helps to change lives to one more filled with success, joy and satisfaction. In using the NT as he prescribes,  we get away from doctrine and questions of validity and reliability and test the power of words directly for ourselves by applying them to our life and witnessing results for ourselves.

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5 hours ago, PaulS said:

Josephus' undisputed writings about Jesus are restricted ...I don't see that as a particularly strong case supporting the 11 dot points you outlined earlier as the gist of Jesus.

Paul, of course they're restricted. I said that "The gist...... in part, to be found in secular sources, such as Josephus........(and) historians accept his (Josephus') own comments on Jesus.

Josephus gives us some bare bones historical fact about Jesus which are included in and part of the gospel gist (which presupposed that he actually lived): he was a teacher, a rabbi who spoke the truth;  he was known as a wonder worker; he won over some of his own people; he was accused by the Jewish leaders (principal men); and, finally, he was condemned by Pilate and died on the cross. 

  • Jesus was born and raised a Jew (assumed)
  • He came from Nazareth in rural Galilee.
  • As an adult he was baptized by an apocalyptic prophet named John the Baptist, who was preaching the imminent judgment of God and baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for this climactic moment in history.
  • Afterward Jesus engaged in his own itinerate teaching preaching ministry.
  • Like John, he proclaimed an apocalyptic message of the coming Kingdom of God.
  • Much of his teaching was delivered in parables and in thoughtful and memorable aphorisms that explained the Kingdom of God and what people should do in preparation for it.
  • As a distinctively Jewish teacher, much of Jesus’ ethical teaching was rooted in an interpretation of the Torah, the Law of Moses, as found in the Hebrew Bible (a teacher)
  • Jesus’ teachings about the Torah led to controversies with other Jewish teachers, especially Pharisees (controversies that led to the accusations of the principal men)
  • Jesus had a number of followers, from whom he chose twelve to accompany him on his preaching ministry (won over many).
  • Jesus was occasionally opposed by members of his own family and by people from his hometown of Nazareth.
  • His followers, however, maintained that he spoke the truth, and they may also have claimed that his words were vindicated by the miraculous deeds he performed (performed surprising deeds)
  • And, of course added to the gist is that he was condemned by Pilate and died on the cross (Josephus has both)

All in all some considerable agreement on the bare bones gist of Jesus found in the NT.

5 hours ago, PaulS said:

Yes, but we don't have those so we don't know what else was in them (if they exist).  At best we suspect we think we know some of what was in them, those bits that did make it to soem of the Gospels.  Hardly compelling.

Paul, I am merely quoting Ehrman who is in agreement with many other scholars: " "three hypothetical but highly probable" (sources). Ehrman has 'working assumptions' that he believes are justified by the research. Your argument is with him, I'm only a messenger. 

5 hours ago, PaulS said:

Of course for a long time scholars have also proposed that Paul's writings contain teachings that are different from the original teachings of Jesus, so I'm not sure how anybody can demonstrate how or when Paul supposedly 'received' this gist material and beliefs about Jesus..... I don't see the scholarly evidence supporting your assertion. 

And again with Erhman's 'working assumption', he is using that term in the context of "this is all we have, so we run with it" type approach.  I don't think he is saying that this material is necessarily the accurate depiction of the gist of Jesus.

Paul, it is the case that the apostle Paul preached the messenger, Jesus, whereas Jesus preached the message but what I'm talking about is (gist) material found in Paul that is evidence of early Christian worship and devotion which are 'unchanged' by and merely repeated by Paul. Certainly Paul even as Saul knew some of the gist: that Jesus was proclaimed Messiah, that he was in conflict with Jewish authorities, that Jewiish authorities considered him wrong, that he was crucified. In addition, post conversion and captured in his later letters is much of the gist of Jesus (for example, as Saul he did not buy anything  about Jesus, that he was risen or that we are saved by Jesus) which he received from other Christians including Peter. This time your argument is with Hurtado: https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2019/08/23/the-origins-of-devotion-to-jesus-in-its-ancient-context/

"Already, in the earliest Christian texts, the undisputed letters of the Apostle Paul, we see reflected a body of christological claims and beliefs, and a pattern of devotional practices that are more taken for granted than explained.  This indicates that by the time of these letters (from ca. 50 A.D. and thereafter) all these phenomena were familiar features of the religious life of circles of the Jesus-movement,

Paul’s letters also reflect the understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion as part of the divine plan of redemption, and foretold in the Old Testament scriptures

Paul’s letters also reflect a developed devotional practice in which Jesus was integral and central. 

