Rogue's Gallery
Rebuttal to Jury Chapter 6

The Price of a Guilty Conscience

Or, Shake the Dust Off Your Feet in This Direction

J. P. Holding


The above title was arrived at after much difficult contemplation and prayer. But it is fitting in many respects.

The Jury has regrettably failed here in two respects - one a technical point, the other much more serious. First the technical point: logical subject organization would demand that their reply to McDowell's chapter 6, which focuses on Jesus' claims to divinity, should have been composed and released before (or at the same time as) Chapter 7, where the matter of whether or not Jesus claimed divinity is key. But it was not; Ch. 6 appeared later than 7. This we deem improper, but will not harp on, since it may have occurred due to circumstances beyond their control. (However, it an effort to manage our data more cohesively, the reader will note that MUCH of our previous Chapter 6 material in now ensconced in Chapter 7, or else displaced to Tekton 1-2-1. Chapter 6 will retain material that is unique to Price, and does not overlap or bear significant similarities to material offered by Jim Perry in Chapter 7.)

The second miscue of Jury is much more serious: And that is, continuing to allow a forum for the venomous and vitriolic essays of Robert Price. We have said enough about this subject in our Chapter 8 reply, so we shall allow the issue to rest as it does there; but for those new to our neighborhood, here is a sample of what to expect from Mr. Price, as presented in his introductory paragraph, Jury Chapter 6:

This chapter is typical of Evidence That Demands A Demands a Verdict, in that it presupposes a kangaroo court. McDowell is preaching to the converted. As generally throughout the long history of apologetics, the arguments of the defender of the faith seem not really to be aimed at the outsider in order to overcome his opposition to the faith. Rather, they seem intended to shore up the vulnerable faith of those already within the camp. The old saying that the best defense is a good offense; applies here. The fundamentalist reader, whose faith has either simply been inherited from a church upbringing or embraced in a moment of emotional crisis and repentance, gets the impression as he or she reads McDowell that there must not be much reason for doubt if Josh, like his Old Testament namesake, is eager to carry the battle into the enemy camp. But the battle is by no means headed there. It is more like the Ayatollah Khomeini's use of the American hostage crisis and the futile war against Iraq to divert the attention of his own people from the problems of his government. Apologetics is shadow-boxing.

The entire first half of Price's essay is filled with dramatic poetry like this - full of sound and fury, signifying nothing; and further flagged with polemical designs such as the decidedly unsubtle references to Khomeini and kangaroo courts. (BTW - I have had neither church upbringing nor emotional crisis; where, pray tell, do I fit into your generalizing scheme, Mr. Price?) And it gets worse, descending even into childishness, as with this:

And this is only too evident from several factors. For one, McDowell and his brethren everywhere employ the worst kind of special pleading, what Freud called kettle logic. This is the marshalling of any and every possible argument, whether consistent with one another or not, whether cogent on their own or not. All that matters is whether all the guns are aimed in the right direction. I did not break your kettle! It was all in one piece when I returned it last week! And besides, I never borrowed your stupid kettle in the first place! So there!

Thank you, Mr. Price, for that advisory from the eminent logician, Sigmund Freud. This, sadly, is the sort of childishness that we find throughout Price's essays; but it gets even worse: Price goes as far as misrepresenting specific Christian positions; to wit:

...how is it that apologetics coaching (e.g., Paul Little's popular manual, Know Why You Believe), usually includes the advice to duck difficult questions by parroting, Say, that's a good question! I'll have to ask my pastor and get back to you. But in the meantime, wouldn't you like to get born again anyway? Anyone who says such a thing is signalling that his mind is already made up and that he does not intend to let any new facts confuse him.

And skeptics don't EVER duck difficult questions? Let's face it, friends: Most people in this world aren't intellectually prepared to defend their views on ANY subject - religion, politics, ethics, law, whether to have Tuna Helper for supper, you name it! Most people in this world, on any given topic, have closed their minds because they are convinced that they are right and need no further instruction. It's a human failing, a sin of pride, and a result of ignorance. By the same token, not everyone can be a Rhodes scholar and know immediately the answer to every conceivable question, and it is the height of arrogance to make a blanket accusation of intellectual dishonesty in this regard as Price does. Certainly it is no offense to admit ignorance; and certainly, if one's eternal life is indeed at stake, there is no harm in accepting the free gift of salvation before 100% of your questions have been satisfactorily settled! After all, you can always do as Price has apparently done, and as Dan Barker and others have certainly done - give it back and go your own way!

(By the way again, Mr. Price - what page does Little give this advice on? I've gone over the book twice and found nothing that even remotely resembles it.)

A few things we may note here -

  1. As far as the "mind already made up" issue - that is absolutely correct! Hopefully, the whole reason the non-professional evangelist is wanting to witness is because he KNOWS JESUS CHRIST personally. Their mind IS made up - and why else would you witness?!? The personal experience of Christ is so much more convincing than academic and intellectual discussions! [Now, if the evangelist is doing it out of "duty" WITHOUT the richness of personal experience of the living God - as it appears Price did, as evidenced in his discussion in his book Beyond Born Again, about witnessing in the restaurant and having nothing to say(!), then this would obviously be a problem!] Evangelism is NOT the same thing as "dialogue" or "debate" but an issue of one beggar telling another beggar where to find free bread! The "duck the questions" coaching is in evangelism coaching - NOT apologetics coaching, and that is a BIG difference!

  2. Surely Price remembers the "indoctrination" he should have received about the reality of spiritual warfare! The issue of the blindness of the heart, about eyes that refuse to see, about loving darkness rather than light - this issue requires that the central life-giving message of the Cross be held in focus: just as a lifeguard would be foolish to get into petty debates with a drowning man about the background history and political alignments of the manufacturer of a life-preserver(!), so too those who hold forth the "message of this life" must look to the interests of the person and not just their curiosities. There are, of course, those situations in which the questions are not mere diversionary tactics but are rather issues of deep psychological bondage. In those situations MOST evangelists suggest special treatment and use of others more skilled.

Quite simply, Price here has mixed up two different activities -evangelism and apologetics - and his attack simply does not find a mark.

At only one point, however, does Price's first-half diatribe get interesting enough to take note of. After endless paragraphs of harping about Christian apologists being like used-car salesmen, and about how the facts will always force apologists to abandon their beliefs, he says of any faith that they do have remaining:

It will be insincere and hypocritical faith, mere adherence to a party line. I do not claim to have proved this. It is just the way of things as I have come to see it. If you happen to be an apologist, you will find out for yourself sooner or later if the shoe fits.

!!!! - Price spends over half of his essay spent exuding venom like the above, then he admits that he isn't claiming to have proved anything???? That it is only what he PERSONALLY has been through???? What place does all of this personal venting have in a scholarly reply to Josh McDowell? I ask in all sincerity - are we supposed to take this vitriol as an answer to McDowell's Chapter 6 on the claims of Jesus? But as we have seen, this is not atypical - anywhere from ten to fifty percent of Price's Secular Web essays are composed of such venting and personal psychological analysis. Does this perhaps tell us something about his capability to actually address the issues at hand?

At any rate, this accusation is again amiss. A person can have a very sincere and genuine faith, without knowing the answers to the difficulties that plague ANY system of intellectual worldview. This slander is simply not honest - it ignores the obvious realities of the dynamics of belief systems (e.g. growth in strength of belief, suspension of judgment on minor dissonance in the system, progressive integration of propositions, etc.). A sincere believer has no prima facie ethical requirement to allow another person to dominate or dictate the discussion topics in an evangelism session, especially if he or she is sharing out of care and concern for the other person - "speaking the truth in love." Price feels some sense of moral obligation to correct the evangelical, obviously - but we would certainly not consider him to be "insincere or hypocritical." (He may be wrong or be malicious or be devious, but these other adjectives are not immediately obvious!)

Beyond the polemic, the truly saddest part of Price's of essay, however, is its notable lack of content, his plainly superficial scholarship - and the fact that he has the wherewithal to have known better. First, allow me to note, however, a peculiar criticism of me found on James Still's personal pages:

I really don't think [Holding] is in much of a position to rank the Jury authors according to how scholarly they are, or are not. The fact that he is an 'information professional' really doesn't make him qualified to dismiss Price as unqualified as a scholar in the field of NT scholarship.

In the sad manner typical of skeptics, this critic has failed to even read what I have written carefully. While I have informally ranked SOME Jury writers as non-scholarly either in their qualifications or their approach, I have done so WITH EVIDENCE - and if this critic wishes to explain why any of these rankings are incorrect, let them write me and do so. At the same time, I have always freely acknowledged in this essay that Price is a qualified NT scholar. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament and a Ph. D. in Systematic Theology, as well as other degrees; and is a member of the Jesus Seminar - this, I did not doubt. He is also, in the same vein as Dan Barker, a professed ex-Christian. However, the fact remains that Price's qualifications are NOT reflected in the quality of Price's essays. His style, content, choice of vocabulary, sufficiency and cogency of argumentation, and use of sources, indicates (and continues to indicate) someone far less educated, and his continuing efforts for the Secular Web show no sign of being any better. I can only conclude that Price himself is so bitter that he has thrown scholarship to the wind, and does not care what he writes as long as it accomplishes his purposes - and that he is therefore as culpable as the believers he accuses of fudging on difficult questions in order to simply get souls saved, in spite of their inability to answer questions from unbelievers. But again, we do not make this accusation lightly. The proof shall be in the offing.

As we approach the specific arguments McDowell uses to demand the verdict that Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God, we will see again and again how he not only constantly resorts to blatant logical fallacies, but also frames arguments that could hardly make sense to anyone but a died-in-the-wool fundamentalist and biblical inerrantist! This circularity is the result of his reliance on the stale apologetics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the Orthodox had mainly the Protestant Rationalists to deal with, a strange breed who granted the inerrant accuracy of scripture but denied supernatural causation!

