By Whose Authority

Jared is fond of wrestling with the question of by what authority is “scripture” declared scripture. It’s a tough question for anyone of any faith and it’s of particular importance to our conversations here.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason recently took a couple of consecutive calls on his radio program dealing with this issue.  I think he does a good job of presenting the Protestant viewpoint. His basic argument is that the First Century Apostles had authority over the church and their authority extends to their writings collected in the New Testament. If it can be trusted to be authentic writings of the Apostles, then it has authority for us today.

He does a good job of flushing out the issues and I encourage you to listen to what he says in his own words.  What I appreciate about his program is that he takes time to give a complete answer (and in this case acknowledges that his answer may not fully satisfy).

A direct download of this portion of the program can be found here. Or you can download the entire program here.

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49 thoughts on “By Whose Authority

  1. I also think he did a good job of presenting his viewpoint, and there were many areas in which he was right. But I have differences as well:

    1. He is critical of what he calls circular reasoning of Catholics who say it is the church that has the authority to declare what can be considered scripture. But I don’t see him as being any less circular in his reasoning, or at least in relying on assumptions. Ultimately, I don’t think I can prove that anything is scriptural except to those who are inclined to believe such anyway. Ulimately, I accept the truth of the Bible (and other scriptures too) because it speaks to me in a way that nonscriptural writings don’t, and at the core of it all I don’t believe that’s any less true of evangelicals than it is of Mormons.

    2. His definition of sola scriptura is one that makes sense, unlike most definitions I’ve heard. (I’m not saying I agree with the doctrine, only that the way he presents it it’s a logical belief.)

    3. One example of an assumption is his belief that if the Bible was inspired by God, then God would in some way preserve it so that it remains reliable. This may be true, but it’s still an assumption (one that, by the way, isn’t stated in scripture). And who isn’t to say that the way God is preserving it is through the Catholic church or through the Joseph Smith Translation or whatever?

    4. He seems to place a great reliance on the the position that the New Testament was written by various apostles. but that’s not demonstrably true of Hebrews (which has quite a bit of LDS theology in it, by the way), whose authorship is completely unknown (except it wasn’t Paul, despite what the headings in the official LDS versions of the Bible say). And the authorship of many of the other books is disputed as well (although I believe most were written at least in part by those traditionally believed to be the authors).

  2. I agree with you about #3. It seems that assumption can be applied to just about anything. Bushman applies that same kind of assumption about Joseph Smith all over Rough Stone Rolling and explains away all kinds of things.

    The authorship of each of the New Testament books is the heart of Koukl’s argument. I’m sure he would say that if it could be shown that if any of the books weren’t authored or directly authorized by an apostle then they shouldn’t be included in the canon.

    The historicity of the New Testament is critical to it’s validity.

  3. Eric, I agree with your reasoning on number 1 and number 3. I did not listen to the clip (surprise), but I think authorship of the New Testament is necessary but not sufficient to demonstrate its historicity, and its historicity is necessary but not sufficient ot establish its veracity.

  4. Tim, what do you think would constitute sufficient evidence to warrant the conclusion that a certain work in the NT isn’t written by its attributed author? I only ask, because even if one accepts, for instance, that Ephesians and Colossians as genuine Pauline letters (which many, if not most, don’t), very, very few scholars accept that the Pastorals are authentic; at the very least there is serious doubt on the issue. Moreover, almost no one accepts that both Petrine letters are written by the same author even though both letters claim the same author. Moreover, each gospel is anonymous. What historical evidence really is there that they were each written or commissioned by an apostle? Of course, there is no test that can entirely “prove” to a believer that the works of the NT were not each written by their author, and if you want to believe that each work was written by its alleged author, that is your choice (and maybe you even have reasons that you believe genuinely warrant such a claim). But it should at least be noted that such a claim has many serious problems. Is anything really sufficient to disprove to you that a NT work wasn’t written by its supposed author? Do you look at the NT works as critically as you might look at other non-canonical works when determining claimed authorship?