But in the core christological beliefs and devotional practices reflected in his letters, Paul was neither distinctive nor creative.  Instead, he reflects beliefs and devotional practices that he accepted as part of his religious re-orientation from opponent to proponent of the gospel message."

 

What I have been saying is that Paul inherits and reflects the early Christian belief about Jesus. He is writing about it mid century but he was converted almost 20 years earlier (circa 33CE) when these practices and beliefs were already in play. Again from Hurtado:

"To underscore the chronological point here, this body of beliefs and practices clearly emerged and became familiar features of circles of believers within the scarcely two decades between Jesus’ crucifixion and the earliest of Paul’s letters. Indeed, we should probably judge that this remarkable development emerged within the very earliest years, perhaps more accurately within the earliest months, after Jesus’ death, ca. 30 A.D.  For prior to the experience that produced his profound religious re-orientation, Paul (then a zealous Pharisee) was a determined opponent of the young Jesus-movement seeking, in his own words, to “destroy” it."

 

The point is that the apostle Paul was already against this young movement in its earliest months, converted to it within a few short years, and 'received' and then reflected its beliefs and devotional practices. Hurtado shows that Paul is taking for granted beliefs and practices........that predated him and that he therefore received and learned about early on. 

Your argument is with Hurtado who demonstrated that Paul is reflecting what he received after his conversion. Do you have a scholar you have read who disagrees with Hurtado?

5 hours ago, PaulS said:

When you reference Hurtado (and others) about 'the earliest Church' we are still talking about churches +100 years after Jesus. Scholars have no evidence about churches existing around the time Mark was written. Cherished they may be, but scholarly evidence that they accurately represent the gist of Jesus, they are not.

Wrong, see Hurtado above.

5 hours ago, PaulS said:

For some of the reasons I outline above I think that has to be a personal view and one not necessarily supported by the evidence.  If it works for you, all power to you, but I think as a discussion point I would have to say that at best, your 'evidence' is inconclusive.  More to the point, I think the scholarly evidence is severely lacking on the matter, which more or less is what triggered this initial discussion.  I don't think scholars can assert, if they in fact do, that we have the evidence that any Gospel 'gist' of Jesus accurately represents Jesus.  It may, but it may not too.

Check again. First I presented insights from 5 scholars and I then mentioned personal decision or view:  "then one (if this is considered important) simply has to make the personal decision as to whether or not s/he accepts these impressions as indicative of who Jesus was and what he did and then comes the even more personal decision: whether or not this is significance in one's life."

 

I get that your concern is that this 'working assumption' pertains to the NT writings only - even the original writings (if we had them) - and you question if any of them provides acurrate descriptions of the gist of the historical Jesus. However, you seem to dismiss the probability of earlier sources (readily apparent in Matthew and Luke's use of Mark) that various gospels would have utilized, demanding evidence (degrees of certainty) over the working assumptions of scholars.  You even state that the beliefs in the authentic letters of Paul, circa 50s CE, are merely his inventions - detached from early Christianity. I have provided scholarly references. Hurtado 'demonstrates' Paul's dependency on and reflection of early Christian beliefs and practices. Those beliefs, dating to Paul and the earliest post-Easter (the Jerusalem 'church') followers of Jesus, are present throughout the NT gospels. 

There is incredible consistency from the earliest beliefs/practices to Paul to pre-gospel sources to the NT gospels: the gist, the general patterns, the core beliefs. This 'gist' - beginning within months of the death of Jesus, is enough to drive Saul to distraction and within a few short years is received and learned by the newly named Paul and subsequently found in his letters to the growing Christian communities. 