Stale apologetics? Skeptics are using many of the same arguments used by Celsus in the second century (see Tekton section 4), and Price appeals regularly to scholars whose bodies (and ideas!) expired and turned in the grave decades ago! Fact: There is nothing new under the sun, on either side of the aisle. Fact two: Price does nothing to significantly answer the argument that Jesus claimed divinity anyway - even the most simple forms of the "argument" as presented by McDowell! (And how does Mr. Price presume to speak for everyone but "died-in-the-wool fundamentalists and biblical inerrantists" regarding what arguments do or do not make sense? Is this not exceedingly presumptuous? It is interesting, though, that the most original "innovation" in skeptical thought since Celsus has been the "Jesus myth" position - a SURE sign of "staleness" and "grasping at straws" if there ever was one!)

Oh, yes - one more technical point from Price -

I will follow the outline of McDowell's syllabus, focussing on some points, skipping some minor ones. This is why, though I retain his (confusing) outline notation, I do not have all the subheadings.

Question: If Price considers something as simple as Josh's outline system to be confusing, how does he have the wherewithal to handle important arguments about Christianity? As for skipping "minor" points, the fact is that Price skips many MAJOR points - including the issue of the major divine title used by Jesus, "Son of Man."

So here we are, at the meat of Price's essay. It's time to debark from the monorail at the Disney World gate and enter Fantasyland. Buckle your seat belts, and do not enter this ride if your faith is less than 36 inches tall.

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"And So What If Jesus Claimed Divinity?"
I think there is zero evidence that Jesus claimed to be divine, but suppose he did. It is simply false to say none of the others made such claims. We can produce a catalogue of Hindu, Sufi, and Hellenistic holy men who made such claims, not to mention Mizra Ali Muhammad (the Bab) and Hussein Ali (Baha'Ullah), founders of the Babi and the Baha'i Faiths respectively.

Now if we say that we can produce a "catalogue" of men who allegedly did make such claims, then it behooves us to name more than just two. However, as anyone as familiar as I am with the specific gentlemen named above knows - the rest of my family being in thrall to that particular pseudo-faith! - no claims to divinity of the type made by Jesus were made by either of those persons. They did, however, attempt to lower Jesus to their level!

Hindu holy men, of course, claim to be God by using a different concept of God that makes them, the rocks, the trees, even the pile of dog doody on the curb a manifestation of God - aka pantheism. Since Price does not name any Sufis or Hellenists, I cannot investigate that particular claim. But Price does take the issue in this direction:

My guess is that your average apologist, thinking that it is some advantage to his case to attribute to Jesus unique claims, will want to quibble at this point, perhaps urging that al-Hallaj or Baha'Ullah was presupposing a rather different God-concept than Jesus would have. For, e.g., a Pantheist or a Monist to claim to be God; is not precisely the same thing as a monotheistic Jew claiming to be God. But this, too, is question-begging.

Your guess is? Are we unsure at this point? And it's question-begging, is it? Comparative religions study would say otherwise. Let's see what it is that Price identifies as "question-begging" -

First, it is to assume that we know what God-concept Jesus held! The apologist implicitly supposes Jesus to have been an Athanasian before Athanasius. He must have held the same opinions on the Hypostatic Union and the Trinity that the apologist does! Fundamentalists, even fairly sophisticated ones, tend to have an anachronistic and essentialist view of the history of dogma that envisions no real evolution of theology. No, the eternal verities were once and for all delivered unto the saints, and so Jesus must have believed it, too. Again, this is the thinking of a party-line spin doctor.

??? - Actually, Price himself begs the question by assuming up front that "the eternal verities" were not so delivered in some fashion - as the church would say, through the words of Jesus and the Apostles themselves. He also grossly misrepresents the so-called "fundamentalist" view, which willingly grants that there was an "evolution" in the understanding of theology - where we part ways is in the assertion that evolution created the theology, whereas Christians would say that our understanding "evolved" (or better, "grew") towards a goal that was already in place before we arrived! (There was also, in line with this, the fact of "progressive revelation": The New Covenant in the OT, and the Body of Christ in Paul are examples of truth revealed at specific points in time. Why Price chooses to portray even sophisticated apologists in this caricature escapes me.) At any rate, this ranting about "assumption" of what God-concept Jesus held is quite silly. Even outside evidence recorded in the New Testament - which Price apparently does not accept as valid! - in a Jewish milieu, it is fairly reasonable to assume, historically speaking, that Jesus held to a Jewish concept of God, even if we do not accept His divinity; and thus, anything acceptable within the Jewish socio-theological context is not unreasonable to have been seen as held by Jesus. Price has obviously forgotten the general fuzziness in the OT relationship between YHWH and the Angel of YHWH, between YHWH and His Word, between YHWH and His "instantiations," and between YHWH and His Messiah. The concept of the deity of other AGENTS in the OT was a tension in Jewry at the time of Jesus, so there is no reason for assuming some monolithic monotheism at the time, and the Trinitarian doctrine of Athanasius can easily be seen to be terminologically the same as the discussions of YHWH and the Name and Metatron in the Rabbinics. It is not anachronistic at all; indeed, to assume a neatly specified view of the essence of God on the part of 1st century Jews -- that would preclude trinitarianism -- would be na�ve in the extreme!

Even the most na�ve apologist around, incidentally, knows that Jesus was not an "Athanasian" -- He knows the REAL truth about the trinity! Our Athanasian formulations are at best approximations that probably give our God cause for chuckle often! They are true mappings of the basic structures of revealed truth, but Jesus obviously would have had a more "refined" and "detailed" view! It is simply mistaken to assume such finality on our theological formulations; and it ahistorical to assume that there is no continuity between pre-Christian Jewish thought and Christian Greek thought! We have a common core of folk in the NT who formed that bridge! Price has assumed a simplistic view of Jewish theology (without warrant, and against the obvious facts of theological diversity in the times of Jesus -- Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Christians, etc.) and a radical discontinuity between that thought and later Christian statements (without warrant, and against the obvious facts of consistent appeals to OT scripture in the Fathers).

Now of course, beyond all of that, we may speculate as some people do that Jesus travelled to India and became a pantheist (as in the Gospel of Thomas), or to Egypt and became a worshipper of Osiris, or to America and became an adherent of Quetzalcoatl - good way for a Jew to get himself stoned, either as one of these or as a Rastafarian. But there is absolutely no evidence to prove any of these assertions, and they run counter to every shred of available evidence that we do have.

Price's first objection in this arena is now dealt with. His second objection, however, is even more of a whopper:

Second, it does not occur to the apologist that if a man did think himself to be God on earth, it would no longer be so clear that he was in fact a monotheist! Jews and Muslims certainly do not deem incarnationism compatible with monotheism. Again, the apologist implicitly assumes a whole intricate conglomeration of theological constructions, in this case blithely equating trinitarianism with biblical monotheism, something that, while it might be true, is not obvious enough to be taken for granted at a controversial point.

First, we have here a false dichotomy: it is not "simple vs. intricate system" but "simple vs. complex" -- "complex" can be either intricate and detailed (later thought) or fuzzy/implicit/confused (pre-reflective thought, such as 1st century Jewish "pluri-unity" in God). Second, Price begs the question again by implicitly assuming that the "theological constructions" did not find their sources legitimately! Of course, he does cover himself well here - "while it might be true"? Sir, what is your point here? To complain that McDowell doesn't go into more depth? Granted! And kudos to you for at least being somewhat on track to the stated purpose of Jury. But where is your research in this regard?

This first part of Price's argument was also used, perhaps coincidentally, by A. N. Wilson, a skeptic who was no more cognizant of the realities of Jewish thought than Price appears to be. In response to Wilson, N.T. Wright observes [NT.WWJ, 48-9] that Jewish monotheism "was never, in the Jewish literature of the crucial period, an analysis of the inner being of God, a kind of numerical statement about, so to speak, what God was like on the inside." Rather, it was "always a polemical statement directed outwards against the pagan nations." Rabbis of Jesus' time had no difficulty in personifying separate aspects of God's personality - His Wisdom, His Law (Torah), His Presence (Shekinah), and His Word (Memra), for example. This division had the philosophical purpose of "get(ting) around the problem of how to speak appropriately of the one true God who is both beyond the created world and active within it."

Similarly, Young [JH.MG, 52] writes:

Within Judaism, the 'hypostatization' of Wisdom or Torah did not seem to undermine monotheism, since ultimately it was a kind of periphrasis used to circumvent the implication of direct contact between the transcendent God and the creation.

This concept, Young continues, did not challenge God's "ultimate originality and soverignty" at all. Hence, the idea of Christianity identifying an actual person in such a way is not problematic for monotheism in any sense. Nor is a trinitarian concept foreign to Judaism. O'Neill [JCO.WD, 94] records the words of the Jewish historian Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, who laid out this exposition upon the three men who came to visit Abraham in Genesis 18:2, and were presumed to be divine figures:

...the one in the middle is the Father of the Universe, who in the sacred scriptures is called by his proper name, I am that I am; and the beings on each side are those most ancient powers which are always close to the living God, one of which is called his creative power, and the other his royal power.

No one would question that Philo was a Jewish monotheist; yet here we have an exposition perfectly compatible with the Trinity: the Father, The Creative Power (the Son, or the Word), and the Royal Power (the Holy Spirit). Similarly, in the apocryphal Baruch 4:22, we read:

For I have set hope for your salvation on the Eternal One; and joy has come to me from the Holy One, at the mercy which will soon be present for you from your Eternal Saviour.

O'Neill provides other examples of Jewish concepts compatible with trinitarianism, as well as the concept of incarnation.

