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October 19, 2009

Comments

Nobody says we are far from knowing what the original NT books looked like. The process by which they got in the canon and others didn't doesn't look inspired, however. Greg left out the delay between the supposed events of the NT and the writing of the documents. Their authorship is mostly anonymous except by tradition and the tradition is improbible.

Bart Ehrman agrees that fixable spelling errors aren't a problem. On the other hand, he points out that knowledgeable scholars agree almost unanimously that the story of the woman taken in adultary wasn't in the original John. So we know for sure that John was tampered with.
How many times did it happen before our earliest copies were written? The earlier the tampering, the less likely we are to know. Tampering prior to the extant text (when the stories were being told orally only) is completely undetectable. Nobody knows.

No way do we have to reject other documents from antiquity if we reject parts of the Bible. We can rationally truse other documents over the Bible becaues of the a priori improbability of some of the events described. For these events there is no evidence of any kind other than the stories in the Bible.

On the one hand y'all claim that Jesus is prophesied. On the other hand y'all say, and Greg repeats it here, that the Jews had no idea of a suffering, dying, rising Messiah. So which is it going to be?

RonH

Hi Ron, some of my own thoughts on this issue:

"Greg left out the delay between the supposed events of the NT and the writing of the documents."

There is a delay between nearly all historical documents and their "supposed" events. Why should we expect any differently here? The NT delay is much shorter than most, actually. Especially if you consider the early NT creed statements, ex 1 Cor 15, which likely goes back to only a few years after Jesus' death.

"Their authorship is mostly anonymous except by tradition and the tradition is improbible. [sic]"

Why do you think this tradition is improbable? In my ebook I give some reasons why it's reasonable to believe that the NT is comprised of eyewitness testimony: whyfaith.com/nt ... Bauckham's book Jesus & the Eyewitnesses is a good although dense resource on this topic.

"So we know for sure that John was tampered with. How many times did it happen before our earliest copies were written?"

We only know that the story in John 8 was not originally in the document because the manuscript evidence we have is so good. You ask, "how many times did it happen ..." We don't know. In the absence of any evidence that it actually did, and given the relatively early date and multiplicity of existing copies, I don't see this as being a major problem, especially considering how we know that the Jewish people were certainly able to transmit their Scriptures accurately over long periods of time (ex, Dead Sea Scrolls)

"For these events there is no evidence of any kind other than the stories in the Bible."

I'm not sure this is entirely true, since there are mentions of Jesus and His "supposed" miraculous works outside the NT. Of course, even if that were true, the NT itself is comprised of multiple, independent sources, written by multiple people in varying places at different times, largely independently of one-another. So there itself we have multiple sources.

"Jesus is prophesied. ... Jews had no idea of a suffering, dying, rising Messiah. So which is it going to be?"

Could it be both? While Jesus is prophesied in the OT (although I will note not as explicitly as some seem to want to claim) the Jewish people at that time didn't comprehend this, and in fact seemed to have built up a lot of cultural expectations about what the Messiah would be like that don't fit the strict biblical description, much like they had built up many laws & regulations that are not strictly biblical in nature.

Ron,

That one story in John does not show that the Gospels are unreliable. That passage can be seen in the MS evidence to float around for a long time before someone (for reasons we'll never know) decided to stick it in the middle of John. But it was treated as authentic history long before it appeared where it does now.

Tampering prior to writing is unlikely. First, this period would be expected to be most loyal to the teachings of Christ and be most concerned about keeping the record pure.

Second, this was the period with the most living witnesses to the ministry of Christ. It's hard to make stuff up when they're around.

Third, if the early Christians did feel free to change the text, we would see things which we do not see (e.g., Jesus addressing later issues like the gentile controversy) and wouldn't see troublesome things we do (e.g., Jesus' baptism). The only evidence for this period of creativity in the early church is in the mind of skeptics.

"On the one hand y'all claim that Jesus is prophesied.
On the other hand y'all say... that the Jews had no idea of a suffering, dying, rising Messiah.
So which is it going to be?"

Hardly an either/or situation. We do believe the OT points to Jesus and even reveals what will happen to him. But it's not exactly spelled out. It is one of those things that is understood in retrospect.

Even if it is clear, though, their culture had developed certain notions that were fundamental to the way they looked at the world and even read the scriptures. At the risk of sounding all po-mo, they read the OT through their filter and were incapable of seeing a suffering Messiah. Call it cognitive dissonance.

Emmzee,

I agree with your response.

Regarding the last issue on prophecies I think you're certainly right on track, too. After all, prophecies seem to be, by nature, difficult to understand as they tend to use a great deal of metaphoric imagery which becomes far more clear in hindsight.

Just take Revelation, for example. How many different "factions" are there in how Revelation should be understood? And yet, we probably aren't going to truly know until those events take place.

Skeptics seem to enjoy prodding this as a way of accusing us of trying to fit these prophecies into actual events later, but that doesn't account for the clarity of these prophecies after the fact (if that makes sense).

As an example, the imagery given in the prophecies of the crucifixion would not have been understood by the Jews at that time since that method of execution had not yet been known. It wasn't until after Jesus' crucifixion that we could point to those details and suddenly make sense of them.

I think another error regarding prophecies is that people often seem to think that their intention is to predict future events in order to serve as a warning or to prepare people for a future event. Rather, I think a major purpose of prophecy is to validate that the prophet truly was speaking God's word.

The first obvious objection to that would be about the fact that these prophecies often were made many generations before their alleged fulfillment. However, I don't see that as problematic as they were documented, presumably, for the benefit of those future generations rather than specifically for the generation during the time of the given prophet.

I guess that was kind of a big, long rabbit-trail, but hopefully it makes sense, at least.

emmzee,

There is a delay between nearly all historical documents

Fine, I doubt those too then - in proportion to the delay. But wait there's more.
The NT docs regard miracles as 'convincing proofs'.
Those telling the stories or copying them were evangelists.
So they have motive and opportunity to embellish the stories.

Dateline 2040. Apologists announce the gospel John was written 20 minutes after the resurrection.

Why do you think this tradition is improbable?

The discrepancies. The delay. The opinions of those who know more than I do.
(Doubting apologists without apology.)

In the absence of any evidence ... I don't see [tampering] as being a major problem,

Do we usually catch people stealing, lying, cheating the first time?

Jewish people were certainly able to transmit their Scriptures

What justifies saying the gospels were 'scripture' during that time? Were early Christians 'transmitting scripture' or testing out 'convincing proofs'.

built up a lot of cultural expectations about what the Messiah would be like

Oh, cultural expectations.
Like traditions maybe?
You mean traditions are not reliable? improbable? See above.

RonH

ChrisB

someone (for reasons we'll never know) decided to stick it in the middle of John.

Indeed!

It's hard to make stuff up when they're around.

Why do you guys always say this?
We're not talking about a little village here - a gated community with gospel cops everywhere.

People heard stories, traveled, and retold the stories - differently most of the time.
They forgot parts. They interpolated, embellished.
If there was no eyewitness present to correct them - and rarely would there be one if the story was true - their version stood and spread.
Which stories won? The ones that got themselves retold best.

not exactly spelled out... understood in retrospect

Normal for a prophesy.
Got one that's neither vague or postiction.