    Moreover, what about foundational works for Christianity, such as those of the Hebrew Bible? Virtually no modern biblical scholars believe that Moses wrote the Torah, and that is only the beginning of the problems of traditional authorship for the various books of the Hebrew Bible. How do you really know who wrote or commissioned them?

    Additionally, it should be noted that much of early Christianity, including Paul and other figures of the NT, utilized other now apocryphal sources that much of modern Christianity no longer uses. So they clearly didn’t always use the same criteria for determining whether a certain writing might be useful for their spiritual life and the life of the Church as later interpreters did.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  5. Dart,

    You’re kind of shotgunning me and I fully recognize I have no ability to match wits with you specifics. So I’m mostly going to quite lamely fall back on the “there are other smart people who support my view” defense. You know who they are, you can read what they say. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I take the word of Christian scholars over Atheistic scholars when it comes to Biblical scholarship.

    I believe that the tradition and historical analysis of 1st, 2nd and 21st century church leaders can show that it’s well within reason to accept all of the New Testament canon as either authored by an apostle or approved by an apostle (regardless of whether or not the bylines attributed to them are correct). And I suppose we could even quibble over the criteria of “authored or approved by”. Luke for example may not have been commissioned by anyone other than Luke. I throughthrew that criteria out as just a quick and easy way to introduce the audio clip not as a firm rule

    Moreover, what about foundational works for Christianity, such as those of the Hebrew Bible?

    I’ll just say that I think Jesus proved himself to be the Son of God. As such I can take his word for it when it comes to the Old Testament. I think we can and should hold the historicity of the Old Testament in whatever regard Jesus did.

    Additionally, it should be noted that much of early Christianity, including Paul and other figures of the NT, utilized other now apocryphal sources that much of modern Christianity no longer uses. So they clearly didn’t always use the same criteria for determining whether a certain writing might be useful for their spiritual life and the life of the Church as later interpreters did.

    Oh it’s much worse than that. They also positively quoted pagan prophets and poets. That doesn’t mean everything those pagans said can be used for our spiritual gratification any more than the apocryphal sources. If they found truth in something outside of our New Testament, great, it’s truth. That doesn’t mean the rest of it is. We should take their recommendation of what to hold on to.

    Heck, I regularly recommend the writings of Dallas Willard as useful to people’s spiritual lives. That doesn’t mean I think his work should be in the canon.

    Do you look at the NT works as critically as you might look at other non-canonical works when determining claimed authorship?

    My answer is yes. Do you think any of the non-canonical works are more authentic than any of the canon?

    I think this is a question easily spun back to you concerning Mormon canon. A sliver of academic criticism toward the Book of Mormon would show it to be no more a work of antiquity than the Doctrine and Covenants.

    I think this will prove to be a critical question for you in the coming years (if not now). The New Testament is the best thing going in the Mormon canon as far as authentic works of antiquity. If you don’t believe it to be historically credible, then what are you going to do with the rest of it? If you think it’s all just faith-promoting fiction, you are in effect saying that God is promoting the historical fraud of these works for our spiritual gratification (in hopes we won’t figure it out).

  6. I’ll just say that I think Jesus proved himself to be the Son of God. As such I can take his word for it when it comes to the Old Testament. I think we can and should hold the historicity of the Old Testament in whatever regard Jesus did.

    I’ve said this before, but Jesus refers to the Old Testament in conversation all the time, but don’t put words in his mouth. I can illustrate a point with a scene from Star Wars, but that doesn’t mean that I believe Star Wars is an authentic history of something that indeed happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

    The Old Testament was familiar to Jesus’s audience, and was accepted as authoritative by them. It may have been accepted as authoritative by Jesus as well, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean everything you want it to mean.

  7. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that I take the word of Christian scholars over Atheistic scholars when it comes to Biblical scholarship.”

    What Tim? Have you ever even read scholarship by scholars such as Larry Hurtado (Evangelical), Jon Levenson (Orthodox Jew) or Raymond Brown (Catholic)? There are numerous other such persons coming from religious backgrounds that certainly have no inherent predisposition to undermine the bible (including myself). Do you really think that modern critical biblical scholarship equals atheistic scholarship? That is just a terrible misrepresentation. But you’re right, I do read both sides of the debate–which is apparently more than you do. I think Tim you would really benefit from actually engaging the relevant secondary literature for yourself.