You have given personal opinion on most of this, whereas I have presented the work of different scholars. Do you have scholars that disagree with these positions that I should be reading?

 

Edited by thormas

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3 hours ago, Burl said:

You two are talking past each other.  Reliability and validity are two different questions.

Burl,

I always value your position so please spell it out. Tell us exactly what we are doing wrong. 

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15 minutes ago, JosephM said:

One thing i hope is not lost in this discussion (validity or reliability)  is the many inspirational messages that can be gleamed from the NT. If there is one book i read as a young man (over 50 years ago) that had a tremendous impact on my life, it would be "The Power of Positive Thinking" by  Norman Vincent Peale. Most of the inspiration from the book comes directly from the words of the NT. It uses a portion of the writings both of the Old and  New Testament that can be applied to unlearn a negative pattern of living. He shows how one can use optimism and faith to change ones pattern of mind and overcome obstacles. He does this by using positive re-enforcing writings from the NT that when put in practice helps to change lives to one more filled with success, joy and satisfaction. In using the NT as he prescribes,  we get away from doctrine and questions of validity and reliability and test the power of words directly for ourselves by applying them to our life and witnessing results for ourselves.

I agree that this can be an extremely helpful read of the bible. However it is always educational (and fun - as learning can be fun) to do the work and learn even more about a subject of great interest.

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6 hours ago, thormas said:

Burl,

I always value your position so please spell it out. Tell us exactly what we are doing wrong. 

Reliability is internal, textual consistency.  Does the NT hang together, or does it have internal contradictions?

Validity is did the events stated actually occur.

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1 hour ago, Burl said:

Reliability is internal, textual consistency.  Does the NT hang together, or does it have internal contradictions?

Validity is did the events stated actually occur.

Ok - what do you think?

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35 minutes ago, thormas said:

Ok - what do you think?

Reliability is exceptional.  There is about 64,000 cross references within the NT and between the NT and OT.  The graphic looks like this:

D807-A0-A1-1-EE6-4990-8-C77-DCB5161540-E
 

Validity is harder to assess, and requires training in ancient literature. The Bible only claims that it is useful in the teaching of righteousness.  It does not claim to be a historical record or inerrant, but before looking at validity one must read accurately and not simply parrot some preacher or professor’s secondhand opinion.

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I said the gospel texts are 'reliable,' in that we have a good idea of what the original authors wrote. 

I also believe there is validity in the gospel narratives. As Ehrman wrote in 'Jesus before the Gospels,' "...many of the broad outlines that are narrated in the Gospels certainly did happen. Much of the gist is correct."

 

 

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In addition to the gist memories previously listed by Ehrman above, in the same book and on his blog, additional gist memories surrounding the death of Jesus are listed:

".... I argue that certain gist memories of Jesus’ last days and hours are almost certainly historically correct: 

  • he and some of his followers did make a trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover the last week of his life;
  • he did cause a disturbance in the Temple;
  • he did spend the week preaching his apocalyptic message;  
  • he did rouse opposition among the local Jewish leaders;
  • he was “betrayed” by one of his own followers;
  • he was brought up on charges before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate; and
  • he was condemned and executed for calling himself the King of the Jews."

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Thomas,

I don't think you will find in the NT where Jesus "called himself King of the Jews" .  If i am mistaken, please correct me and reference the writing that says so.

Joseph

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1 hour ago, JosephM said:

I don't think you will find in the NT where Jesus "called himself King of the Jews" .  If i am mistaken, please correct me and reference the writing that says so.

Joseph, 

This is a quoted from Ehrman in his book, 'Jesus Before the Gospels' and on his blog, so I'll let you research and debate Ehrman, who is the source. 

 

Edited by thormas

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On 10/20/2019 at 10:03 AM, Burl said:

Validity is harder to assess, and requires training in ancient literature.  It does not claim to be a historical record or inerrant, but before looking at validity one must read accurately and not simply parrot some preacher or professor’s secondhand opinion.