Call it cognitive dissonance.

Well, if the story were true that would be a possible explanation for the Jews rejection.
Indeed, might be the case for some of them even though the story's not true.

Speaking of cognitive dissonance, ever study the evidence for the common descent of primates? Evolution in general? Coyne, Shubin, Carrol, Prothero are all good authors; you don't have to read Dawkins.

RonH

Does this reliability business apply, do you think, to the gospel writers' direct reporting of the exact words spoken by various people?

I have in mind how often our gospels' writers "quote" other people. Besides Jesus' the gospels also record words of the disciples, Herod, angels, demons, Satan, tax collectors, and crowds of people all saying the same words all together. The gospels even record long speeches spoken in dreams, and verbatim accounts of inner thoughts that were never spoken, but that Jesus knew because He could read minds.

Here's our historical reliability question : How'd they do that? How did the gospel writers know, all those decades later, exactly—word for word—what the angel said in Joseph's dream, or Herod said in his secret meeting, or the Pharisees thought in their private thoughts but never spoke? What possible method could our gospel writers have used to come up with the verbatim quotations they claim to give?

Or did the gospel writers get all those "quotations" by just making them up? Is it more likely that "Matthew" knew the words Herod spoke in a secret meeting, or did "Matthew" probably, like everyone else back then, just make up quotes because that was the standard way to tell a story?

And if the only reasonable non-magical explanation is that the gospel writers got their "quotations" by making them up, then .... our gospel writers made stuff up. Just made it up. And it is not true the gospels are historical, not in the sense that the sayings and events we read about in them actually happened.


Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /


Bino,

Not only that, but the NT was written in Greek, but most of the dialog would have been in Aramaic.

For a religion that tends to place great emphasis on the exact words in its scripture, it has precious few of the original words actually spoken.

- Jim

I second emmzee's recommendation of Richard Bauckham's book. Since RonH and the other skeptics in this thread have raised so many issues and made so many claims (usually without much or any supporting evidence), there's too much on the table here to address everything in depth. They're raising issues that have been addressed by Christians many times. If they're interested in answers, and they haven't done the research to find the answers Christians have been providing for a long time, then they could consult a source like the introduction to Craig Keener's commentary on the gospel of John (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003]). Or read what scholars who specialize in non-Christian authors of antiquity, such as Tacitus and Suetonius, have to say about parallel issues in their fields of study. As Greg Koukl points out in the video above, the standards by which we accept the general historicity of documents like the gospels are common to the study of ancient history in general, not just ancient Christianity.

Since the canon of scripture was mentioned, I recently completed a series of posts on the New Testament canon here.

Concerning prophecy, keep in mind that a lack of early understanding of some prophecies isn't equivalent to a lack of early understanding of all of the relevant prophecies. There were common expectations that the Messiah would be a descendant of David and would come out of Bethlehem, for example, and we have good reason to conclude that Jesus fulfilled both expectations. (For a discussion of some of the evidence, see the articles just linked.) Regarding why some prophecies are more vague, see here.

Bino-

Some examples with specific citations would be nice. Not that I doubt that there are such cases where, if you assume that the gospel authors are simply reporting their own immediate experience, some of their quotations might seem hard to explain. But it's really impossible to answer a charge without specifics.

For example, I have no idea what secret meeting of Herod's you are talking about. Are you talking about his meeting with the wise men? If so, I should think that it's obvious that one or more of the wise men were among the sources that the gospel authors used to compile the texts.

One case you do explicitly mention is the case of Joseph's dream. I'm not sure why this should be so hard to explain, since we know that Mary was still alive at the time of Jesus death. That account obviously came from her.

Or is the concern not about sourcing but about exact quotation? If that's it, then there is really not much of a problem. The Gospels are not intended to be an exact transcript, but an accurate summary of events.

Jason,

"The standards by which we accept the general historicity of documents like the gospels are common to the study of ancient history in general."

So, you accept the fact that the Greek gods were involved in the siege of Troy.

WisdomLover

Or is the concern not about sourcing but about exact quotation? If that's it, then there is really not much of a problem. The Gospels are not intended to be an exact transcript, but an accurate summary of events.

The discussion is about the reliability of the gospel. Consider Mt 3.7 where "Mt" says, "and he said to them …". Mt doesn't say, "This is more or less what John said, best I can piece it together." Mt says, "and he said to them…"

So the question is, when Mt says "and he said to them…", is that true? Can we believe Mt? Are the words Mt wrote true? Did John really say the words Mt claims he said?

Or did Mt just make up stuff. Is Mt "reliable" in the sense that the things we read in his gospel didn't really happen, but instead Mt made stuff up – and the stuff he made up, that stuff didn't really happen? That's reliable?

-----------

According to Mt. 5 – 8 Jesus sat down up on the mountain and spoke, in English translation, 2,400 words. He spoke them once, and "Matthew" wrote them down. Decades later. Verbatim.

Here's a test. Right now go read those 2,400 words. Then write them down exactly. Check your work. How'd you do?

What "Matthew" claims to do is not possible .

What "Matthew" claims to do is not possible. "Matthew" made these conversations up. "Matthew" made stuff up. The stuff we read in "Matthew" did not happen the way "Matthew" said it did. "Matthew" cannot be trusted. The New Testament is not historical, not in the sense that the sayings and events we read about there actually happened.

Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /

Bino,

Two points.

First, why does Matthew have to quote Jesus verbatim? If the author says, "Jesus said..." why can't he sum up what Jesus said?

Second, your position a priori rejects the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There is a story in Jeremiah where the scrolls on which Jeremiah's prophecies were written were burned, and God commanded Jeremiah to write all the words again. There are also many promises by Jesus that when the Holy Spirit comes, he will guide them (the disciples) in all truth and will cause them to remember all that Jesus had taught them.

So the issues you raised are not really a problem for Christians. There seems to be an assumption that God's inspiration and preservation of Scripture cannot be taken into account when the issue of the reliability of Scripture is raised.

Bino-

On Matthew 3:7

Are you wondering how Matthew could possibly know what John said to the Pharisees and Sadducees in a public sermon?

----------------------------

On Matthew 5-8 and Remembering Jesus words:

Let us leave aside the points Nathaniel raises. (Not that there's anything wrong with them...they're both perfectly correct.) That is, let us leave aside the fact that Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would help the disciples remember all of Christ's teachings. Let us leave aside the fact that Matthew's Gospel is only giving an accurate report of the Sermon on the Mount or any other event in the life of Christ.

Even setting these points aside, the difficulty you mention is only remotely plausible if you assume:

1) That Christ spoke the ~2400 words of the Sermon on the Mount only that one time.

And

2) That Matthew was never called on to repeat them until, years after the events, he wrote them down.

In your comment, you seem to endorse both of these assumptions. Neither can stand up to a moment's reflection.

Obviously, when Christ went about teaching for three years, He taught the same things over and over. Presidential campaigns do not last three years, but I would hazard a guess that, by the end of the campaign, campaign insiders could recite the candidate's 'stump speeches' backwards in their sleep.

And we live in a society where broad literacy has lessened the importance of the mental discipline of remembering the spoken word. In NT times, that discipline was very much alive and cultivated.