    “If they found truth in something outside of our New Testament, great, it’s truth. That doesn’t mean the rest of it is. We should take their recommendation of what to hold on to.”

    Whose recommendation, exactly? Paul’s? Jude’s? I seem to be missing their statements on what constitutes authoritative writing. However, given the fact that when they quoted from or alluded to “the Bible,” they used the Greek Septuagint, I think we shouldn’t necessarily rule out a priori on account of (usually much) later Christian interpretations that they found other works from the Septuagint which are not included in modern Protestant bibles as authoritative–especially when they directly cite them as prophetically or utilize a large number of allusions to them or cite directly from them. Finally, what apostles wrote down what constitutes the proper canon?

    “My answer is yes. Do you think any of the non-canonical works are more authentic than any of the canon?”

    I don’t understand how your question interacts with what I have said. I don’t think there are other writings that are more “authentic” (if by that you mean they are more likely to be written by an apostle). However, that doesn’t mean that the Pastorals are written by Paul either, or that Peter wrote both letters attributed to him. But what about the Hebrew Bible? Do you accept additional Psalms that are found in Dead Sea Scroll texts? What about the shorter recension of Jeremiah found in the Septuagint and DSS?

    “I’ll just say that I think Jesus proved himself to be the Son of God. As such I can take his word for it when it comes to the Old Testament. I think we can and should hold the historicity of the Old Testament in whatever regard Jesus did.”

    I don’t think this argument works for a variety of reasons. But I’ll just ask, even if Jesus was aware of historical problems of the bible, was he under the obligation of demonstrating each of them to everyone? I would seriously doubt it in many cases. Moreover, did he have to know everything about history and science throughout his mortal *human* experience?

    “I think this is a question easily spun back to you concerning Mormon canon. A sliver of academic criticism toward the Book of Mormon would show it to be no more a work of antiquity than the Doctrine and Covenants.”

    Tim, your knowledge of BofM scholarship is probably as weak or weaker than your knowledge of biblical scholarship (which probably goes to explain a lot of the posts around here), so I don’t know how productive a discussion about such topics could ever be with you. Suffice it to say, I do think there are 19th century influences in the BofM, but this isn’t surprising at all to me. However, I also think that one can demonstrate ancient influences in the text as well through form-critical analysis, among other scholarly techniques. On another note, I believe that the hundreds of surviving accounts from the BofM witnesses are incredibly strong on historical grounds. If you think the accounts in the NT hold weight, you should really dig through the primary sources of the 8 witnesses and the 3 witnesses. This is why even critical “atheist” BofM scholars who have no intentions of promoting the BofM (in fact, it seems they have quite the opposite disposition), such as Dan Vogel and Brent Metcalfe, even suggest at times that Joseph must have made some fake plates. The evidence is very strong.

    However–and more to the point of my original comment–I ultimately don’t hold my faith claims based purely on “historical proofs.” And I bet neither do you. This is why it bothers me, for instance, when I constantly hear Evangelicals harping on Mormons about historical or archeological evidence for the BofM: because it seems they never realize that their own texts and views have tremendous problems too, many of which are quite comparable to those they claim Mormons have (like those I mentioned previously). For instance, where is the “archeological proof” that Moses brought well over a million Israelites from Egypt and wandered about with them for 40 years? How about Joshua’s conquering of Transjordan? In some cases, not only is there no evidence that a town or city was never destroyed in that times period, but the specific cities mentioned didn’t even exist in that time period; in fact, in some cases, there aren’t any towns at all in the region that date to the proper time period!

    “I through that criteria out as just a quick and easy way to introduce the audio clip not as a firm rule[.]”

    Alright, if it isn’t a firm rule, then there isn’t any reason in arguing about it it seems.