In short, there is no problem whatsoever with Jesus being God incarnate and a belief in monotheism, and if Price had bothered to do a little research, he would have known this. (It comes as no surprise that Price's only source on Rabbinic theology dates back to 1910! What's all this rap about being cognizant of the evolution of theology, Mr. Price?)

And so what if Jesus were the only religious founder to claim to be God? Would that make it true? Was Gautama necessarily the only man to have gained Buddhahood just because he alone said he was? A unique claim might be false. A claim often made might just as easily be true in one case and false in all others. Uniqueness just doesn't make any difference.

Not in and of itself, no. But it would make it a serious claim, which is McDowell's entire point if he is making any at all; and actually, it might constitute evidence! The implication of being a religious founder with a wide following would be that your claims were accepted by a very wide set of people: the more people, the more varied the different "evaluation" schema! Since each person would bring their own set of "truth criteria" and ways of evaluating claims, a wide range of followers (as opposed to only a couple of scores of Texans or Peruvians, say) would imply that you passed muster in a much wider range of judgment tests. For a world religion, this would mean that your claims held up under the evaluation schemes across cultures, economic strata, educational strata, etc.- and IF your claims were especially outrageous - "I AM GOD" (!)-- as opposed to something less outrageous (e.g. I am a saint, a guru, a wise man, a prophet, etc.) then foundership of a world religion would actually MEAN MORE than foundership of a religion in which your claims were NOT SO outrageous (e.g., Buddha)! So, Price's argument demonstrates once again a lack of depth of analysis and critical thinking. And, while Price argues (not entirely) correctly that uniqueness makes no difference, he does NOT thereby give us sufficient reason for ignoring Jesus' claims!

But do the gospels so depict Jesus? He is indeed said to have spoken with authority, and not as the Jewish scribes (Mark 1:22), who judiciously appealed to legal precedent and preserved varying opinions on cases of halakha. But far from contrasting Jesus with the Jewish prophets as Meldau says, this apodictic certainty simply associates Jesus with their ranks. They, too, were sure they spoke with divine authority, though there is no reason to suppose Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Amos believed he was God! Remember, Meldau's point is that Jesus' attitude of certitude, even on matters not relating directly to his own status and role, is itself a claim to divinity. Hegel, too, one must suppose, believed himself to be God. And why stop there? McDowell, too, would seem to merit insertion into the divine plurality, as would most of his fans.

The big difference between Jesus and the scribes, McDowell, his fans, ad infinitum, which Price does not mention: the claims of Jesus were much more audacious and self-descriptive than those of the scribes, or Amos, or Hegel, and so on. Price, however, ignores the majority of these. He also does not provide us with quotes from Hegel and McDowell expressing their "divine certitude" - presumably, in the same way that Jesus did!

The issue, however, is not one of certitude, but of source. The scribes always understood their dicta as ultimately deriving from Moses. They spoke with certitude (!), but not with "authority"...BIG difference! Jesus' way of speaking is STILL UNDERSTOOD as being a claim to divinity! Lee M. McDonald writes [LM.FBC, 104]:

Jacob Neusner has also seen this tendency of Jesus to stand in opposition to the Law in the Gospel of Matthew. Neusner says that when Jesus says, "You have heard it was said...but I say to you...," he is contrasting his words with 'nothing less than the Torah, God himself speaking through his prophet Moses. Any observant Jew would immediately recognize that fact." Neusner goes on to say that in these passages Jesus is "not simply being assertive, in our modern parlance; he is claiming for himself the right to adapt, or modify, Divine Law." He then asks of Jesus, "Who do you think you are -- God?"

Jesus was only CONTRASTED with the scribes and leaders; NOT with the prophets -- He consistently aligned himself with them in ALL His stories. This explicit solidarity notwithstanding, Jesus uniqueness relative to them lies in His:

  1. being the very content of their prophecies (cf. John 5:45 and Matt. 26:56; Luke 18:31);
  2. non-human source of origin (e.g. John 3:31; 8:23); and,
  3. being the only conjunction of ALL the messianic roles: prophet, priest, king, wise man.
But, we must also keep in mind that Jesus invoked the authority of Moses and the prophets as well -- and well He could, since He Himself was the spirit behind Moses! (1 Pet 1:11)

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Time Out: A Look at Some "Contradictions"

Now it's time for a little fun - refuting "contradictions." This is one of my favorite pasttimes! The context:

Meldau infers from the fact that no statement on record features Jesus saying, Wait a minute, I'm afraid I misspoke there..., that Jesus' teaching was completely consistent. If it was self-contradictory, then his (supposedly) never correcting himself becomes more of an embarrassment than an endorsement. And the gospels do have Jesus contradicting himself on various points..

OK. Let's look at these one at a time:

1) whether or not to fast (Mark 2:18 vs. Matthew 6:16)

Verses cited:

Mk 2:18-20 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?" Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
Mt. 6:16-8 "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

??? - As usual, Price confounds us with his superficiality. Where are there instructions in either set of verses as to whether or not to fast? How are these verses contradictory? In the first set, Jesus simply explains why His disciples were not fasting at the time. In the latter Jesus tells His disciples what to do when they do fast. What is the problem here? Maybe #2 will be better -

2) and why (Mark 2:20) or why not (Mark 2:19 vs. Mark 2:21-22)

Meaning, "why to fast" or why not. Now the fact that these verses are all in the same place should make us wonder whether Price is taking some flu medication that makes him see contradictions everywhere he goes. Hopefully this is not happening when he sees traffic signals! Get well soon, Mr. Price! Let's look at all four together:

19 Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.

20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

21 "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.

22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins."

??? - Again. How do verses 19 or 21-2 tell us why not to fast? Is it because fasting will make our stomachs bloat like those of the starving children in Africa and cause all of our patches and buttons to pop off? Can someone please explain what the problem is here?

Let's try #3 -

3) whether to divorce (Mark 10:11 vs.Matthew 19:9)

Mk. 10:11 He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.
Mt. 19:9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

At last, something we can sink our teeth into. Presumably the "problem" here is that Matthew includes an additional phrase, "except for marital unfaithfulness", not found in Mark.

We can take several approaches here. Some form critics say that the phrase was added to reflect the needs of the early church; and maybe it was, but that by no means requires that Jesus never added that qualification on His own at some point, perhaps in a different context or teaching. Matthew could simply have conflated two of Jesus' separate teachings, which is no crime. But nor are the teachings mutually contradictory: Obviously, if the wife in question has committed marital unfaithfulness, then the marriage contract has been violated, and may be voided. Hence there is no marriage; hence no adultery. Really, it is said by form critics that Matthew had Mark's Gospel in front of him when he wrote; are form critics so silly as to think that Matthew would add something without reasonable basis? (Actually, form critics are that silly sometimes. And if Matthew was written first, and used by Mark, that's another story.)

Matthew, we may also suggest, was spelling out what Luke and Mark leave implicit. The divorce debate in Jewish circles in Jesus' day pitted the followers of Hillel against those of his rival, Shammai. Hillel took a more liberal view, permitting divorce in a variety of circumstances; Shammai, only in the case of adultery. In other words, both sides agreed on the exception which Matthew adds! So, Jesus could certainly have safely presupposed it without any fear of misunderstanding! On to #4 -

4) to preach to Gentiles and Samaritans (Matthew 10:5 vs. Matthew 28:19 and John 4:35-42)

Mt. 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans."
Mt 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
John 4:35-42 is the story of the woman at the well in a Samaritan village, and how because of what Jesus did for her, many Samaritans in that village believed.

Well, we're back to silliness again. Anyone who reads the verses in context will see that the first comes from a SPECIFIC mission where Jesus sent out 70 of his disciples in pairs. Thus the latter two citations are irrelevant; that specific mission was at another time! On to #5 -

5) whether the near approach of the End may be gauged by apocalyptic signs (Luke 17:20-21 vs. Mark 13:28-29)

Luke 17:20-1 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."
Mark 13:28-9 "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.

Jesus is obviously talking about two entirely different things. In the first set of verses, Jesus is NOT referring to the approach of the End. The Pharisees were asking about the Kingdom of God - which, to be sure, may include the End, depending on what they were asking about. But even if they were talking about the End, Jesus' answer deflected them to what was "within them" in terms of the Kingdom - in short, you need to be more concerned about your own state than when the end is coming! The latter verses from Mark do, perhaps, refer to the End and a way to gauge its approach; but I have recently found preference for the view that this is an apocalyptic/poetic reference to the destruction of Jerusalem - more on that, elsewhere. #6 ahead, and it is the last one.

6) whether religious obligations supersede filial duties (Mark 7:9-15 vs. Matthew 8:21-22 and Luke 14:26), etc.

Etc.? I haven't seen the Book of Etc. lately. Old or New Testament? Let's look at the ones we've got names for:

Mark 7:9-13 And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God),then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."
Matthew 8:21-2 Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
Luke 14:26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.

This is almost a no-brainer. There are different religious obligations at issue here - with the Pharisees, it was either support your parents, or get out of supporting them by using Corban. The latter two refer to your comparative dedication to 1) your parents; and 2) Jesus. They do presume the pre-eminence of Jesus and His mission over ANY earthly concern - and incidentally, make a statement which affirms that Jesus claimed divinity (see Tekton 1-2-1).

So much for that. A summary observation, now, is in order. Price has advanced as potential contradictions passages which can be reasonably answered even by most amateur apologists. This is very surprising for a person who alleges to have been "one of us" in a significant way! One is struck by the superficiality of these contradictions and is virtually forced to conclude that Price was NOT a serious apologist at all. Any really knowledgeable apologist would have picked much more difficult ones! Now back to the issue at hand - perhaps...

Critical scholars, whom McDowell judges to be agents of Satan...

! - Agents of Satan!!? Got a quote from Josh on that, Mr. Price? Did he publish a list of card-carrying members of the Demonic Form Critical Society? Or are we perhaps reading The Screwtape Letters and taking them a mite too seriously? This looks suspiciously like Price's pre-skeptical attitude - not Josh's!