And when the disciples, Matthew included, went out to preach the good news to every nation, baptizing etc..., what do you suppose it is that they preached and taught? I suppose that it was the words of Christ. Over and over.

So, far from defying explanation or being "not possible", it's actually rather easy to see how Matthew could positively nail the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.

Nathaniel

First, why does Matthew have to quote Jesus verbatim? If the author says, "Jesus said..." why can't he sum up what Jesus said?

Mt could do whatever he wanted. He could, for example, have said "Here's what Jesus said, more or less, as best I can piece it together."

But Mt didn't do that. Mt wrote, "Jesus said …" following which Mt wrote 2,400 words that if Jesus had spoken them that day on that hill to that crowd, Mt could not possibly have recorded as Mt claims to.

What Mt could do is not the question. The question we are discussing is, Are the gospels reliable? It is absolutely certain that Mt made up the words of Jesus in Mt 5 – 8. He made them up. He just make them up. Matthew made stuff up. It is absolutely certain the gospel is not reliable, not in the sense that the stuff there happened the way the author says it happened.

We now know that Mt made stuff up. Made it up, but didn't let on that he'd made it up. Mt can't be trusted. Mt says stuff that was not true. Over and over Mt said stuff that was not true.

Second, your position a priori rejects the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. …
So the issues you raised are not really a problem for Christians. There seems to be an assumption that God's inspiration and preservation of Scripture cannot be taken into account when the issue of the reliability of Scripture is raised.

Fine. To be clear, if your explanation is, "It must be true, the bible says so," then your theory is consistent. But then so is, "The earth is flat, the bible says so." And so is, "Joseph Smith is the prophet of God – the book of Mormon says so."

Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /

WisdomLover

Obviously, when Christ went about teaching for three years, He taught the same things over and over.

It's not obvious to me. Why is it obvious to you? What is your source? I am not aware of any scripture that supports the idea that Jesus went around repeating 2,400 word stump speeches over and over, verbatim.

Can you please point me to the verses you rely on to make this claim?


So, far from defying explanation or being "not possible", it's actually rather easy to see how Matthew could positively nail the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.

Why don't you show us how it's done? Right now type out the 2,400 words from your memory – you've been reading this book for years – so it should be easy for you to positively nail the words of Christ. Don't look first, just type them out. Verbatim. We'll wait.

Or read them through, then type them out. Let's see if it is possible like you say. Prove you point. Do it.

Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /


Bino-

You do realize that there is no quotation mark in Biblical Greek. Right? There are no spaces between words. There is no punctuation. This is why there are legitimate disagreements among translators about where direct quotation ends and authorial commentary starts. It is also why it is ludicrous to apply 21st century standards of quotation to first century texts.

A second point. This is no criticism of your argument, but merely a suggestion about style. The expression "makes stuff up" and its variants has some rhetorical punch as an accusation of lying when used sparingly. It sounds silly when repeated 10 times in a short post.

"I am not aware of any scripture that supports the idea that Jesus went around repeating 2,400 word stump speeches over and over, verbatim.

Can you please point me to the verses you rely on to make this claim?" -BB

Since it's all made up anyway. Why should I cite Scripture. Do make up your mind. Is it reliable or not?

The obviousness of the claim that when Jesus went around teaching he taught the same thing from town to town comes not from Scripture, but from common sense. If you can't see it, I'm not going to try to prove it to you.

...it's actually rather easy to see how Matthew could positively nail the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.

Why don't you show us how it's done?

Please see the prior post. It's done by repetition.

"Let's see if it is possible like you say."

How many words do you suppose Hamlet has in Hamlet? How many words in the Iliad or the Odyssey, which were both recited from memory and passed along orally? If you cannot see that it is quite possible to memorize 2400 words I'm certainly not going to go through some childish memorization exercise for you.

Wow, just think of how much easier life would be if Jesus had simply written the gospels himself. Oops.

WisdomLover

You do realize that there is no quotation mark in Biblical Greek. Right? There are no spaces between words. There is no punctuation. This is why there are legitimate disagreements among translators about where direct quotation ends and authorial commentary starts. It is also why it is ludicrous to apply 21st century standards of quotation to first century texts.

Are you saying it is ludicrous to say "the gospels are reliable" ?

Or does "the gospels are reliable" mean something other than the things written in the gospels actually happened?


A second point. This is no criticism of your argument, but merely a suggestion about style. The expression "makes stuff up" and its variants has some rhetorical punch as an accusation of lying when used sparingly. It sounds silly when repeated 10 times in a short post.

Ok. We do agree though, Mt made stuff up?


-------------------

If you cannot see that it is quite possible to memorize 2400 words I'm certainly not going to go through some childish memorization exercise for you.

Yes, but the issue is not that it is possible to memorize 2400 words, the issue is that it is not possible to stand on a hill and hear someone speak 2,400 words – once – and then to write them down, verbatim. It can't be done. It is not possible.

And I’m sure you know much of the speech Mt claims to record verbatim cannot possibly be imagined to be repeated stump speeches. Much of what Mt etc record is one-off speech, not 2,400 words but still plenty more than any human could possibly hear once and repeat verbatim 5 minutes later let alone five decades.

Consider for example Jesus' chat with the centurion in Mt 8. You've read it before. It's short. Why don't you type it out now, from memory. Again, the point is not that it can be memorized, the point is that it is not possible to hear these words spoken in real life and to write them down reliably immediately , let alone decades later.

Or do this. Type out your own first post on this thread. Don't look. Just type it out, right now. Let's see if you can quote a short passage of your own words, spoken just today, reliably.

What Mt claims to do is not possible . Mt made stuff up. The gospels are not reliable.


Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /

"...it is ludicrous to apply 21st century standards of quotation to first century texts." -WL

"Are you saying it is ludicrous to say "the gospels are reliable?"

Or does "the gospels are reliable" mean something other than the things written in the gospels actually happened?" -BB

I'm not even sure this is worth a response. But...

1. You know perfectly well what I'm saying.

2. You present a false dichotomy: either the Gospels are reliable and reliability need not include truthfulness, or the Gospels are not reliable. There is a third alternative: Reliability includes truthfulness and the Gospels are both reliable and truthful.

------------------------------

"And I’m sure you know much of the speech Mt claims to record verbatim cannot possibly be imagined to be repeated stump speeches."

I'd like to know where you got the idea that he intended any of the speech he reports, including the Sermon on the Mount, to be verbatim? I know you've said many times that he claimed so. But he never makes any such claim.

As for the proposition that I must know that the Sermon on the Mount cannot be imagined to be repeated speech, I know nothing of the sort. The entirety of the Sermon on the Mount (which, BTW, is chapters 5-7, not 5-8) certainly can be imagined to be a repeated sermon. That is the most likely scenario.

And, of course, it matters not a whit anyway. Even if Matthew is accurately reporting only the gist of Christ's words, there is no problem for the reliability of the NT. Are you under the impression that repeatedly asserting a ridiculous standard of reliability somehow makes it less ridiculous? Why not complain that Matthew doesn't properly footnote following the Chicago manual of style?

On the conversation with the Centurion, that's in Chapter 8, and it is not part of the Sermon on the Mount. At least some of it took place through intermediaries (as we learn by comparison with Luke), so of course, the quotations are not direct. Again, Matthew is not claiming to give a full and exact transcription of events. He is giving an accurate summary.