  8. Yellow Dart, I haven’t read any of those academic sources either, and I don’t expect Tim to either.

    Both of us have day jobs you know. If only people who’ve read as much as you are allowed to have an opinion on the internet, most of us here better hand in our modems right now.

    I think it’s perfectly fine for Tim to appeal that there are “smarter brains than mine” who have thought about the issues. I’ve done the same thing myself.

  9. However–and more to the point of my original comment–I ultimately don’t hold my faith claims based purely on “historical proofs.” And I bet neither do you.

    Nope. I don’t claim to. But if your scriptures are making specific historical claims, it seems to make sense to see if they have any basis in reality. If they are fraudulent about what we can test it doesn’t make a lot of sense to trust them on what we can’t test. When investigated I believe the historicity of the New Testament is compelling. When investigated I believe the historicity of the Book of Mormon is devastating. I think even investigating the 19th Century witnesses to the Book of Mormon is a less than faith promoting experience if you want to believe that real plates existed.

    I’ve said this before, but Jesus refers to the Old Testament in conversation all the time, but don’t put words in his mouth.

    I was careful with my words. We should view the Old Testament in exactly whatever way Jesus did.

  10. Seth,

    We have had this discussion before, and I think you are putting words in my mouth.

    Tim,

    “When investigated I believe the historicity of the New Testament is compelling. When investigated I believe the historicity of the Book of Mormon is devastating. I think even investigating the 19th Century witnesses to the Book of Mormon is a less than faith promoting experience if you want to believe that real plates existed.”

    Umm…ok…I don’t know what to tell you. Thanks for sharing your beliefs with me, I guess.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  11. By the way, I’m not trying to pull a working-class anti-intellectual stunt or anything. Truth is, I wish I had read all those sources and think I could be doing a better job of religious study than I am.

    I do agree Tim that your statements are more simple declarations that do not really invite much argument (not that I haven’t done that myself).

  12. Wait, Yellow Dart, are you really trying to say that the New Testament and the Book or Mormon are in the same neighborhood as far as historical verifiability are concerned?

  13. No way. I’m talking about setting aside the faith issues. Nobody seriously disputes that the New Testament, regardless of who it was written by, originates in the first few centuries AD. That gives it at least a measure of historicity.

    On the other hand, absolutely nobody who is not Mormon seriously thinks that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document. It is a historical document, sure, but it is a 19th-century historical document.

  14. Kullervo, your knowledge of BofM scholarship is probably as weak or weaker than your knowledge of biblical scholarship (which probably goes to explain a lot of the posts around here), so I don’t know how productive a discussion about such topics could ever be with you.

  15. Sure, I’ll admit that we know Jerusalem is an actual place on evidence that is utterly lacking for… say… Zarahemla.

    Yes, there is more physical accepted corroboration for parts of the Bible narrative than for the Book of Mormon.

    But for the faith claims…

    Honestly Kullervo, if you set aside the faith claims, what is there left to discuss here anyway?

  16. Kullervo,

    What comparison are you referring to specifically? My point throughout has been simply that if one uses purely historical criteria for determining or invalidating faith claims, then the Bible (which is more than the New Testament!) as conceived by Evangelicals has potential problems that are just as serious as those which they often use to critique Mormons. Historical or archeological “proofs” aren’t sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus was resurrected or that Joseph Smith saw God.

    TYD

  17. Kullervo, your knowledge of BofM scholarship is probably as weak or weaker than your knowledge of biblical scholarship (which probably goes to explain a lot of the posts around here), so I don’t know how productive a discussion about such topics could ever be with you.

    Ouch, what brought that on?

  18. Oh Timothy, did I hurt your feelings with that comment? If I am wrong, feel free to demonstrate otherwise. But I won’t hold my breath.

    Anyway, you’re (re-posting of my) comment is probably right.

    I think I will go play elsewhere from now on. Have a merry Christmas!

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  19. I think it was Kullervo who said:

    I think authorship of the New Testament is necessary but not sufficient to demonstrate its historicity, and its historicity is necessary but not sufficient to establish its veracity.