...also assume that Jesus was a consistent thinker, but this causes them to try to sift the things Jesus actually may have said from the plainly contradictory sayings later attributed to him by various factions of the early church. Refusing to entertain this approach, McDowell and his colleagues leave us with a Jesus who may be quoted on either side of any debate, as the history of Christian theological disputation has shown again and again.

Or things they THINK the early church invented, based on a pre-conceived ideology of their own! But since Mr. Price's list of "contradictions" from Jesus turned out to be just so much dust, and he provides no specific examples of "theological disputations" (nor demonstrates, for that matter, that Jesus' words were being followed faithfully and honestly by each side in the alleged disputes) - for now at least, the Emperor has no clothes. (He is also begging the question here, assuming that the statements cannot be harmonized - which position would actually require him to treat and dispose of all suggested harmonizations!)

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Return to the Beef: The Trial on Trial

Jesus' trial is the next subject for examination. For our full research on this issue, please see our Tekton article by the above title. All we shall leave here is a few minor comments - for example, this demonstration of a remarkable inability to read clearly. Price complains:

The supposed authority cited here is one "Judge Gaynor, the accomplished jurist of the New York bench" who rules that the real complaint against Jesus at his trial was blasphemy, his "making himself God." Why McDowell thinks a modern New York judge would necessarily have any expertise on the procedures of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin in the first century is beyond me. The level of argumentation here and throughout Evidence That Demands a Verdict is on the same level with that whereby Paul Galey "demands the verdict" that Mr. Kringle is really Santa Claus in the movie Miracle on 34th Street.

Holding a copy of ETDAV in front of me, I find nothing indicating that Gaynor has been granted the status of "Sanhedrin judicial expert" by McDowell. Gaynor is merely said to "take the ground" that blasphemy was the charge, based on what is written in the Gospels. Of course Price would complain about this also, but the point is that McDowell has in no way, shape or form made the sort of assertion about Gaynor that Price suggests. We are rightly led to reflect upon whether this is careless reading by Price, or else an attempt to score points with his audience, or whatever - frankly, I see no explanation that makes Price smell good in this regard.

Here is his closing comment on the trial issue:

Again, my point is that the facts are anything but clear, whereas they would have to be crystal clear to serve McDowell's purpose. You see, scholarly New Testament criticism can afford to live with uncertainties, unable to decide between possible theories. But apologetics demands a verdict. It is not scholarship at all, but propaganda. If you want a secular analogue to apologetics, don't look to the work of historians.

Well, considering that eternal life may be at issue here, I would say that a verdict on one or more of those "theories" one way or the other would be a pretty good idea! But I personally have no problem dealing with uncertainties. Indeed, I am fascinated by the innumerable and divergent opinions of critical scholars, many of whom refute and contradict each other unawares, but between them offer ideas that can be analyzed and synthesized to arrive at a conclusion. Uncertainty, if nothing else, leaves the gap open for whatever you personally might believe, and eliminates grounds for outright rejection of the inerrantist viewpoint.

But further than that, I cannot agree with Price's requirements at all. First, it is CRYSTAL CLEAR what the situation is -- the situation around the trial was complex, confusing, irrational, and subverted! Clarity about confusion (i.e. the political vagaries and interactions surrounding Jesus, Priests, and Pilate) does NOT MEAN we are confused about a clear situation (an oversimplified and na�ve socio-political caricature)! Second, "confusion" over a myriad of details in exegesis is par for the course, whether in exegesis, history, theology, whatever - "crystal clear" is not required at all; just "converging lines of evidence" would be adequate as a "historical detective." Price has placed an impossible standard on the world's back, as unrealistic as it is unwarranted. Third, Price does not seem to be aware of the vast array and spectra of uncertainties that exist in apologetics -- even amateurs know (and admit) the different evidential weight accorded to, say, Tacitus and to Mara Bar Serapion (see Tekton 1-1-1). Price has over-glossed and stereotyped apologists yet again! And the characteristics of propaganda are over-glossing, stereotyping, over-simplifications, vilification of a group of people -- without mention of differences within the spectrum; slurs, and polemical associations (e.g. Khomenei!). If this be case, the reader should be able to decide between Price's piece here, and the writings of evangelical apologists -- as to which fits this description better!

Apologetics builds on the work of historians, as well as literary studies, exegesis, logic, etc. - it is NOT supposed to be pure "history," and technically speaking, apologetics IS a secular thing anyway. It is simply defense of a position -- ANY position -- and it is used by Price in Beyond Born Again; it is used by ecological movements (and most would not consider their passionate arguments to be "propaganda"), and by impassioned secondary groups in our culture. This attempt at "guilt by disassociation" fails due to a strawman view of BOTH apologetics AND history (for much historiographical writing IS apologetic or semi-apologetic in nature)!

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"One" is the Onliest Number

The subject of this section is John 10:30, which we cover in more detail in our Chapter 7 reply. We will address here, however, some of Price's arguments on the matter:

Attention shifts now to a pair of verses in John's Gospel in which Jesus supposedly claims to be equal to God. One is John 10:33, where the enemies of Jesus say he is making himself God. The other is John 5:18, where they say he is making himself equal to God.We see here a good example of a universal tendency in fundamentalist apologetics to take at face value the opinions of the opponents of Jesus in the Gospel of John. I marvel that, of all the voices in the gospel, that of the stone-throwing haters of Jesus should be considered the most fundamental for understanding him! One might as well argue that Jesus was a glutton and an alcoholic (Matthew 11:19) and that he was in league with Beelzebul (Mark 3:22), was a Samaritan and demon-possessed (John 8:48), out of his mind (Mark 3:21), that he proposed offering himself as the main course at a feast for cannibals (John 6:52), that he thought he was physically older than Abraham (John 8:57), that he proposed to rebuild Herod's temple in three days (John 2:20), or that like Superman he had descended bodily from the sky (John 6:42), all examples of what the enemies of Jesus think of him or think he is claiming.

Looking again beyond the childish excess, we see that all of these negative charges represent fundamental misunderstandings of Jesus' purpose and identity - and in the case of the verses from John, a denial of Jesus' identity as God incarnate, presumed to be false, and therefore a blasphemy. It is not the content of the accusations that we accept; it is the character of their response. We exegete their response and polemic, just as we would exegete the response of a Nicodemus or of a Peter. It is not the simple fact that they understood Jesus to be claiming equality with God, it is how they GOT THERE, how Jesus responded, and so on until the end of the passage. It is the interaction as revealing the issues and controversies that we are interested in. (Again, if this were not a claim to divinity being made, and the writer of John had simply created this out of the WHOLE CLOTH without fundamental basis, would not Jewish readers say, "Hey, Jesus isn't claiming to be God there!"? And as for this being the "most fundamental" citation - actually, one of the main issues in Christ's self-understanding is how He meant His claims. The only real way to know how he used the words is to see (1) how He supported his claims (e.g. refs to OT passages, miracles); (2) how He USED these claims in arguments (i.e. 'because He is Lord of the Sabbath'); and (3) how those around Him understood those claims as native users of the language and theological "culture" (i.e. blessing Peter for his insights; authorizing the healed man to "believe" in Him in John 9.36ff). We are not, therefore, dependent on any one leg of this tripod, but linguistic interaction (such as in John 10) can be very, very useful. Accordingly, this passage is not ever remotely the "most fundamental"--the best theological statement is that of Paul's in Philippians 2.

But now, to further analysis on the above by Price:

In every case, surely, the point of the gospel writers is that Jesus' opponents have woefully misunderstood and caricatured him. This is made clear in the case of the John 11 passage from the simply fact that Jesus issues a rejoinder to their accusation that he makes himself God. He does not say, You got that right, folks! Rather he shows how Psalm 82 does not hesitate to apply the very honorific gods to those who were merely readers of scripture, whereas he makes for himself a more modest claim, that, in that he is God's chosen envoy, he can be called God's son. Is not Jesus here presented as correcting the way his hostile hearers misunderstood his language about sonship? McDowell quotes another apologist as saying, Jesus did not try to convince the Jews that they had misunderstood him. But that seems to be precisely what John has him doing in John 10.

The "seems" is incorrect even in context. Regarding the claims that Price selected, first of all:

  • One might as well argue that Jesus was a glutton and an alcoholic (Matthew 11:19) - This was NOT a response to Jesus' words, of course (which would be required for its use by Price in this fashion), but a judgment on Jesus' celebratory lifestyle. As such, it provides us important data about his life--when seen through the semantic content of the polemic!
  • and that he was in league with Beelzebul (Mark 3:22) - This was not a response to His claims either, but this teaches us that His power over spirits was undisputed!
  • was a Samaritan and demon-possessed (John 8:48) - This only shows us that the Jewish response was vitriolic--they knew very well that He was Galilean; this was merely the worst put-down they could think of! After being called "children of the devil..." (!) Not much content here about Jesus, but some about Jewish views of Samaritans!
  • out of his mind (Mark 3:21) - This was not a response to his claims, but we learn that his popularity was unprecedented, and later, that even skeptics can fall in love with Jesus! ;>)
  • that he proposed offering himself as the main course at a feast for cannibals (John 6:52) - THIS is an interesting passage, for it looks like it supports Price's view: Jesus made a claim, the crowd at large (including some labeled as "disciples") misunderstood it, and He did NOT correct them--but let them remain befuddled, he did NOT correct the misunderstanding at all (except later to his remaining disciples), AND allowed the crowd to respond that way in unbelief. So, this bears a little more scrutiny: (1) This looks so much more like the parable-genre than does the passage under discussion in McDowell -- entailing the different treatment of DELIBERATE "misleading" of the parables as judgment on the Nation. This would argue that the two cases are different enough not to inform one another. (2) Jesus simply restates the claim over and over; he does NOT defend it as he does in the John passage--again a huge difference; (3) in the 10.39 passage Jesus explains the 'am one' concept with other images: God's son ; set apart in pre-existence; sent into the world, "I-in-Him-and-Him-in-Me" -- the alternate images would make misunderstanding MUCH MORE difficult to maintain, and the nature of the 'debate' between parties makes it clear that Jesus was attempting to confront them with this fact. He could have dropped the issue after the technical qal wahomer argument, but he kept pressing the issue. (4) In the "cannibal" passage, Jesus uses 'code words' (like in the parables) and DIFFERENT words with the disciples later. In John 10.35ff His words are the SAME KIND that he uses with His disciples in the Upper Room discourse--where understanding WAS the clear objective. The same patterns of language argues for similarity of intent. So I think the case does NOT fit the usage in the John 10 passage at all.
  • that he thought he was physically older than Abraham (John 8:57) -- Jesus confirms this, of course, with one of the "I am" sayings!! He corrects them and points to the spiritual side. This actually argues against Price's position.
  • that he proposed to rebuild Herod's temple in three days (John 2:20) - This looks like another parabolic statement, in which he ALLOWED misunderstanding -- although it is hugely typological in content!
  • or that like Superman he had descended bodily from the sky (John 6:42) -- Price is merely adding the bodily and DC Comics images for "special effects." Jesus, in the same passage also used by Price (cannibalism) makes this rather clear statement of heavenly origin--this time to the larger group of disciples (some who leave at this point). This statement does not look parabolic, nor intended for the wider crowd. I don t see any reason to believe the disciples misunderstood this reference.
  • all examples of what the enemies of Jesus think of him or think he is claiming. -- SO, each of these examples do not fit the same pattern as 10.39 et. al. They either (1) focus on Jewish slander of Jesus behavior; or (2) fit the parabolic-genre with its deliberate 'misunderstanding' side-intent. Price apparently notices this, for his final clause recognizes a difference between what they "think of him" or what they "think he is claiming"--their reflective thoughts about Jesus, OR their linguistic interaction with the Master.

Finally, notice that in John 10:39, the would-be stoners don't accept the "explanation" as a backpedal, but as an affirmation - they try to seize Jesus again! Again, we discuss this issue further in our Ch. 7 reply, where Jim Perry also refers to John 10:30.

We should recall, in addition, that it was not only the opponents, but also His followers that misunderstood -- indeed, so much of Jesus' ministry was aimed at crafting a correct view of the Kingdom and King! But this argues against Price. If someone describes themselves as earlier being confused about Jesus, then there is an implicit assumption that they are now better-informed! (And on the other hand, the landscape is not quite that bleak -- we have notable confessions by normal folk--Nathaniel, John the Baptist, Peter, Mary, the Samaritan woman, various healed people and worshippers-that show that His claims were not THAT unintelligible!)

Price then jumps into an excessive exposition allegedly demonstrating a dramatically increasing tendency for Jesus to call God 'Father' as we move from earlier to later gospel source documents. He writes that In Mark we find but 3 instances, 4 in Q, 4 in the material peculiar to Luke. In the uniquely Matthean material we suddenly jump to 31, and John is practically off the scale at 100! This analysis, however, rests on the dubious form-critical presumptions that Q existed as an actual document; that Mark was the first Gospel, and that John was written much later than the others. Moreover:

  • EVEN IF these layers and statistics could be substantiated, it would not mean anything, especially as the alleged documents get smaller and smaller in volume! As they get smaller, the probability that the statistical percentage of historical usages of the word "Father" by Jesus is PERFECTLY MAINTAINED pro-rata(!) in the textual base DECREASES! In other words, if Jesus used the word "Father" to refer to God exactly 5,000 out of 50,000 times in referring to God (10%) then WHY would we require Mark or Q or Luke or ANYONE to makes sure the "Jesus" in the narrative stories used the exact SAME ratio of 10%? Given their literary selectivity of what stories, what detail, when to summarize, etc., it would be irrational to argue that since Jesus used Father X number of times in Mark, that He used Father THE SAME RATIO OVER HIS ENTIRE EARTHLY LIFESPAN! Percentages within a document only tip us off to the writers intentions--NOT actual statistical usages in larger chunks of history!
  • Even on that account, however, the method of counting here rather skews things! If we count the number of pericopes in which Jesus calls God "Father," we get a rather different impression! For example, of those 100 times in John, approximately forty-five of those appear in the extended prayer/discourse of Jesus from John 14:1-17:26; at least 14 of those "Father" cites are found in John 5:16-47, and 10 of them in 6:25-71, each of which is an independent unit - so that, by the time you do this kind of compression, you find about 14-15 instances each in Matthew and John (as a whole) where Jesus used the term! The data, then, only appears as formidable as it does because of the way it was counted! (I would also add that whatever "problems" there may be here will drop in Price's lap if John is the earliest and most primitive Gospel, as some have suggested.)
  • All increasing usages of "father" could possibly tell us, then, was (1) of the increasingly larger number of verses (!) or (2) selective reporting and emphasis to highlight an aspect of Jesus life and/or the evangelist's intention, which essentially mutes the entire objection. Lexical data like this is really a weak argument generally, especially when dealing with hypothetical documents that are sometimes arrived at by the same lexical data (i.e., early versions of JEDP, or Q!).
  • Finally, even Price's source for this data, Joachim Jeremias [JJ.CMNT, 22-3] does not take this data to mean that Jesus did not use the term to refer to God, just that He used it only when speaking to His disciples - which means that Price's source for this information radically disagrees with his own conclusion that:
...The massive later use of this language makes the nature of it clear even in those strata of the gospel tradition where its presence is more modest: it is theological language about Jesus only subsequently placed in his own mouth. I ask any apologist to be honest with himself: wouldn't you really find this the most natural way to read the evidence if you weren't just trying to get out of a tight spot?

In a word: No. Form criticism, in its most radical incarnations, is pebbled with weasel-reasoning, special pleading, and arbitrary criteria, and is, again, based on the presumed existence of documents like Q for which we have no direct evidence, and violates sensible rules of literature in a way that would have English and literature professors around the world collapsing in fits of laughter. This is not to say that it is ALL bad; nor is it meant to impugn those who use it with the best of motives, like Jeremias did - I am primarily condemning Amazing Ginsu Form Criticism Applicators like Burton Mack. The various types of Biblical criticism offer us many useful insights, but all too often treat the Bible like an animal being subject to vivisection, allowing speculation and numbers of sources to grow to the point of absurdity as ever-newer and more radical theories are propounded, and treating books of the Bible in ways that no one would dare treat any other work of literature. This idea by Price is virtually absurd, and exemplary of the worst incarnations of form criticism! Higher incidences of specific word choices in allegedly "later" literature does not "make the nature of it clear" at all! It is much more natural to read the evidence (if we grant it) that its later popularity was due to its truthfulness, usefulness, or ability to explicate the mystery of Jesus better than "rival" terms -- present popularity does NOT imply anachronistic efforts by editors at all! But in fact, the most "natural way to read the evidence" is AS IT STANDS IN THE GOSPELS! The weird, contorted, and non-consensus vivisection of the virtually "seamless robe" of the gospel texts (increasingly authenticated as whole literary units by redaction and literary criticism nowadays) is as unnatural as you can get. Again, we have NO textual data to support division; we have no examples of Sayings-sources; we have NO evidence of early textual modifications; no original or later copies of Q to pass around the academic community! It is only when a critic tries to "get out of a tight spot" that wild theories of sources and warring factions, etc. -- rivaling the elegant theories of epi-cycles(!) -- get created, to avoid the natural reading of the gospels that confront us with a category-busting God-man! By the simple law of parsimony--what Price is trying to use here--the gospels should be taken as they occur first in the manuscript history: as the holistic literary products that they are!

Price continues with some attacks on modern Bible translations that allegedly attribute more claims to divinity by Jesus than are found in the original texts:

...the fundamentalist Targum variously marketed as The Living Bible, The Way, Reach Out, The Book, etc., shows a number of instances where paraphraser Ken Taylor apparently thought Jesus was being a bit too coy about his own messianic claims. Taylor regularly substitutes for the Son of Man phrases like the Man from Heaven or the Messiah. He even makes Jesus say, I am the Messiah in John 4:26! By contrast, in the Greek text of the gospels, or even in a straight English translation like the New American Standard Bible, there is no such explicit self-identification.

Since many scholars, including some non-Christians (such as David Flusser), believe that "Son of Man" and "Messiah" ARE the same, and would merely be equivalent to "Man from Heaven," the LIV at that point is merely mirroring one branch of critical scholarship - a non-fundie, non-Christian branch, we would add! - as is its right and prerogative. As for John 4:26, I don't have the NASB handy, but let's look at the NRSV:

John 4:25-6 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

This is not an explicit self-identification? Let's rework this a bit:

Hesitations 4:25-6 The woman said to him, "I know that the plumber is coming" (who is called Bob). "When he comes, he will fix my pipes." The man said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

So is the man in question saying that he is the plumber, or isn't he? It certainly seems explicit enough that he is! True enough, as we indicate elsewhere, to have outright said, "I am the Christ/God/Messiah" would (according to some theorists) have been unacceptable within the socio-historical constraints of first-century Judaism, not to mention confusing; but a subtly explicit proclamation as in John 4 would certainly have held water, and also would have fit in nicely with the theological motif of God confirming others' witness to Him. God is rather interested in us "SAYING IT OURSELVES" instead of us somehow simply "nodding" when He says it! (Some have also pointed out that in Samaria, where expectations of the Messiah were not so politically-oriented and were more teacher-oriented, Jesus could afford to be a little less "coy" about His proclamations!)