As for your various challenges, they are quite irrelevant, since the idea that Matthew was even trying to give a verbatim account is false. Matthew was trying to give an accurate account.

------------------------------

This thread has quickly settled into re-hash mode. So I'm going to let you have the last word. (Unless you say something I really can't resist remarking on.)

WisdomLover is right. Bino Bolumai keeps missing the point.

Paraphrasing is a common human practice, and beginning a paraphrase with a comment like "Jesus said" isn't a denial that what follows is a paraphrase. If I tell a friend that somebody told me to say "hello" to him, no reasonable person should accuse me of "making stuff up" if the person I'm paraphrasing said "hi" rather than "hello".

Bino's request that we compare our memories to those of first-century Jews is likewise dubious, since they lived in an oral culture that taught people to develop their memory skills far more than has been done by the average person living in an age of computers. Cultures with highly developed memory skills have been able to memorize material that takes as long as several days to recite. Mark's entire gospel can be recited within just two hours. The entire gospel could easily be memorized by a person living in a highly developed oral culture. See the documentation and examples discussed here.

Furthermore, note-taking was practiced in antiquity, so nothing would have prevented somebody, or multiple people, from writing down some of the teachings of a significant religious leader like Jesus before He had even died. Most likely, there would have been written accounts accompanying the oral accounts early on, as the opening of Luke's gospel suggests.

Richard Bauckham writes:

"There is no evidence that the Pharisees abstained from writing their 'traditions of the fathers.' There is even less reason to suppose that an insistence on oral transmission alone characterized other Jewish groups at the time of Jesus, such as the (highly literary) Qumran community. However, again it is not true that Gerhardsson entirely neglected the role of written materials: he postulated that, just as private notebooks were in fact used by the rabbis and their pupils, so writing, as an aid to memory, could have been used in early Christian circles prior to the Gospels....In a predominantly oral society, not only do people deliberately remember but also teachers formulate their teachings so as to make them easily memorable. It has frequently been observed that Jesus' teaching in its typically Synoptic forms has many features that facilitate remembering. The aphorisms are typically terse and incisive, the narrative parables have a clear and relatively simple plot outline. Even in Greek translation, the only form in which we have them, the sayings of Jesus are recognizably poetic, especially employing parallelism, and many have posited Aramaic originals rich in alliteration, assonance, rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay. These teaching formulations were certainly not created by Jesus ad hoc, in the course of his teaching, but were carefully crafted, designed as concise encapsulations of his teaching that his hearers could take away, remember, ponder, and live by. We cannot suppose that Jesus' oral teaching consisted entirely of such sayings as these. Jesus must have preached much more discursively, but offered these aphorisms and parables as brief but thought-provoking summations of his teaching for his hearers to jot down in their mental notebooks for frequent future recall. (Obviously, therefore, it was these memorable summations that survived, and when the writers of the Synoptic Gospels wished to represent the discursive teaching of Jesus they mostly had to use collections of these sayings.) This kind of encapsulation of teaching in carefully crafted aphorisms to be remembered was the teaching style of the Jewish wisdom teacher. As Rainer Riesner puts it, 'Even the form of the sayings of Jesus included in itself an imperative to remember them.' Jesus' hearers would readily recognize this and would apply to memorable sayings the deliberate practices of committing to memory that they would know were expected....Such notebooks [as ancient rabbis used] were in quite widespread use in the ancient world (2 Tim 4:13 refers to parchment notebooks Paul carried on his travels). It seems more probable than not that early Christians used them....The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events, unusual events that would have impressed themselves on the memory, events of key significance for those who remembered them, landmark or life-changing events for them in many cases, and their memories would have been reinforced and stabilized by frequent rehearsal, beginning soon after the event. They did not need to remember - and the Gospels rarely record - merely peripheral aspects of the scene or the event, the aspects of recollective memory that are least reliable....We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory....[quoting Gillian Cohen] Research has tended to emphasize the errors that occur in everyday memory functions. The picture that emerges is of an error-prone system. This emphasis is partly an artefact of research methodology. In experiments it is usually more informative to set task difficulty at a level where people make errors so that the nature of the errors and the conditions that provoke them can be identified....People do make plenty of naturally occurring errors in ordinary life situations, but, arguably, the methodology has produced a somewhat distorted view of memory efficiency. In daily life, memory successes are the norm and memory failures are the exception. People also exhibit remarkable feats of remembering faces and voices from the remote past, and foreign-language vocabulary and childhood experiences over a lifetime. As well as such examples of retention over very long periods, people can retain large amounts of information over shorter periods, as when they prepare for examinations, and sometimes, as in the case of expert knowledge, they acquire a large amount of information and retain it for an indefinitely long time. Considering how grossly it is overloaded, memory in the real world proves remarkably efficient and resilient. [end quote of Gillian Cohen]" (Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], pp. 252, 282, 288, 346, 357)

And even if we were to reject some of the details of the quotations that appear in the gospels, the general reliability of the gospels would remain untouched. Non-Christian sources like Josephus and Tacitus include many quotations in their historical accounts, yet we don't reject their general historical reliability on the basis that they supposedly must have "made stuff up" when they quoted people.

WisdomLover,

You and Bino both make some interesting points.

So, at best, we have a summary of actual dialog and teachings. And hardly anything in the original spoken languages.

So all those red letter Bibles, with the Words of Christ in Red, that's actually misleading, right? Those likely aren't the words of Jesus, right? At best, they're a translated summary, right? We can only hope that it was done well.

- Jim

Jim T. wrote:

"Those likely aren't the words of Jesus, right? At best, they're a translated summary, right? We can only hope that it was done well."

Paraphrasing is a common human practice. We use it in our everyday lives. We'd prefer something like a tape recording, but that preference isn't a necessity.

And we don't "only hope". Rather, Christians argue for the reliability of the gospel authors on the basis of the authors' access to Jesus and/or associates of Jesus, the memory skills of the oral culture in which they lived, their culture's use of notepads and other forms of writing that could and probably did predate the gospels, how reliable the gospels were judged to be by other sources of antiquity, how the early enemies of Christianity responded to the gospels, evidence for the Divine inspiration of the gospels, etc. If you aren't familiar with such Christian arguments, but instead think that we "only hope" for the reliability of the gospels, then you don't know much about the subject you're commenting on. You should do more research.

Richard Bauckham writes:

"Obviously, therefore, it was these memorable *summations* that survived, and when the writers of the Synoptic Gospels wished to represent the discursive teaching of Jesus they mostly had to use collections of these sayings."

So, yes, Jim T., you're basically correct. For some, translated summaries are adequate. For others, it's not enough. Matter of taste, I suppose.

Joe wrote:

"So, yes, Jim T., you're basically correct. For some, translated summaries are adequate. For others, it's not enough."

Apparently, it's enough for you, since you just summarized Jim's comments without using the same words he used.