    NOBODY is saying that you can find faith in Christ through the historical evidence. What I am saying is that the historical evidence can show that faith in Christ is reasonable. You can’t very well trust the Bible for the “unseen” if it doesn’t hold up with the “seen”. (which is something Jesus said to his critics — if you don’t believe my words than at least look at the miracles which you’ve seen).

    If you think the historicity of the New Testament (or the Bible or the Book of Mormon) shows it to be unreliable in it’s truth claims which can be verified, then you are saying that you believe them to be scripture because A) you want to or B) because God thought it would be more convincing for us to read fraud than to teach his truths through events/people/places that are actually historical. Unfortunately the historical portions of the Bible don’t present themselves to be Aesop’s Fables.

    K,
    I was just beating Dart to the punch. As he indicates, it was indeed what he was thinking.

  20. Actually Tim, I don’t know enough about Kullervo to make a real judgment about his knowledge of the BofM or Bible because I don’t read enough of his comments or posts around here. Notice I said “probably,” and I was just using your jab at me as an excuse to end this conversation since it seems to be going downhill quickly. I think you’ll notice my reply to Kullervo before you jumped in was quite amiable, and quite unlike your mind-reading abilities dreamed u. However, I don’t really know anything about Kullervo, and I withhold my judgment.

  21. Oh Timothy, did I hurt your feelings with that comment? If I am wrong, feel free to demonstrate otherwise. But I won’t hold my breath.

    Yellow, I made it clear from the get go that I acknowledge that you’ve read more about this stuff than me. You’re the winner! Nobody knows as much as you. Hooray!

    So from a Christian character perspective it doesn’t make a lot of sense for you not to be charitable with us weaklings. If you want to have the conversation with people who’ve accomplished your reading list first, you already know it won’t be here. If not, then why pick a fight?

    However, I don’t really know anything about Kullervo, and I withhold my judgment.

    Then definitely don’t read his latest post.

  22. Tim,

    I am hardly trying to comment in order to show that I know more than everyone else. I suppose I simply become upset when persons make misleading comments regarding subjects which deserve great care and which are important to me.

    For instance, when you characterized biblical scholarship as “Christian” or “atheistic,” it strikes me especially because I work in this field daily, and I know a number of other persons who work in the field who are definitely not atheists and shouldn’t be characterized as such just because their views don’t always accord with very conservative Evangelical readings. The field of biblical studies is more broad than just conservative Evangelical Christian scholars and atheists. Moreover, I don’t consider myself an atheist. I should have just told you that I think your implication is misleading and that it bothered me instead of making the conversation more personal than necessary. I just don’t see the issue(s) to be as polarized as your comments. Sorry for my reactionary stance and for being unnecessarily harsh. Good luck in your searchings.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  23. Thanks I appreciate that.

    And I would love to clarify that I don’t view the issue as polarized as Atheist vs. Christian. I was simply indicating that it shouldn’t surprise you to know who I might side with in any number of discussions.

  24. Interesting discussion.

    Tim, you are right, I think this is an important question and it has shaped my rather unorthodox mormon view of scripture.

    Reading debates within biblical scholarship to me is like reading debates on whether vaccination of children is bad. There are passionate positions taken, there seems to be a lot of unsaid motives for the positions taken and, I am totally at a loss to verify the claims either side is making (because I am too ignorant and

    There are all kinds of debates like this. where the average wikipedia consuming seeker of information simply can’t penetrate the debate. When it comes to something that really effects us, we often have to rely on some method of determining where we stand on an issue that doesn’t involve actually learning enough to intelligently participate in the arguments.

    I think religion in general and scripture specifically are among these things. People rely on the smart and learned among those that believe like them to give them comfort in the intellectual strength of their position but ultimately the decision to believe that way is based on deeper, less rational, motivations.

    When it comes to ultimate questions of God, I am a bit skeptical of limitations on what is authoritative or of God that rely on scholarship.

    I mean if the New Testament has any validity at all we are talking about a living Christ, somebody that can interact with us now and, in fact, promises to do just that. It seems a rather straightforward process to test the validity of the claims by attempting interaction with this (supposed) living, loving, omnipotent being.