Apologists love to quote John 10:30 as a clear declaration by Jesus of his faith in Chalcedonian Christology: I and the Father are one.If Jesus (or, as I should think, the evangelist) so clearly and unambiguously, conveyed by these words the Christological orthodoxy of the fourth and fifth centuries, it is hard to explain why it took so many centuries of debate for the churches to settle these very issues!

Why? Because there were discussions of WHEN and HOW Jesus and the Father were one, and numerous (and inevitable) attempts to syncretize favorite, cherished, yet obviously incompatible views with the Christian belief system! This is simply another false dichotomy and stereotypical argument of Price. Evangelicals KNOW all about theological development in BOTH Testaments(!); we do NOT have a problem with this! We use biblical theology to "unpack" a text, and we watch the developmental revelation and refinement in the biblical text--as we are given historical markers therein. We do not have to postulate a history of "invisible" textual development; we have enough data from the text itself to date transitional and formative events/disclosures (e.g. the New Covenant in Jeremiah; the Forerunner in Malachi). Anyone who argues dogmatically that the substrate or elements of Chalcedonian theology CANNOT IN ANY WAY be present in the words of Jesus is simply barking an assertion without demonstrating its worth or warrant! Besides, the classic (and perfectly "Jewish") argument by Jesus in Matt. 22:41 is a perfect example of an argument TOO CLEVER for the later church to have invented(!), yet it survives as a perfectly indigenous Jewish theological problem in the OT!

I am about to willfully ignore, for now, a substantial portion of Price's essay that harps on and on about possible interpretations and various heresies throughout church history. Since many of these heresies were late inventions, and so obviously play games of "cross out the verses you don't like," it seems ridiculous to ask (as Price does implicitly, though perhaps unwittingly) why they cannot be proper interpretations of the claims of Jesus. It is painfully obvious that they cannot be. (For more on this, see Tekton 2-1-1 on canonicity.)

McDowell quotes A.T. Robertson in an amazing attempt, worthy of Paul in Galatians 3:16, to squeeze Christology out of a lexical stone. One: Neuter, no[t] masculine. Not one person (cf. in Gal. 3:28), but one essence or nature.

We refer to this argument in our Ch. 7 reply. At this point, I will also bypass all claims to divinity in the Gospel of John - simply for the sake of argument - as I have done in the Ch. 7 reply. We will also ignore (for now) Price's simplistic and uninformed claim that the Gospel of John contains radical stylistic and theological differences from the Synoptics - especially as he refuses to name even one such difference and show its significance and lack of compatibility! However, we plan to look at that issue in more detail in the future.

Before one parrots the ludicrous dictum of C.S. Lewis that the Johannine discourses bear no resemblance to ancient, non-historical genres, one owes it to oneself to read the Gnostic and Mandaean revelation soliloquies abundantly quoted in Bultmann's commentary on John, something I rather doubt any apologists take the trouble to do.

Allow me to allay your doubts, Mr. Price. I have indeed read said soliloquies - and that fact that you perceive these as casting doubt on Lewis's analysis merely demonstrates why it was so necessary for Lewis to "pull rank" as a literary critic (as you complain in Beyond Born Again) - like Bultmann, Price has no literary sense whatsoever; and like Lewis, we are obliged to wonder how much mythical material Bultmann himself read before coming to his outrageous conclusions, and whether Price has the literary wherewithal to draw his own conclusions. Judging from his poor attempts in BBA to compare various Gospel texts to those drawn from mythology, Mr. Price is severely lacking in the talent of literary analysis. This is the subject of an appendix attached to this chapter; suffice to say for now, that the closest literary parallels in the Bible to the Gnostic and Mandean revelation soliloquies is found in the Psalter - not in the Gospel of John. The highly mystical character of the soliloquies, the patterning, and tone, are quite unlike the historical genres - just as Lewis surmised.

But even beyond literary grounds, Price's position has a number of problems. Research since about 1940 has had a new and broader base through the texts published by Lady Drower, and as a result of the beginnings of differentiation of strata within the Mandean texts, scholarship has reached the common opinion that the Mandaean religion, or at least its roots, belongs in spatial and temporal proximity to primitive Christianity and either developed out of gnosticizing Judaism or at any rate engaged in polemical exchange with a syncretistic Judaism. Simply put, John could not have been influenced by the preserved Mandaean writings, so that there is no question of John's ties with Mandaean or even proto-Mandaean circles. But the often-observed similarity cited by Price of John to the Mandaean concepts actually points to the conclusion that the Mandaean writings are late, deformed witnesses for a Jewish Gnosticism which was formed on the edge of Judaism and which is assumed to be the intellectual background of John. A careful interpretation of John shows that he utilized, in an emphatically anti-Gnostic way, the Gnostic language take over by him (cf. 1.14; 3.16; 17.15; 20.20).

Or, as one set of authors puts it:

Quite apart from considerations of dating (all but the first of these are attested by sources that come from the second or third century or later), the conceptual differences between John and these documents are very substantial. Moreover, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 and their subsequent publication has show that the closest religious movement to the fourth gospel, in terms of vocabulary at least, was an extremely conservative hermetic Jewish community...Whatever parallels can be drawn, it is now virtually undisputed that both John and these movements (other specifically Palestinian movements) drew their primary inspiration from what we today call the Old Testament Scriptures...
Words such as light, darkness, life, death, spirit, word, love, believing, water, bread, clean, birth, and children of God can be found in almost any religion. Frequently they have very different referents as one moves from religion to religion, but the vocabulary is a popular as religion itself. Nowhere, perhaps, has the importance of this phenomenon been more clearly set forth than in a little-known essay by Kysar. He compares the studies of Dodd and Bultmann on the prologue (John 1:1-18), noting in particular the list of possible parallels each of the two scholars draws up to every conceivable phrase in those verses. Dodd and Bultmann each advance over three hundred parallels, but the overlap in the lists is only 7 percent. The dangers of what Sandmel calls parallelomania become depressingly obvious. [INT.CMM, 159-60]

Finally, I would like to add that it is an interesting commentary on how seemingly oddly out of touch Price is with modern scholarship, if he is still using Bultmann on this topic!

Continuing with Price:

However, the hydra-head of heresy, thus momentarily raised up, sinks back into the abyss as soon as we read on, for John's Jesus, as if sensing the need to prevent apologist and Patripassian alike from going astray (not that it did any good in the long run!), immediately qualifies his statement (and thus renders it uselessly vague for Christology): Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words which I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me. Paul says the same sort of thing of every believer, and no one thinks it implies that all believers are incarnations of God.

How about a cite from Paul, there, Mr. Price? Presumably you mean the "Christ-in-you, you-in-Christ" passages, but I would hate to be presumptuous. :) In any event, let's talk about Patripassianism for a moment. It is also called monarchianism, and Sabellianism. This heresy first appeared in 190 AD and was advocated by Theodore of Byzantium; it was later taken up in the 3rd century by Sabellius - hence the latter name. This heresy rejected the idea of the Trinity, and regarded Jesus as a mere man endowed with the Holy Spirit.

Patripassianism is actually rather easily countermanded. First, it is so late (190 AD!) that it obviously cannot reflect the teaching of Jesus or the Apostles. Second, it cites the verses cited above - John 14:10-11, by the way - as though they existed alone, and ignores John 10:30. And this is how heresies get their start: somebody emphasizes one part of the Bible and excludes another in order to get the desired, often predetermined result. By themselves, verses 14:10-11 could support either the Athanasian or the Sabellian creed. In the total context of John, indeed the whole of the Bible itself, the latter application is impossible.

We now come to a place where a large block of material has been moved to Chapter 7; here are the remnants of that discussion which remain relevant to Chapter 6:

Much is made both by apologists and by pious New Testament critics like Joachim Jeremias (whom, for his other opinions, despite his tender piety, McDowell would see as roasting in Gehenna)...

I pause here for a moment in order to consider the disturbing nature of this particular polemic - and will assume first person for a moment.

Mr. Price, unless you are able to produce a direct quote from McDowell, viz. "Joachiam Jeremias is roasting in Gehenna because of his opinions," along with a catalog of the opinions in question, then quite frankly, you have no business whatsoever making such an irrational, and truthfully, idiotic, statement such as the above. You know well enough, first of all, having those degrees in New Testament and Systematic Theology, that by Christian belief, "piety" earns no one a place in heaven; salvation is achieved by faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by works.

As it is, having read the Jeremias book under discussion here [JJ.CMNT], and others, I see no reason to say one way or the other where Jeremias is presently spending eternity. If he believes what he taught in the books I have seen, then I expect I shall see him again as a brother in Christ. That he held to unjustifiable opinions re: form criticism and the like would be quite beside the point; he took extremists on both sides equally to task.

It must be said here, in complete honesty and with a heavy heart (as we show now in Ch. 7), that Mr. Price does not accurately report Jeremias' information, but rather twists Jeremias' data for his own purposes. This is part of a continuing process where Price has shown a lack of in-depth knowledge of the apologetic position, of the exegetical options about the key texts, and about the changes in NT scholarship over the past 20 years. This lack of understanding of Jeremias in particular fits into a disturbing pattern of lack of attention to detail, or even an inability to understand the issues of the discussion. We would have hoped that he has merely been careless in his use of his sources; but his continuing practices in this regard make the only other alternative, that he has been deceptive and dishonest, even more likely. Either way, this, along with his evident bitterness, tells us volumes about his level of scholarship and integrity.

...we have to ask how Mark could have known what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, since Mark has taken care explicitly to eliminate any witnesses from the scene. As Jesus prays he is far enough away from even the three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, not to know that they are asleep till he returns to where they await him, and the other eight are even further away. Mark knows what Jesus prayed in Gethsemane because he made it up. He is the typical omniscient narrator of a piece of fiction.

Read the Gospels carefully: Jesus is said to have gone...