And you've ignored what Richard Bauckham said about the use of notepads, what was said about the reliability of human memory, what was said about oral cultures, etc. As I mentioned above, it's not as if the general reliability of the gospels depends on the use of word-for-word duplication of what historical figures said in their original languages. The gospels contain more than accounts of what people said. Even when the gospels are telling us what people said, the fact that some of their comments are paraphrased doesn't prove that all of them are. And the ones that are paraphrased are acceptable by common standards we apply in our everyday lives, when we frequently accept paraphrasing. Do you reject paraphrasing in every other area of life? If you're opposed to "translated" renderings of what people said, then do you reject all English accounts of what people said in languages other than English? Do you reject the many "translated summaries" we find in Josephus, Tacitus, etc.?

So all those red letter Bibles, with the Words of Christ in Red, that's actually misleading, right? Those likely aren't the words of Jesus, right? At best, they're a translated summary, right? We can only hope that it was done well.

I'm not aware of any Christian position that holds that the word for word translation of Jesus are what is actually inspired, so what exactly are you trying to say?

Isn't it important to know the actual Christian view of Jesus' words? Or, more appropriately the Christian doctrine of inspiration before your unleash an endless torrent of worthless forum posts?

“Do you reject paraphrasing in every other area of life?”

Some paraphrasing is adequate for the task at hand and other paraphrases are not. Depends on what one is trying to accomplish.

“Apparently, it's enough for you, since you just summarized Jim's comments without using the same words he used.”

Some summaries are adequate for the task at hand and others are not. Depends on what one is trying to accomplish.

“And you've ignored what Richard Bauckham said about the use of notepads, what was said about the reliability of human memory, what was said about oral cultures, etc.”

You are aware that notepads, oral cultures, etc., are all just forms of “summary”, yes? None of these represent a verbatim record. And are “common standards we apply in our everyday lives” really good enough for the Absolute True Word of God, for the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything? You’re willing to settle for “common standards”? As I said, it’s a matter of taste.

Notepads.

First, a single reference to a notepad tells us nothing about when and where notepads were use, how many times notepads were used, who used them, etc. One can assume and extrapolate, but there is little or no documentation of the actual when, where, how and who. We can assume the best of all possible worlds, but we just don’t know what was recorded, when it was recorded, etc.

Also, as one who has spent many years looking at notes taken by students, and I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that the accuracy of notes can be appallingly bad. I am constantly amazed at the way my words are interpreted and recorded by listeners. In the end, if I want to transmit information with the lowest rate of error, I have to literally write the book myself. In relying on human note-takers, you are expressing great faith in humans, not in God. If God wished to give humans the Answer, then God should have written the book Himself.

Oral history.

You also seem to place great faith in oral history, again, expressing great faith in humans.

But if you’re going to place great faith in oral history, then you must accept the oral history of the Iliad, right? So, you believe that the Greek gods were involved in the siege of Troy, right? Oral history is truth, right? Ever played “Telephone”?

“If you're opposed to "translated" renderings of what people said, then do you reject all English accounts of what people said in languages other than English? Do you reject the many "translated summaries" we find in Josephus, Tacitus, etc.?”

You seem to be insisting on a false dichotomy. Either one has to accept a technique or the words of an historian as complete, total, utter truth under all circumstances or one has to completely and totally reject a technique or historian in all respects and under all circumstances. Obviously, there is a lot of ground in between these extremes. In fact, it’s possible to accept some statements in a given work while seriously questioning others. In reading historical documents, one must accept the reality that some statements simply can not be checked for accuracy due to the absence of additional data, and so we we’ll never know if they are accurate or not. This is SOP for historians.

Josephus, et al., were ordinary men writing ordinary history. In some cases, such as the account of Masada, archeology has support Josephus’ account, and that gives us some confidence in his histories. But no one claims that Josephus is without error. While his accounts are probably mostly accurate, he had to rely on numerous sources, and those sources may have had their own agendas. No doubt, Josephus himself had his biases. That by no means renders his works worthless, but historians understand that they are not dealing with absolute truth here and that some of what Josephus wrote could easily be wrong. And further, we’re not always going to be able to demonstrate which bits are right and which bits are wrong due to the absence of additional evidence. I do not reject Josephus, but I acknowledge the reality of error in his writings. And that’s ok. It’s the reality of doing human history.

It’s also ok, because Josephus is not making any claims to Absolute Truth or claiming to have the Word of God or making supernatural claims or trying to start a new religion. It would be nice if his histories were perfect, but under the circumstances, given what the writings are trying to accomplish, given what we are using the writing to do in the 21st century, it’s not a big problem that Josephus isn’t perfect. It’s ok that they are summaries, and it’s ok that we’re reading translations. Given what Josephus is NOT trying to do, one can live with the flaws.

But the New Testament is a very different case. This IS supposed to be Absolute Truth, this IS claiming to be the Word of God, This IS making fantastical claims, and this IS the founding document of a new religion. Now, the flaws inherent in techniques like “paraphrasing” or “note taking” become a much, much bigger issue. Now, the question of possible errors is much more significant. Now the unreliability and biases of human witnesses become much more significant. Now it does matter that God did not write the book Himself.

Could the New Testament be “mostly right” in the way it reflects the teachings of Jesus? Yes, it could. But as Max says in the Princess Bride, “There is a big difference between mostly dead and completely dead”. “Mostly right” means that something is “partly wrong”. And now we have to figure out which bits are “partly wrong”. For example, which bits reflect the influence of Greek philosophy? Which bits are legends?

In particular, it seems very likely that the supernatural bits are wrong, even while much of the rest is right. (You would take the exact same position with respect to the Iliad, yes? Oddly, you never have answered the question about the Iliad.) As evidence, I would cite the early claim that the 500 people saw the re-animated corpse of Jesus. Since this is an “early claim”, the claim should be among the most accurate of the claims. But it is clearly false. It’s simply impossible that 500 people could have seen the re-animated Jesus, because the very next day, there would be ten thousand people waiting to see Jesus, and the day after that, one hundred thousand. It didn’t happen.

At the risk of being redundant, I understand that what is here is good enough for you. Fair enough. It’s not good enough for me. It’s a matter of taste.

Jason

As I mentioned above, it's not as if the general reliability of the gospels depends on the use of word-for-word duplication of what historical figures said in their original languages.

But the specific reliability does, right? It is absolutely certain that when Mt writes "The centurion replied xxx" and "Jesus said to those following him yyy" – it is absolutely certain that the centurion and Jesus did not say the words Mt. claims they said. And it is absolutely certain Mt knew they didn't say the words Mt claimed they said. It is absolutely certain Mt knew the things he wrote were not true. It is absolutely certain Mt wrote things he knew were not true. Over and over Mt wrote things he himself knew were not true.

The gospels contain more than accounts of what people said.

Maybe. Or maybe Mt just made up the whole account.


----------------------------
Even when the gospels are telling us what people said, the fact that some of their comments are paraphrased doesn't prove that all of them are.

But common experience does prove that, doesn't it? It is not humanly possible to quote conversations verbatim even immediately after they happen. Try it yourself. Watch a sitcom on TV, then at the end sit down and write out the dialogue, verbatim. You can't do it. It can't be done.

What the gospel writers claim to do is not possible. And they knew it wasn't possible. And they pretended to do it anyway. Not only did the gospel writers make stuff up, they consciously made stuff up, and they didn’t care.