    Tim Said:
    If you think the historicity of the New Testament (or the Bible or the Book of Mormon) shows it to be unreliable in it’s truth claims which can be verified, then you are saying that you believe them to be scripture because A) you want to or B) because God thought it would be more convincing for us to read fraud than to teach his truths through events/people/places that are actually historical. Unfortunately the historical portions of the Bible don’t present themselves to be Aesop’s Fables.”

    I think there is a (C). You can believe historically unreliable documents to be scriptural because the unreliable elements are not critical to the spiritual message and their unreliability does not detract significantly from the spiritual impact of the message.

  25. For instance, it wouldn’t hugely upset me if I were to find out that the entire story of Adam and Eve was more allegorical than fact.

    I don’t currently hold that view mind, but it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me.

  26. Tim said:

    If you think the historicity of the New Testament (or the Bible or the Book of Mormon) shows it to be unreliable in it’s truth claims which can be verified, then you are saying that you believe them to be scripture because A) you want to or B) because God thought it would be more convincing for us to read fraud than to teach his truths through events/people/places that are actually historical. Unfortunately the historical portions of the Bible don’t present themselves to be Aesop’s Fables.

    I’d go along somewhat with Jared C’s option C. Just because something in the Bible (to use something that is scripture for both of us) isn’t historically accurate doesn’t mean it’s fraud, which suggests deliberate deceit. It could be inaccurate and still scriptural because God works through human beings who make mistakes, or it could be (and this raises another issue entirely) because something wasn’t meant to be understood as history even if it’s presented that way (inspired fiction, if you will, which is what I suspect, for example, the book of Job is).

    Kullervo said:

    On the other hand, absolutely nobody who is not Mormon seriously thinks that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document.

    Well, of course not. If they believed the Book of Mormon is an ancient document, they’d in all likelihood be Mormon (or at least someone who believes that Joseph Smith was a prophet of some sort).

    And there aren’t too many scholars who believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus who aren’t Christians either. So such statements don’t prove a lot.

    But I’d accept the point that talk about the historicity of the Bible is in a different league than talk about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. If we want to show that the Bible is based in history, we can look to archaeology and verifiable history and that sort of thing. We can also trace the history of the documents themselves; in the case of parts of the Old Testament, the Dead Sea scrolls take us pretty far back. But if we want to show that the BoM is based on history, we look instead to the believability of Joseph Smith. We don’t have physical evidence earlier than that. The issues of historicity are far different.

  27. inspired fiction, if you will, which is what I suspect, for example, the book of Job is

    Me too. Well, there might have been a man named job, and stuff like that might have happened, and God might have been behind it, but I think the actual Book of Job is sort of a “dramatized for television” version, in that I don’t think it was ever mean to be a literal recounting of the things that happened and/or a transcription of what was said.

    And there aren’t too many scholars who believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus who aren’t Christians either. So such statements don’t prove a lot.

    Apples and oranges. We’re not talking about whether events happened; we’re talking about whether the documents are authentic. Even if there is dispute over who the exact authors of the New Testament were, nobody tries to say that it is, for example, a 19th-century hoax. It might have been written a couple centuries later, but it was at least verifiably from the right period of history and the right geographic region.

  28. I think there are many stories in the Old Testament that were intended to be allegorical. The books of I and II Chronicles would not be among them. Similarly, Jesus’ parables are allegorical, the book of Acts is not.

  29. On the historicity of scripture:

    People make up stories and embellish, especially in religious and political propaganda such as the Bible. I think God expects as much and we should too. I think insisting that it has to be cool, un-embellished documentary seems a bit out of touch with reality.

    I think the historicity of Chronicles and Acts is far less important than the spiritual messages of Job and the parables. I could accept that the history was distorted by the authors but I would probably lose a lot of faith in Christianity if the spiritual messages were bogus.

  30. Having been into studying the Baghvad Gita and Norse mythology, I would have thought you’d have as good an answer to that as anyone.

  31. Kullervo,

    I think that is an important question. I think that following Jesus (as depicted in the Gospels) has value in itself, to the individual and the world, regardless of whether or not he was actually the Son of God.