"a little farther" (Mark 14:35; Matt. 26:39)

"about a stone's throw beyond them" (Luke 22:41)

...before praying. Now unless we have an Olympic champion stone-thrower to deal with, none of these implies that Jesus went beyond hearing distance. Nor do any of the Gospels report hearing and observation of anything that the disciples could not have seen and heard before falling asleep. The "one hour" comment certainly allows for a ton of room for listening/watching disciples, and it is ridiculous to assume that in the first MINUTE of that hour after the command of Jesus the disciples went straight to sleep! They would have struggled to stay awake--but would have eventually fallen asleep due to sadness; and in each of the three incidences of prayer, there would have been period of alertness/attention prior to be yet again overcome with fatigue, allowing time for observation and overhearing. And indeed, if Mark is being the "omniscient narrator" here, why didn't he invent something more useful for apologetics purposes, like a long speech by Jesus against His would-be tormentors? Why make Jesus look so "weak"? (The doubt and plea-to-evade are precious to Christians, but they are not the stuff of legends!) Truthfully, the fact that we are not given an extended account of Jesus' prayers in the Garden is in and of itself an indication that we have been given a valid, eyewitness account of what the disciples did see and hear that painful night. Finally, Luke 22:44 seems to indicate that Jesus' prayer might have been quite LOUD! Price has once again leveled the richness of history onto a two-dimensional surface!

The ride is nearly ended. Here, shockingly, is Price's conclusion to the matter:

Virtually all the rest of McDowell's sixth chapter is taken up with defending what no one challenges: that various New Testament writers believed Jesus Christ was a heavenly being come to earth. That McDowell can for a moment imagine that such scripture prooftexting even begins to address the objections of nonbelievers shows once again that he really has no intention of engaging them. He is simply a cheer-leader for fundamentalism, preaching to the choir.

And that Price can dismiss so abruptly what remains in the sixth chapter of McDowell's is a sad commentary indeed. The rest of the chapter INCLUDES the Son of Man title, and Jesus' presumption to forgive sins - elements of Jesus self-understanding, not expressions of beliefs by others! These, we will cover elsewhere. "Virtually all.."?

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Bottom Line

Jeff Lowder would have done far better by not including Price's essay in his collection. It is over one-half rhetoric by substance, and it does not treat the most important of Jesus' claims to divinity. Price uses less than a dozen sources for his essay, and he can't even read the Bible clearly; worse than that, he even misreports his sources - and these are habits that have CONTINUED to be manifested in his later material! But this, apparently, concerns Jeff Lowder and his crew not a whit - and tells us a great deal about his priorities in this arena.

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Sources
  1. INT.CMM - Carson, D.A., Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.
  2. JGD.EJ - Dunn, James G. D. The Evidence for Jesus. Louisville: Westminster, 1985.
  3. RF.FNC - Fuller, Reginald. The Foundations of New Testament Christology. New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1965.
  4. JH.MG - Hick, John, ed. The Myth of God Incarnate. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977.
  5. JJ.CMNT - Jeremias, Joachim. The Central Message of the New Testament. New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1965.
  6. JJ.NTT - Jeremias, Joachim. New Testament Theology. New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1971.
  7. LM.FBC - MacDonald, Lee M. The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995.
  8. JCO.WD - O'Neill, J. C. Who Did Jesus Think He Was? London: E. J. Brill, 1995.
  9. HS.PP - Schonfield, Hugh. The Passover Plot. Shaftesbury: Element, 1965.
  10. BW.JQ - Witherington, Ben. The Jesus Quest. Downers Grove: IVP, 1995.
  11. NT.WWJ - Wright, N. T. Who Was Jesus? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.

Special thanks go out to Glenn Miller for his extensive contributions to this essay, including large sections of comments which I have incorporated without significant alteration. Thanks, big guy!

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Appendix: Driving Without a Literary License

I have said in a few places that many Bible critics - mostly of the liberal and skeptical stripe, but conservatives are not immune - make statements about the Bible that would cause them to be laughed out of court if judged on their literary merits. The JEDP theory, many "Q"-related theorems, and so on, are examples of the type of speculation that non-literary sorts engage in, hardly realizing that from a literary standpoint, their ideas are outrageous. Robert Price, regrettably, is one of those sorts of critics, and I shall herein demonstrate using selections from his mess-of-pottage manifesto, Beyond Born Again.

Let us begin with the examples. In his chapter on the Resurrection, Price appeals thusly, attempting to show that the gospels are legendary in character:

Stories of the physical reappearance of Jesus to comfort or command his followers would also fit into this pattern. Ovid records this appearance of Romulus, after he had ascended from the battlefield.
Proculus Julius was coming from the Alba Longa; the moon was shining, he was not using a torch. Suddenly the hedges on the left shook and moved. He shrank back and his hair stood on end. Beautiful and more than human and clothed in a sacred robe, Romulus was seen, standing in the middle of the road. He said, "Stop the (Romans) from their mourning; do not let them violate my divinity with their tears; order the pious crowd to bring incense and worship the new [god] Quirinus."... He gave the oder and he vanished into the upper world from before Julius' eyes."

There would be many problems with comparing this to the accounts of the appearances of Jesus: Single vs. many appearances; extremely short vs. extended duration; number of people appeared to; the lack of tactile contact (i.e., Jesus encouraging the disciples to touch His hands and side, etc.). But let us turn to the matter of purely literary comparison: It is only by colossal literary misapprehension that Price can assert that this text is "strikingly reminiscent of the gospel accounts." This account is pebbled with over-descriptions that drop hints that the author is not recounting an eyewitness event: The bits about the hair standing on end, the superlative description of Romulus. These are not the characteristics of "straight reporting," and are the sort of thing that is quite lacking in the Gospels.

Here is another attempt by Price, using material concerning Apollonius (see Tekton section 4):

This young boy would never agree to the immortality of the soul. "I, my friends, am completing the tenth month of praying to Apollonius to reveal to me the nature of the soul. But he is completely dead so as never to respond to my begging, nor will I believe he is not dead." Such were the things he said then, but on the fifth day after that they were busy with these things and he suddenly fell into a deep sleep right where he had been talking.... he, as if insane, suddenly leaped to his feet... and cried out, "I believe you!" When those present asked him what was wrong, he said "Do you not see Apollonius the sage, how he stands here among us, listening to the argument and singing wonderful verses concerning the soul?... He came to discuss with me alone concerning the things which I would not believe."

There are many problems with the comparison, too, not the least of which are the sort we have mentioned in Tekton. But on a strictly literary basis, we again see over-description: The intense emphasis on the boy's actions ("as if insane"); the boy's enthusiasm. This, again, is the character of fiction.

Price's next attempt is a little more detailed. He writes:

Montgomery, Stott, Lewis, and others point to the "vivd detail" in the narratives as proof of eyewitness authorship. A favorite text adduced in this regard is John 20:3-8, "[an] eyewitness account in a vivid, yet restrained, passage [which]... records the visit of Peter and John to the tomb"(Anderson). "The account [John] gives of this incident... bears unmistakable marks of first-hand experience."

To help out here, let's look at the passage (NIV), which Price does not offer in comparison:

John 20:3-8 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

Price then says, "I invite the reader to open his New Testament to this text and compare it to a passage from Chariton's Chaireas and Kalliroe, a fiction novel written probably in the first century B. C. It concerns a girl, mistakenly entombed alive, who has been removed by grave robbers." Very well: Let us do so -

Chaireas was guarding and toward dawn he approached the tomb.... When he came close, however, he found the stones moved away and the entrance open. He looked in and was shocked, seized by a great perplexity at what had happened. Rumor made an immediate report to the Syracusans about the miracles. All then ran to the tomb; no one dared to enter until Hermocrates ordered it. One was sent in and he reported everything accurately. It seemed incredible-- the dead girl was not there.... [When Chaireas] searched the tomb he was able to find nothing. Many came in after him, disbelieving. Amazement seized everyone, and some said as they stood there: "The shroud has been stripped off, this is the work of grave robbers; but where is the body?"

From this, Price concludes:

I am not suggesting that John or the other evangelists used this novel as a source. I mean only to show that vivid descriptions of empty tombs and abandoned graveclothes prove nothing about "eyewitness authorship" since we find them also in an admitted work of fiction.

Once again, however, Price's manifest inexperience in literary matters shines through. Vivid descriptions are one thing, and by themselves are indeed evidence of eyewitness testimony; but when paired with certain literary devices - which, again, are absent in the Gospels - they tell us something quite different! The over-emphasis on Chaireas' mood (not just "shocked," but also "seized by a great perplexity") is a literary device designed to build up suspense in the reader; so is the inserted phrase, "It seemed incredible," supplemented by the emphasis that nothing was found. In contrast, John offers no such words. If John had been reporting a fiction, here is what we would expect the passage to look like:

Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, running as the wind would blow; but the other disciple's exuberance was the greater, so he outran Peter, and it was he who reached the tomb first. He bent over, his heart pounding in his breast - what had happened? He looked in at the strips of linen lying there, but fear overtook him, and he did not go in. Finally Simon Peter, who had been behind him all this time, arrived and went into the tomb, pushing his bedeviled counterpart to the side. He, too, saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. "There is no body here!" Peter cried aloud; "What have they done? Or could this be that which our Master foretold, that He has been raised again on the third day?" At first his companion could not believe; but finally, he also went inside, and saw what Peter did. His eyes started from his head; and he found himself unable to deny it: "Yes, Peter, it has happened, just as the Teacher said. He has been raised from the dead!"

A final example will suffice, one in which Price takes the offensive for a bit. He writes:

Sometimes a biblical story may simply read like a legend. We feel we are no longer on terra firma. Of course this is subjective, but not completely so. In fact those who defend the complete historical veracity of the gospels often appeal to just such a subjective judgment by C. S. Lewis who "pulled rank" as a literary critic.