And the ones that are paraphrased are acceptable by common standards we apply in our everyday lives, when we frequently accept paraphrasing.

The issue is not what you accept. The issue is, Are the gospels reliable? When the gospel says, "And Jesus spoke saying yyy," did Jesus really speak, saying yyy. It is absolutely certain He did not. So the gospels are not reliable in the sense that the things in them really happened.


----------------------
Do you reject paraphrasing in every other area of life?

Now that we know the gospel writers made stuff up, it is an open question whether the gospel quotes are paraphrasing. Any particular story in the gospel may just as well be pure invention.

Consider Mt 2: When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

Now that we know the gospel writers made stuff up, the question is,

a) Did Mt somehow have access to the words the magic angel spoke to Joseph in the magic dream decades earlier, or

b) Did Mt just think this OT quote was a prophesy and did Mt make up not just the quotes but the facts of this little story.

That Mt somehow had access to the words and facts of this decades old event -- and every other event in his long story book – is beyond credulity. That Mt just made up the facts and the quotes is entirely consistent with what we know about Mt.

The facts indicate that not only are the gospels not reliable, they are legends.

Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /

Jason,

I see from your work over at T-blog that you don't believe that the NT is the Word of God either. Nicely done. Welcome to the Skeptics Club.

Bino,
You need to be able to accurately represent the position you oppose. You require a verbatim position for your argument to stick, but you have been repeatedly told that we do not hold to such a notion, nor does the biblical language require that it be taken as verbatim quotations.

Javier >> Isn't it important to know...the Christian doctrine of inspiration before your unleash an endless torrent of worthless forum posts?

I'm sorry, is this not a proper forum to ask questions? Is this not a proper forum to help myself refine my knowledge and views?

Regardless, I would hardly describe two short posts as unleashing an endless torrent. Why are you misrepresenting my actions?

Are the posts worthless? Well, that's a subjective call, but I enjoyed the resulting exchange between Jason and Joe.

Regardless, my questions were about Red Letter Bibles, and NOT about the doctrine of inspiration.

"Did Mt somehow have access to the words the magic angel spoke to Joseph in the magic dream decades earlier?"

Is this that hard to figure out? Joseph married Mary and told her of us dream, as obviously she'd be curious why he had not "put her away" as was oftentime done. And the apostles knew Mary. So as they thought to record the life of Jesus they asked her about his birth.

No magic, merely common sense is required to figure out what happend.

"But the specific reliability does, right? It is absolutely certain that when Mt writes "The centurion replied xxx" and "Jesus said to those following him yyy" – it is absolutely certain that the centurion and Jesus did not say the words Mt. claims they said. And it is absolutely certain Mt knew they didn't say the words Mt claimed they said. It is absolutely certain Mt knew the things he wrote were not true. It is absolutely certain Mt wrote things he knew were not true. Over and over Mt wrote things he himself knew were not true."

This makes no sense. If my mother tells me that my aunt is in the hospital with all the gory details, but I then paraphrase what my mother said when I relay the news to my brothers, am I saying "things that are not true"? No, no reasonable person would say that. I am communicating the truth of what she said, even if I didn't use the exact same words or describe it in the same level of detail. One can communicate the truth of what another said without quoting them word for word.

I really don't understand your obsession with verbatim word for word transition.


I really don't understand your obsession with verbatim word for word transition.
One can communicate the truth of what another said without quoting them word for word.

Yes one can do that. And one can also communicate with direct quotation. Mt, clearly, pretends to do the latter.

That Mt chose to write things that were not in fact true tells us more than that the gospel quotations are not correct. It tells us something about Mt. Mt didn't mind making stuff up. Which raises the question, What else did Mt make up?

Do you understand now?


Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /

Steve,

Joseph married Mary and told her of us dream, as obviously she'd be curious why he had not "put her away" as was oftentime done. And the apostles knew Mary. So as they thought to record the life of Jesus they asked her about his birth.

No magic, merely common sense is required to figure out what happend.

And Joseph's dream in Mt 2:13 – Mary memorized those too? And Jospeh's dream in Mt. 2:20-- Mary memorized those too? How did that work? You think Mary memorized all Joseph's dreams, or just the ones Mt. would need to move his birth myth plot along? Mary memorized, what 20 of Joseph's dreams, verbatim? 50? 100? How exactly do you see that happening?

Does this work for the other direct quotations in Mt's birth story?

How did Mt. 2 know, all those decades later, exactly—word for word—what Herod said in his secret meeting?

How did Mt. 3 know, all those decades later, exactly—word for word—John the Baptist said out in the desert before there were any Jesus' apostles?

Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Matthew records a long conversation between Jesus and the Devil, who were at the time alone in the desert. How was "Matthew" able to record their conversation, alone in the desert, word for word?

-----------------

How about Jewish tradition? Mt was a Jew, right? And didn't the Jews have a long tradition of making up stories and quotations? One thinks of Genesis and God and Adam and Eve chatting. How could the author possibly know, verbatim, what God said to Adam? He couldn't. He must have made it up.

Jews had a long tradition of making up stories. And it surprises you Mt made stuff up? Why?

Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /


"Mt, clearly, pretends to do the latter."
No he doesn't. That is the point. It could be verbatim, but Matthew's presentation does not require it. We use the exact same introductory phrase all the time and it doesn't necessarily mean we are giving a verbatim quotation. We distinguish a verbatim recitation with the use of quotation marks - a convention that they did not have.

Brett

ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐθαύμασεν καὶ εἶπεν τοῖς ἀκολουθοῦσιν...

καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ...

παρακαλῶν αὐτὸν καὶ λέγων...

προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγων...

So your theory is, these are paraphrase ? That's your theory?

Tell us please, how Mt would have phrased these differently if he had intended direct quotation?

Bino

Bino,

What makes you think that Matthew's use of "said" implies a direct quotation?

You are insisting on inserting a convention that they did not have. It could have been verbatim, but nothing necessitates that. Why do you insist I find a non-existent convention?

Bino, off topic, but how did you get the Greek font? Can you use font tags here?

Joe wrote:

"And are 'common standards we apply in our everyday lives' really good enough for the Absolute True Word of God, for the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything?"

You're changing the subject. I was addressing the general reliability of the gospels. And you've given us no reason to believe that you're correct on the subject you've shifted to. Asking a question like the one above doesn't give us any reason to agree with you.

You write:

"First, a single reference to a notepad tells us nothing about when and where notepads were use, how many times notepads were used, who used them, etc."

The same can be said of other historical sources, like Josephus and Tacitus. You keep changing the subject when you don't like the direction in which the current discussion is headed. I was addressing claims that have been made about the alleged oral nature of the transmission of the words of Jesus. The availability of writing and the use of such resources by other ancient sources demonstrate that we shouldn't assume that Jesus' words were passed on in the manner suggested earlier in this thread. The issues you're bringing up, such as "how many times notepads were used", are different issues.

Just as men like Josephus and Tacitus don't tell us how often they used notepads or how they attained every piece of information they report, neither did the early Christians. But we can still make judgments about what's probable and whether the sources in question are generally reliable.