I'm not sure that all the study in the world in ancient literature will answer the question that if within the Jewish community in the early decades following Jesus' death there may have been different views of the gist of Jesus and his message, as the only surviving manuscripts we have from that time portray only one view.  They may be accurate, indeed many believe they are, I'm just saying that that alone is not evidence they are accurate representations of everything Jesus.

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On 10/20/2019 at 12:58 AM, thormas said:

Paul, of course they're restricted. I said that "The gist...... in part, to be found in secular sources, such as Josephus........(and) historians accept his (Josephus') own comments on Jesus.

I still can't see how you can draw the conclusion that Josephus' bare bones in any way supports what you quote Erhman as calling the gist of Jesus.

Josephus: "About this time there lived Jesus. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease.  And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

The gist you outlined:

  • Jesus was born and raised a Jew (no mention of this by Josephus)
  • He came from Nazareth in rural Galilee (no mention of this by Josephus)
  • As an adult he was baptized by an apocalyptic prophet named John the Baptist, who was preaching the imminent judgment of God and baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for this climactic moment in history (no mention of this by Josephus)
  • Afterward Jesus engaged in his own itinerate teaching preaching ministry (no mention of this by Josephus other than to say Jesus was a teacher)
  • Like John, he proclaimed an apocalyptic message of the coming Kingdom of God (no mention of this by Josephus)
  • Much of his teaching was delivered in parables and in thoughtful and memorable aphorisms that explained the Kingdom of God and what people should do in preparation for it (no mention of this by Josephus)
  • As a distinctively Jewish teacher, much of Jesus’ ethical teaching was rooted in an interpretation of the Torah, the Law of Moses, as found in the Hebrew Bible (no mention of this by Josephus)
  • Jesus’ teachings about the Torah led to controversies with other Jewish teachers, especially Pharisees (no mention of this by Josephus)
  • Jesus had a number of followers, from whom he chose twelve to accompany him on his preaching ministry (no mention of any 12 by Josephus but he does say Jesus won over many Jews and many of the Greeks)
  • Jesus was occasionally opposed by members of his own family and by people from his hometown of Nazareth (no mention of this by Josephus)
  • His followers, however, maintained that he spoke the truth, and they may also have claimed that his words were vindicated by the miraculous deeds he performed (Josephus does not mention miraculous deeds).

 

On 10/20/2019 at 12:58 AM, thormas said:

What I have been saying is that Paul inherits and reflects the early Christian belief about Jesus. He is writing about it mid century but he was converted almost 20 years earlier (circa 33CE) when these practices and beliefs were already in play. Again from Hurtado:

"To underscore the chronological point here, this body of beliefs and practices clearly emerged and became familiar features of circles of believers within the scarcely two decades between Jesus’ crucifixion and the earliest of Paul’s letters. Indeed, we should probably judge that this remarkable development emerged within the very earliest years, perhaps more accurately within the earliest months, after Jesus’ death, ca. 30 A.D.  For prior to the experience that produced his profound religious re-orientation, Paul (then a zealous Pharisee) was a determined opponent of the young Jesus-movement seeking, in his own words, to “destroy” it."

Hurtado relies on Paul's letters to support Paul's view that he is representing the correct gist of Jesus.  I think that is circular reasoning.  Just to put it simply, don't you find it incredulous that we have no other documents pertaining to Jesus outside of only those few that made it into the canon eventually?  One can take the view that there was no other alternative way of looking at Jesus and that this gist survived through to canonisation because it was the only correct view (starting in Paul's time and through to Marks).  Maybe I'm a cynic, but I just find that a little too convenient, particularly in the face of evidence we know 'conquerors' have a habit of writing history in their favour.  Paul wrote letters to how many communities?  Ho many more communities were there that could have believed other things about Jesus that they believed accurately represented the gist?  Who knows?