He then quotes Lewis:

If he [the biblical critic] tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour... I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, myths, all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this [i.e., like John 7:53-8:11].

This, I believe, is the "ludicrous dictum" that Price refers to earlier in this chapter - and while he may regard Lewis' judgment as "subjective," he does so as one who is obviously less than competent in literary matters, as is amply demonstrated by his next appeal:

But how about the gospel tale of the coin in the fish's mouth (Matthew 17:24-27)? Not only may it strike the palate as decidedly legendary in flavor, but one may even compare it to another of the same vintage...

Once again, Price fails to provide a copy of the NT quote in question, so let us look at it:

Matthew 17:24-7 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes--from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

If this strikes Price's palate as "legendary in flavor," then he needs to adjust his seasonings! A legend would have something outrageous, like Peter or Jesus striking the tax collectors blind (cf. - the infancy gospels!), or the fish spitting the coin at Peter. As it is, we aren't even given the punch line of Peter catching the fish! Aside from the providential miracle, there is nothing extraordinary or fictional here - either factually or in a literary view! (There are even types of fish that will swallow bright objects like coins.) On the other hand, let's look at this story, which Price regards as being of the same "vintage":

Joseph-who-honors-the-Sabbath had in his vicinity a certain Gentile who owned much property. Soothsayers told him, "Joseph-who-honors-the-Sabbath will consume all your property." So he went, sold all his property, and bought a precious stone with the proceeds, which he set in his turban. As he was crossing a bridge the wind blew it off and cast it into the water, and a fish swallowed it. [Subsequently] it [the fish] was hauled up and brought [to market] on the Sabbath eve towards sunset. "Who will buy now?" cried they. "Go and take them to Joseph-who-honors-the-Sabbath," they were told, "as he is accustomed to buy." So they took it to him. He bought it, opened it, found the jewel therein, and sold it for thirteen roomfuls of gold denarii. A certain old man met him and said, "He who lends to the Sabbath, the Sabbath repays him." (B. Shabbath, 119a)

More than any other passage used by Price so far, this one is loaded with clues that scream, "Fiction!" A character named "Joseph-who-honors-the-Sabbath;" an unnamed yet wealthy Gentile antagonist who is for no obvious reason afraid of Joe Sabbath, and gets what he deserves (hint: he is archetypal); a jewel worth 13 roomfuls of gold; an unnamed old man who just happens to come in out of nowhere and say the right thing at the right time...this, my friends, is the stuff of legends, and it is to Price's detriment that he is unable to recognize the difference!

But now let us look in the other direction - at Bible accounts that Price suggests have legendary elements, and why he suggests that they do. Again, from his book:

If when we compare two versions of a story, the second known to be a retelling of the first, and find that the second has more of a miraculous element, we may reasonably conclude we have legendary (or midrashic or whatever) embellishment. The tale has grown in the telling. This sort of comparison is common in extrabiblical research and no one holds that it cannot properly indicate legend formation there. [35]

Let me state, first of all, that the sources cited by Price in his footnote are NOT by literary scholars, and so are no more qualified to make such judgments than Price is. The judgment in question involves a host of assumptions: Which of the two stories is indeed later; the genre of the stories; internal clues (tone, style, etc.) - in short, it is rather more complicated than Price and his cohorts imagine. But now to the specific example used by Price:

...let us suppose that Mark's account of Jesus walking on the sea (Mark 6:45-51) is an accurate account of a real event. When we read Matthew's retelling of the incident (Matthew 14:22-23) suddenly it seems that Peter, too, walked on the waves. It is hard to imagine that if this really happened Mark could possibly have omitted it. On the other hand, Matthew's motivation for expanding the story is not far to seek: Peter functions as the prototype of all disciples. When he takes his eyes off Jesus, he begins to sink. Even so, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

This crude sort of literary pscyhoanalysis is rather laughable, and grants Matthew a degree of literary sophistication that borders on the conspiratorial! And this is another matter: Skeptics must ascribe a level of literary, artistic, and theological genius to the evangelists that is incredible - they were not eyewitnesses, but were clever enough to design their accounts as though they were; they created theological motifs that were astounding to the most subtle degree (hello, Burton Mack?) - a veritable Passover Plot! But to the specific: What of Price's claim that, "It is hard to imagine that if this really happened Mark could possibly have omitted it."? Oh, really? If Peter was the mind behind Mark, then I think it is quite understandable why it was omitted - Peter did not want to draw attention to himself and away from his Lord! Imagine Peter preaching and telling the story as Matthew has it - what would happen? "Whoa, Peter! YOU walked on water??? Can you do it for us HERE?" To tell this story as Matthew has it would run against Peter's grain as a humble fisherman. But Matthew was under no such constraints.

Price also applies this analysis elsewhere:

  • "...to Matthew's detachment of guards at the tomb." Why should only Matthew mention the guards? Because he is writing to his fellow Jews, and addressing a peculiarly Jewish rumor on the subject. There is no need for the other evangelists to address the matter. Their apologetic for the resurrection is based on seeing the resurrected Jesus and the empty tomb - not against rumors of grave robbery. Indeed, if the other evangelists mentioned it to their audiences, who were previously unaware of it, it might just raise the suspicion that they WERE trying to cover up something!
  • "...Luke's story of Jesus restoring Malchus's severed ear in the garden both unknown in Mark's earlier version, the source of Matthew and Luke." We have here, of course, the assumption that Mark is indeed the source of the story, but this is by no means a certainty. I frankly cannot see, though, why Price thinks that Matthew and Mark should have made light of this particular healing, and he does not explain why.

On to Price's next sample:

...though we believe miracles can and do happen, we might find certain conceptual or chronological problems in a particular story that would lead us to classify It as a legend. One example might be the feeding of the four thousand with seven loaves (Mark 8:1-9). Let us assume that the previously told miraculous feeding of the five thousand with five loaves (Mark 6:35-44)actually occurred. This makes it not less difficult but more to believe that it happened again as recorded in chapter 8, because each time the disciples are said to be equally astonished when Jesus announces his intention to feed the vast crowd. One can understand the disciples astonishment the first time, but the second? How dense can they have been? The suggestion is attractive that one of these stories is simply a second version of the other, with a few details and numbers altered.

One wonders why, if Price thinks that Mark was dense enough to do something like THIS, why he can not think that the disciples would have been too dense too realize immediately that Jesus could pull off the same sort of miracle twice! But there is no need to even go that far. The disciples' astonishment is indeed apparent in the first story, where they are said to remark (collectively) on the prohibitive cost of feeding the crowd (6:37). But there is little sense of astonishment in the second story, where they only remark (again, collectively) on the remoteness of the location (8:4) - an understandable initial reaction, even if you have seen it done before! But truly, there is much more happening here. In both cases, we have an intentional literary device designed to let Jesus move the story. The disciples are not individuals, but a collective, a dumb block that plays straight man to Jesus. Their replies are not to be taken as ipsissima verba, nor even necessarily as vox.

Price then steps backwards in time for a look at the OT:

An Old Testament example of a miracle story whose conceptual difficulties imply its legendary character is that of Samson's killing of the thousand Philistine soldiers with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:14-17). Are we to imagine the thousand Philistines lining up to be killed one by one? No one, no matter how supernaturally strong, could resist and overcome the simultaneous onslaught of a thousand men. The same difficulty occurs in the case of the seventy men of Bethshemesh who dared peer inside the Ark of the Covenant and died (1 Samuel 6:19-21): how many could have looked inside at once? Did the rest clear away their fellows corpses and then take their turn to look, knowing the same fate must await them? In the case of the Samson story, there is even more reason to believe we have a legend. It concludes with the note "and that place was called Ramath-lehi," that is "the Hill of the Jawbone," a name easily understood as originally deriving from the topography of the place, but here reinterpreted with the aid of an exciting etymological legend. No one is saying that God could not miraculously endow someone with superhuman power (or that he could not miraculously destroy those who look at forbidden things) but the difficulties of the stories as stories properly lead us to doubt that God did these things as reported in Judges and II Samuel.

In a few words: No, they do not. Price is, like many of his colleagues, creating a cardboard-cutout of history which does not do justice to the stories being told. Where are we told that "the thousand Philistines lined up to be killed one by one" or that Samson "overcame the simultaneous onslaught of a thousand men"? This is not what we are told happened in either case. We are told that a thousand men were killed - period. Now aside from the possibility that there is a scribal error of the sort we often find in the OT where numbers are concerned that increased the number form 100 to 1000 (some manuscripts say that 50,070 were killed in the Ark incident!), how does Price know that no amount of strength would suffice? Has he been through something like this before? Who says that the Philistines attacked all at once? How could they? No more than 5 or 6 could get licks in at a time, for you can only fit so many people in so much space! Where does it even say that all 1,000 were there at the first instant? Where does it say that they were soldiers? There is simply not enough data to dismiss this story out of hand.

Price shows no more evidence of critical thinking with the second example. No one thinks that all 70 men looked inside at the same time, or that they lined up to take their lumps! No, the 70 were more likely to have been a like-minded group of people who decided to get together and look inside the ark in turn, ONCE it was opened - and so they gathered around like any curious crowd, maybe drawing lots to see who would go first, while the ringleaders opened the Ark. And then - well, we know the rest of the story. Peeking in the Ark of the Covenant is bad news, as even smart Nazis know!

The net of this is:

  • The Bible accounts we have examined do NOT have the literary characteristics of legends. The skeptic will have to insist that some sort of "literary conspiracy" was at work to make these accounts LOOK LIKE they are genuine - and that involves an entirely different set of problems!
  • If Price wishes to usurp the place of Lewis and other literary critics, then he needs to show a far greater degree of sensitivity for the techniques involved in literary criticism. From the present evidence, he is manifestly unqualified to make such judgments.


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