The idea that nobody wrote any of Jesus' teachings down until the first of the extant gospels was written seems unlikely. The Jewish people knew how to write, and they often wrote things down. Given the large amount of information that Luke's gospel conveys, it seems unlikely that every or almost every prior source he refers to in the opening of his gospel was an oral source. It's doubtful that somebody like Mark or Luke would have been the first person interested in writing about such things. Etc.

But even without knowing something like "how many times notepads were used", we have multiple means of judging the end result. How accurate were the gospels judged to be by contemporaries? How did the early opponents of Christianity respond to the documents? What can we make of them in light of archeology, what other sources tell us about the society in which Jesus lived, etc.? If the gospels stand up well under such analysis, then our ignorance of something like how many times notepads were used isn't of much significance.

You write:

"I am constantly amazed at the way my words are interpreted and recorded by listeners. In the end, if I want to transmit information with the lowest rate of error, I have to literally write the book myself."

We've cited Richard Bauckham's book, which documents the general reliability of human memory. In one of the articles linked above, I cited similar data and other relevant information from Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd. Historians accept the general reliability of sources like Tacitus and Suetonius, even though those men frequently relied on what other sources told them. I was addressing general reliability, which doesn't require "the lowest rate of error". You've changed the subject to inerrancy.

Since the Christian view of Biblical inspiration involves Divine prevention of error, then why would God have to "write the book Himself"? It's not as though the Holy Spirit is less God than Jesus in Christian theology. Your suggestion that Jesus would have to have written the documents Himself doesn't make sense.

You write:

"But if you’re going to place great faith in oral history, then you must accept the oral history of the Iliad, right? So, you believe that the Greek gods were involved in the siege of Troy, right? Oral history is truth, right? Ever played 'Telephone'?"

I didn't say or suggest that all oral communication is correct or that all of it is transmitting information of a historical nature. There are other factors involved, such as genre and historical context. And the analogy to a game of telephone is ridiculous. The transmission of Jesus' teachings was public, not something whispered from ear to ear. It was taken more seriously than a game. The sayings of Jesus in the gospels are often corroborated by internal and external evidence. Etc. Why do these things have to be explained to you?

You write:

"But no one claims that Josephus is without error. While his accounts are probably mostly accurate, he had to rely on numerous sources, and those sources may have had their own agendas."

Again, you're changing the subject. I was addressing general reliability. A Christian who believes in inerrancy would present arguments for it (Jesus' resurrection, His fulfillment of prophecy, what He taught about the Biblical documents, the miracles performed by the apostles, etc.). We don't have comparable evidence for the inerrancy of Josephus. The two are similar in terms of general reliability. The reason why a Christian would take the further step of arguing for inerrancy is because we have evidence for the inerrancy of scripture that we don't have for the inerrancy of Josephus.

You go on to say that issues like paraphrasing become more significant if the document "IS supposed to be Absolute Truth, this IS claiming to be the Word of God, This IS making fantastical claims, and this IS the founding document of a new religion". But the picture you present is incomplete. We also have to take into account the evidence mentioned above, such as the resurrection and fulfilled prophecy. If the evidence suggests that Jesus rose from the dead, for example, then objecting that you'd prefer word-for-word quotes to paraphrasing is insufficient. You've given us no reason to think that word-for-word quotation is so important that it carries the weight you're assigning to it.

You write:

"Oddly, you never have answered the question about the Iliad."

Because the Illiad isn't comparable to the New Testament, and you've offered no documentation to the contrary. I've presented documentation, such as in the last Stand To Reason thread in which we discussed these issues, regarding subjects like the genre, dating, and textual transmission of the New Testament. Where's your comparable case for the Illiad? You just make these assertions without any accompanying argumentation or documentation.

You write:

"It’s simply impossible that 500 people could have seen the re-animated Jesus, because the very next day, there would be ten thousand people waiting to see Jesus, and the day after that, one hundred thousand."

So you say, without any supporting argument.

Bino Bolumai wrote:

"It is absolutely certain Mt knew the things he wrote were not true."

You keep assuming that the gospel authors were claiming to provide word-for-word quotations. Where's your argument?

As I said before, other ancient sources did the same thing you're criticizing the gospel authors for (Josephus, Tacitus, etc.). Do you think all of them "knew the things they wrote were not true"? Or is it more likely that they and their audience didn't make the assumptions that you're reading into the text?

In his commentary on John that I've cited above, Craig Keener addresses this issue in depth. Accompanied by a large amount of documentation, he writes, "Hearers of speeches sometimes took notes to capture the gist of the speeches...standard rhetorical practice included paraphrasing sayings, as evidenced by the rhetorical exercises in which it features prominently" (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], pp. 56, 59). He gives many examples from ancient Jewish and Gentile sources. Where's your argument that the gospel authors (and Josephus, Tacitus, etc.) meant to be interpreted in the manner you're suggesting?

Joe wrote:

"I see from your work over at T-blog that you don't believe that the NT is the Word of God either."

Another claim for which you offer no evidence.


What makes you think that Matthew's use of "said" implies a direct quotation?


Mt 8:6 "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."
7 Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."
8 The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.

6καὶ λέγων, Κύριε, ὁ παῖς μου βέβληται ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ παραλυτικός, δεινῶς βασανιζόμενος.
7καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἐγὼ ἐλθὼν θεραπεύσω αὐτόν.
8καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἑκατόνταρχος ἔφη, Κύριε, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς ἵνα μου ὑπὸ τὴν στέγην εἰσέλθῃς: ἀλλὰ μόνον εἰπὲ λόγῳ, καὶ ἰαθήσεται ὁ παῖς μου

1. The words are the centurion's – "MY servant" , "I do not," "MY roof", "MY servant"

2. Ditto vs 7 and 8

This is direct speech in English and in Greek. If it were a paraphrase it would be "He said his servant.." and "He replied that he did not deserve…etc."

Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /

Brett

Bino, off topic, but how did you get the Greek font? Can you use font tags here?

Don't think so. Copy and paste from http://www.greekbible.com/ I'm surprised it worked.


Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /

>>This is direct speech in English and in Greek. If it were a paraphrase it would be "He said his servant.." and "He replied that he did not deserve…etc."

Yes, I see that, but again, why does it have to be verbatim? Do you think that any historical writers in the ancient times expected people to be quoted verbatim? How do you know that Matthew wanted to quote verbatim what the centurion said and not sum it up? Can you read Matthew's mind? I'm still trying to figure out where this standard came from. It is true that in our 21st Western culture we would expect that, but I can't imagine that it would be the same from a Jew living in the 1st century.

“The availability of writing and the use of such resources by other ancient sources demonstrate that we shouldn't assume that Jesus' words were passed on in the manner suggested earlier in this thread.”

Ok, but where does “notepads” leave us? What’s the next logical step? My point was that saying there may have been “notepads” doesn’t really solve the basic problem of reliability for the reasons that I gave. It’s nice that there is more than oral tradition, but “notepads” is still an inadequate answer to the basic question.

“The issues you're bringing up, such as "how many times notepads were used", are different issues.”

Not really. You’re claiming that “notepads” make it all better, because this would mean there’s more than just oral tradition. But do notepads really make it all better? To know if they do, you’d have to answer my questions.

“But we can still make judgments about what's probable and whether the sources in question are generally reliable.”