    Following Jesus’ teachings in he Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere can bring discipline and meaning to life that will lead to a fuller, more spiritually centered life. I think this is independent of the historicity of any particular story re-told in the gospels.

    This is especially true when living in a nominally Christian nation since Christianity provides a framework to influence people toward ethical behavior. The cultural and traditional prestige of the Bible can be used to influence the ideas and behavior of those who are christian by birth or culture don’t really take Christianity that seriously.

    All of this is independent of the precise historicity of the Bible.

  32. But I really, really don’t think that “following Jesus” is the same thing as Chrisianity. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.

  33. Following Jesus’ teachings in he Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere can bring discipline and meaning to life that will lead to a fuller, more spiritually centered life.

    I’m sure Jesus thought it was worth dying a brutal torturous death for those causes. Likewise I’m sure his followers thought “spiritual centeredness” was something to get fed to the lions over.

    Cultures don’t tend to crucify Mr. Rogers.

  34. Tim,

    I think you underestimate how revolutionary the Sermon on the Mount is, as well as how disruptive it is/was politically. People die and are thrown to lions for all kinds of things that are less significant than the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount (patriotism for example).

    People have been willing to suffer for these Christian principles who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus.

    Ghandi may be one example. (Ghandi formed many of his ideas of non-cooperation with evil and suffering from the Christian based writings of Tolstoy)

    Kullervo, I agree with you. My point is that the spiritual worth of the teachings of Jesus are a necessary but not sufficient evidence that he was the Son of God. If what he taught was not good, we can assume that by his own measure that he was not from God. He made constant mention that he was teaching what his Father gave him to teach.

  35. Also, the weight of the the teachings are independent of and can overcome the significance of the factual/historical flaws and embellishments in the gospel narrative.

  36. Jared,

    I think you underestimate (or perhaps misunderstand) what the heart of the Gospel message is.

    There are many who want to follow the Christian ethic but stop short of recognizing Jesus as God (that was the part that got he and his followers killed by the way). Their reasons for doing so are vapor. They may receive some pragmatic benefit for a time. But at some point their commitment to “my will be done” will convince them that this or that teaching must have been fudged in with all of the historical inaccuracies.

    Kullervo recently wrote a related post about this.
    http://byzantium.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/searching-for-a-source-part-ii-the-problem-with-pluralism/

    Also, the weight of the the teachings are independent of and can overcome the significance of the factual/historical flaws and embellishments in the gospel narrative.

    This is the same exact argument Gnostic supporters of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas use. It’s of no surprise given the historical problems with both. The end game of this reasoning is that “what is true” turns out to be “what I like the best”. Once again; “my will be done”.

  37. Tim,

    let me put my comments back into context. Kullervo’s question was, what is the spiritual value of the Gospels if they are not historically accurate.

    My response is that they have strong and valuable ethical teachings that can give meaning to life regardless of whether you can accept Jesus as the literal son of God.

    I agree with you that the heart of the Gospels depends on Jesus being the son of God. My point is that it has something to offer those that don’t or can’t believe that truth due to the sparsity of evidence, temperment, lack of experience, conflicting tradition, etc.

    For me the heart of the Gospel message is that Jesus is living and that we can become one with him, partakers of the divine, through his atonement. My most valuable and convincing knowledge of Jesus doesn’t depend on the historicity of the particular stories in the Gospels, but my experiences with the teachings in them and with my experiments with trying to know and follow Jesus.

    I also agree that Gnosticism is different than what what I understand to be the teachings of the new testament. (However, it is difficult to precisely determine how much Thomas is superior than Mark or John other than simply by deciding that we like John more, or some other reason not based on historical evidence. )

  38. However, it is difficult to precisely determine how much Thomas is superior than Mark or John other than simply by deciding that we like John more, or some other reason not based on historical evidence. )

    So, we decide that John is better than Thomas by

    1) Choosing which one we like more
    2) Determining which is more likely to be the words of Christ by historical analysis

    Or. . . . ? Pray and ask God? Any other methods?