On 10/20/2019 at 12:58 AM, thormas said:

I get that your concern is that this 'working assumption' pertains to the NT writings only - even the original writings (if we had them) - and you question if any of them provides acurrate descriptions of the gist of the historical Jesus. However, you seem to dismiss the probability of earlier sources (readily apparent in Matthew and Luke's use of Mark) that various gospels would have utilized, demanding evidence (degrees of certainty) over the working assumptions of scholars.  

There is incredible consistency from the earliest beliefs/practices to Paul to pre-gospel sources to the NT gospels: the gist, the general patterns, the core beliefs. This 'gist' - beginning within months of the death of Jesus, is enough to drive Saul to distraction and within a few short years is received and learned by the newly named Paul and subsequently found in his letters to the growing Christian communities. 

You have given personal opinion on most of this, whereas I have presented the work of different scholars. Do you have scholars that disagree with these positions that I should be reading?

I don't dismiss the probability of any earlier sources - I'm just saying until we have those one can't say they fully support the Gospels.  It simply has to be a 'who knows' scenario.  I don't think you can cite any scholar who can tell you what these earlier sources contain in their entirety.

I'm not surprised that there is consistency with Paul and the Gospels if a particular version of Christianity prided those as their leading documents.In fact it stands to reason.  I'm just saying, that argument is not evidence they were accurate.  Maybe there was a 'B version' of Christianity that was more accurate but because their version didn't thrive they simply lost out to the other version (Paul et al).  I'm just saying they are possibilities and no scholar worth his salt can rule that out because we simply do not have the evidence either way.

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On 10/20/2019 at 12:47 AM, JosephM said:

One thing i hope is not lost in this discussion (validity or reliability)  is the many inspirational messages that can be gleamed from the NT. If there is one book i read as a young man (over 50 years ago) that had a tremendous impact on my life, it would be "The Power of Positive Thinking" by  Norman Vincent Peale. Most of the inspiration from the book comes directly from the words of the NT. It uses a portion of the writings both of the Old and  New Testament that can be applied to unlearn a negative pattern of living. He shows how one can use optimism and faith to change ones pattern of mind and overcome obstacles. He does this by using positive re-enforcing writings from the NT that when put in practice helps to change lives to one more filled with success, joy and satisfaction. In using the NT as he prescribes,  we get away from doctrine and questions of validity and reliability and test the power of words directly for ourselves by applying them to our life and witnessing results for ourselves.

I don't think this discussion is about that point, although I understand your concern.  Certainly for many people there is much inspiration from the bible and for that matter it really matters not who wrote things that provide such inspiration.  But this discussion is strictly around the merits of arguing whether what is represented in the Gospels is an accurate representation of Jesus, his messages, his actions, his deeds, etc and what evidence we may or may not have to support any claims for or against.  I would view it as a healthy debate around stuff that at the end of the day matters very little for PC's.

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I think 

9 hours ago, thormas said:

However I just did a quick look, so here you go:

https://ehrmanblog.org/jesus-crucifixion-as-king-of-the-jews/

https://ehrmanblog.org/jesus-death-as-king-of-the-jews/

There are also a couple other posts that pertain to the same subject on the blog.

 

 

Ehrman says "Romans had to have a reason to crucify a person.  There had to be a criminal charge.  There could be lots of charges – runaway slaves, brigands, insurrectionists, all could be crucified.  So why was Jesus crucified?  The Gospels tell us, and in this particular case, there are very good reasons for thinking what they say is right.  Jesus was crucified for calling himself King of the Jews."

However Pilate found no basis for a charge against him and found him innocent.

From reading Ehrmans blog, he makes the assumption, he called himself King of the Jews. . He was accused of it by those who wanted him dead but there is no record in the NT he claimed to be King of the Jews. So much for the verifiable of what authors such as Ehrman write. Assumptions may be reasonable but they are really just best guesses or conjecture on Ehrmans  part.  We could also assume Pilate's use of the term king of the Jews (v. 39) is obviously sarcastic since he has just said Jesus poses no political threat.

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