Generally reliable? What does that mean? Is that the same as always reliable? Mostly dead or completely dead? Josephus is probably “generally reliable”. Do you believe every word written by Josephus? This is an important matter when one is claiming absolute truth.

“The idea that nobody wrote any of Jesus' teachings down until the first of the extant gospels was written seems unlikely….”

Assumptions, but no evidence.

“How did the early opponents of Christianity respond to the documents?”

I would say that the data here are woefully inadequate. Finding a few words written by a few opponents doesn’t come close to giving us the data that we need. Lots of unanswered questions here. I’m sure it’s good enough for you, but as I’ve said, that’s a matter of taste.

“We've cited Richard Bauckham's book, which documents the general reliability of human memory.“

And I have twenty years of exam data that says that human memory is badly, badly flawed.

“Since the Christian view of Biblical inspiration involves Divine prevention of error…”

Ah yes, divine inspiration. The universal, untestable, get-out-of-jail free card. When in doubt, claim divine inspiration. Since it’s impossible to disprove divine intervention, I need to remember to use this excuse more often.

“I didn't say or suggest that all oral communication is correct…”

Thank you. Stop right there.

“Or that all of it is transmitting information of a historical nature.”

But the Iliad does transmit information of a historical nature, so it’s relevant to the discussion.

“And the analogy to a game of telephone is ridiculous. The transmission of Jesus' teachings was public.”

True, initially, but the teachings were then passed on to those who were not present….like to those who would eventually put the words in writing. The point of Telephone” is that verbal information is susceptible to degradation when it is passed from person to person. And that’s true whether the information is “public” or not.

“ The sayings of Jesus in the gospels are often corroborated by internal and external evidence.”

Really? What corroborates the Sermon on the Mount? How many events and sayings of Jesus are corroborated by non-Christian sources? Again, I’m not saying that the entire NT is “made up”, far from it. But I don’t think that the amount of independent corroboration is really adequate. Again, I know that you do, again, matter of taste.

“A Christian who believes in inerrancy would present arguments for it (Jesus' resurrection, His fulfillment of prophecy, what He taught about the Biblical documents, the miracles performed by the apostles, etc.).”

There is no corroboration from contemporaneous sources for the miracles of Jesus. None. And the whole “fulfilled prophecy” thing looks very dicey to me, because we are relying on very biased sources. Where’s the independent corroboration from, say, Roman sources? The non-Christian sources suggest big problems with the whole “going to Bethlehem for the census” story. Could have been very easily corroborated by Roman sources, but it isn’t. And I’ve read Psalm 22, for example. It doesn’t fit the idea of Jesus as God at all; big problems here.


“He taught about the Biblical documents…”

I’m curious. Did Jesus teach that Adam, Eve and Noah were real people? Was there a global flood? Before you say I’m changing the subject, remember, you brought the issue of what Jesus taught about the Biblical accounts, yes? So, let’s explore this point a little bit further.

“You've given us no reason to think that word-for-word quotation is so important that it carries the weight you're assigning to it.”

I understand that you’re satisfied with notes and oral traditions that may or may not be accurate. I’m not. I honestly believe that I’ve given you several reasons why it would have been better for Jesus to have given us a direct, word-for-word account of his teachings, positions, etc. Take ‘em or leave ‘em, they’re still reasons to care about this.

“The Iliad isn't comparable to the New Testament, and you've offered no documentation to the contrary.”

Yes it is comparable. It’s a product of oral tradition, and it mixes historical events with intervention by gods, just like the Bible. If you accept that there was a siege of Troy, then you are telling me that you trust the basic history presented in the Iliad. Do you accept the siege of Troy? Yes or no? If yes, then you already know about all of the evidence and documentation that I would present.

Now, if you accept the general reliability of the Iliad was respect to military matters, why would you then reject the supernatural aspect of the work? If it’s “generally reliable”, well then, we can trust it, right? Aren’t you saying that “generally reliable” means that we should trust a given historical document? So, it must be telling the truth about the Greek gods, too, right?

“So you say (about the 500), without any supporting argument.”

The supporting argument is blindingly obvious, and I’ve given it to you in the past. If the Romans execute a rising religious leader in the religious capital of an oppressed people, and if that leader returns from the dead, and if 500 people see that zombie on Good Friday plus X days later, then there is no doubt about what happens on GF plus X plus one day later. No doubt. To think that they snowball would abruptly stop rolling at 500 people is to deny everything we know about human behavior. The ball doesn’t stop; think “exponential growth”.

Bottom line? If you wish to accept certain documents as absolute truth, and if you wish to hold to a long list of assumptions and extrapolations, and if you want to interpret every bit of information in a certain favorable light, and if you want to assume the best of all possible worlds with respect to oral tradition and note pads, and if your willing to accept that paucity of data…then you can turn Jesus into God. It works for you. So be it. But the vast majority of the statements and claims in the NT are untestable and unverifiable and always will be. It doesn’t work for me, and it’s not because I have “little knowledge of the subjects I’m discussing”.

Bino,

As Jason points out, and as I have also read elsewhere, it was quite common for ancient writers to paraphrase speeches, giving the gist of what was said, rather than an exact word for word account. And audiences realized this.

That's why your insistence that these are word for word quotes is absurd. I doubt that any serious biblical scholar holds that these are verbatim word for word accounts in every case. In some cases they probably are, as it has been shown that some of Jesus sayings reflect a phrasing and arrangement that facilitates memorization similar to other Jewish teachings that were memorized. But biblical quotes don't have to reflect word for word accounts.

You are just plain wrong to insist on that Matthew intended for the reader to think these were verbatim quotes. Any ancient reader would realize these are paraphrases or summaries of what was said. Therefore you are also wrong to assume on this basis that Matthew is making this up.

If you continue to stick with this, please cite scholars who support your position as Jason has cited an authority regarding how quotations were used in the ancient world. Please tell su who supports your assertion that Matthew intended these tow be word for word verbatim accounts. Otherwise you are out on limb that has no support.

Nathaniel

Yes, I see that, but again, why does it have to be verbatim? Do you think that any historical writers in the ancient times expected people to be quoted verbatim? How do you know that Matthew wanted to quote verbatim what the centurion said and not sum it up? Can you read Matthew's mind? I'm still trying to figure out where this standard came from. It is true that in our 21st Western culture we would expect that, but I can't imagine that it would be the same from a Jew living in the 1st century.

The standard comes from the point at issue. The point at issue is the reliability of the gospels. That's a 21st century claim made by 21st century apologists for the 21st century purpose of convincing themselves the ancient legends in their ancient book are true – in the 21st century sense that they really happened.

In that sense Mt's "quotations" are certainly not true. Nor are Mt's stories. The bible is not reliable – in the way apologists have in mind when they make the claim.

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Your point, if I understand you correctly, that ancients often invented quotations is certainly true. It is not, in my experience, a point that can gotten across to Sunday school apologists.

And it doesn't, I think, save the gospels from their reliability problem. The ancients didn't make up quotes just in paraphrase, they had a tradition of making up quotes whole cloth, to attribute the author's ideas/ understandings/ theologies to the person "quoted." This is of course exactly what Mt does. And Mk, Lk, Jn. Which is how we know for sure the gospels are not reliable.


Bino Bolumai

/ In Bino Veritas /

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