  39. Good question.

    I imagine that they chose John over Thomas because Thomas was not well circulated at the time and John was more in line with prevailing doctrine (after it was edited into the version we have today).

  40. I actually think all three methods (preference, history and prayer) have some validity of differing strengths. But all three have serious shortcomings on their own. Perhaps Evangelical uber-commitment to historicity is an over reaction to Mormons who think historicity shouldn’t even be in the equation. (or at least act that way when challenged on it)

    I imagine that they chose John over Thomas because Thomas was not well circulated at the time and John was more in line with prevailing doctrine (after it was edited into the version we have today).

    I imagine asking questions about John’s circulation would have a great deal to do with its historicity.

    If you’re going to assume that John or any other book was edited to comply with the other books, that assumption will begin to color your commitment to their teachings. Eventually your version of Christianity will be so loosely associated with the Bible it will become laughable (name liberal Christian church X here).

    “My will be done” always wins out with any excuse it can muster.

  41. I think most scholars would agree that John was written by more than one author (at least 2) and that there were substantial doctrinal additions to the final text. That is history. However, most Mormons and Evangelicals I know seem to ignore this and hold to the traditional explanations of its provenance.

    Knowing something about the text and the history, I think its hard to feel very secure that it was written by an eyewitness to the events it depicts. Additionally, it seems to be a religious tract rather than an attempt at what we moderns would call history.

    That said, I find the teachings of the book, the ideas about God and Jesus it presents enlightening and meaningful to my life and existence. I have relied on these and they have not let me down. I have a copy of the movie The Gospel of John and I have watched it 4-5 times with my kids (when I don’t want to get up for church for example). There is something transcendent about it.

    I don’t think I will get an answer about John’s historicity vs. Thomas, and I don’t really know if I can rely on Thomas in the same way that I rely on John. I would imagine that even the most knowledgeable scholars could. Simply because it is just conjecture at this point.

    I would not take my position (or many of the regulars here) as the typical Mormon position. I think it is very clear that both Mormons and Evangelicals don’t look at the book in this way. They START from the premise that it is an eyewitness account drafted by John the Apostle that is inspired and true in most details. (Just like Mormons think that 1 Nephi was written by Nephi from Jerusalem and edited by Mormon) Actual historical evidence is really only an afterthought.

    I also find your comments about the Evangelical commitment to historicity ironic because I don’t see a parallel commitment to history.

    I agree that there is a ton more historical evidence that Jesus lived and died in Jerusalem and was a teacher and prophet, however in all critical questions most Evangelicals and Mormons will trust tradition, doctrine and dogma, and personal spiritual experience rather than history when it comes to the Book of Mormon and/or the Gospel of John. Historical evidence is going to convince Evangelicals that Joseph was a prophet and historical evidence is going to convince either faith’s that John was simply religious propaganda rather than a historical document.

    When history contradicts the traditional beliefes of the average devotee to either faith the classic responses are “well those historians just don’t have all the facts, we should trust the word of God over all of that academic research” and often “those historians simply have an agenda to discredit the faith” and even “those scholars are instruments of Satan”

  42. I also find your comments about the Evangelical commitment to historicity ironic because I don’t see a parallel commitment to history.

    I agree that there is a ton more historical evidence that Jesus lived and died in Jerusalem and was a teacher and prophet, however in all critical questions most Evangelicals and Mormons will trust tradition, doctrine and dogma, and personal spiritual experience rather than history when it comes to the Book of Mormon and/or the Gospel of John. Historical evidence is going to convince Evangelicals that Joseph was a prophet and historical evidence is going to convince either faith’s that John was simply religious propaganda rather than a historical document.

    When history contradicts the traditional beliefes of the average devotee to either faith the classic responses are “well those historians just don’t have all the facts, we should trust the word of God over all of that academic research” and often “those historians simply have an agenda to discredit the faith” and even “those scholars are instruments of Satan”

    Exactly. Evangelicals are committed to talking about historicity, and insisting that their beliefs are based in history. But they’re not really committed to actual historicity.

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