Πέμπτη, 25 Μαρτίου 2010

Earl Doherty- ''The Sound of Silence'' (2)-200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles

THE SOUND OF SILENCE:PART 2
200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles

PART 1
  • No. 1   Introduction
  • No. 2   Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians
  • No. 3   1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus
  • No. 4   The Epistle to the Hebrews
PART 2
  • No. 5   James, 1 & 2 Peter
  • No. 6   1 & 2 John, Jude, plus Revelation
  • No. 7   Appendix: 20 Arguable References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles
  • No. 8   Postscript (including a response to J. P. Holding's rebuttal to the Sound of Silence)

THE EPISTLE OF JAMES, 1 & 2 PETER

James

 145. - James 1:1
From James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings to the Twelve Tribes dispersed throughout the world. [NEB]
One of the commonest passages appealed to by those who deny any possibility that Jesus was a mythical figure in the eyes of the early Christians is Galatians 1:19, containing Paul's reference to the apostle James in Jerusalem as "brother of the Lord." The likely meaning of that phrase as a title given to James as head of the Jerusalem brotherhood (it may also be a marginal gloss by a later scribe, subsequently inserted into the text), has been argued elsewhere. (See my Response to Sean in Reader Feedback Set 3.)What is rarely if ever addressed by those who point to Galatians 1:19 is the silence we find on any such sibling relationship to Jesus in the opening of the epistle of James. If James were indeed the brother of Jesus, it is difficult to fathom why the writer of this letter would simply designate him a "servant" of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not his brother. This is not only so if one assumes the letter is genuinely by James (which only the most conservative scholars would maintain) but also, and especially, if the letter was written under his name (pseudonymous) or had such an ascription added some time after it was written. The whole point of ascribing a piece of writing to a famous figure is to give it authority. The greater the authority, the better will be the support for the arguments the writer is putting forward.
Consequently, it stands to reason that the writer would want to include everything about James that would raise him in the readers' eyes. His relationship to Jesus as blood brother would certainly do that. And there is no denying that such a thought would be a natural one to express under any circumstances. Commentators recognize this silence as problematic and have attempted various explanations for it, none of which are very convincing. (See the latter part of my above-noted response to Sean for examples of these explanations.)
We will find a similar silence on a blood relationship to Jesus when we look at the opening of the epistle ascribed to Jude.


 146. - James 1:5
If any of you falls short in wisdom, he should ask God for it and it will be given him, for God is a generous giver who neither refuses nor reproaches anyone. [NEB]
Can we envision any Christian preacher today, seeking to convince his audience that God will give when he is asked, who would not appeal to Jesus' own assurances on this matter? Why did this writer not add the thought that Jesus himself had said: "Ask and you shall receive" (Mt. 7:7)? A similar silence is found in 4:2-3.This is only the first of many instances in this epistle where a pointer to Jesus' teachings would have been natural and expected. In fact, there are so many echoes of Gospel sayings in this little letter that it is almost a compendium of Christian ethics. Yet not even a general reference to Jesus as a teacher can be found. The only glance in his direction (following the opening ascription) comes in 2:1: "Believing as you do in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ." The language here points to a Jesus Christ who is a divine entity in heaven, one who can be "believed in." Nothing in this epistle conveys the sense that the community enjoys a living body of traditions about a man who had recently been on earth, teaching, working miracles, dying and rising. In fact, as we shall see, there is not a murmur anywhere about a death and resurrection.
[ The silence on the teaching Jesus is so profound in this epistle that scholars have been driven to the most desperate lengths to accommodate it. None more so than Sophie Laws, in her commentary, The Epistle of James (p.34): "Whereas the Gospels have one form of adoption of Jesus' teaching, in that they identify it as his, James provides evidence of another way of retaining and preserving it: absorbed without differentiation into the general stock of ethical material."
This explanation is a kind of argument from silence turned on its head. Since James makes no mention of Jesus whatever in regard to these ethical teachings, this is evidence that they were in fact his! Another commentator on James, Peter H. Davids, acknowledges (James, p.16) that document after document clearly fails to label Jesus as the source of their moral teachings; accordingly, he labels them "allusions," thus defining the silence so as to make it appear the opposite of what it is.
And what do these observations do for the theory of oral transmission? How are Jesus' teachings kept alive through the decades before the composition of the Gospels by being "absorbed into the general stock of ethical material"? Nor does Laws make any attempt to theorize why such a bizarre development would have taken place, especially among people who had presumably experienced the Master himself. Why would they choose to give him no credit for his revolutionary teachings, to make no witness about him to fellow-believers and converts? Yet the probable explanation is too unpalatable. If all these teachings are never attributed to Jesus in the early documents (compare the equally profound silence on Jesus as the source of the many teachings found in the Didache), then the logical conclusion is that they come from other sources and were only attached to such a figure later.]


 147. - James 1:9-10
9The brother in humble circumstances may well be proud that God lifts him up; 10and the wealthy brother must find his pride in being brought low. [NEB]
One of the most characteristic teachings in the Kingdom of God movement was the promise of reversal of fortune: the rich and powerful would be brought down, the poor and dispossessed would be raised up. Who when expressing such a thought could avoid quoting Jesus' prediction of that very thing: "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Mt. 23:12)? This powerful promise is quoted twice in Luke as well (Lk. 14:11 and 18:14). On its source in Jesus, James is silent, though he will point to a different source in 4:6 (#153).

 148. - James 1:21-22
21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save your souls. 22Only be sure that you act on the word and do not merely listen . . . . [NIV/NEB]
Here the writer makes the only allusion to soteriology in the epistle. What is it that gives salvation to the soul of the believer? It is not the death and resurrection of Jesus, nor even the teachings identified as his. It is "the word planted in you" which, if we look back to earlier verses (1:17-18), is identified as coming from God himself, with no suggestion that a Jesus on earth had served as an intermediary: "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . . . In the exercise of his will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be the first fruits among His creatures." [NASB]This is a community of faith that comes solely from the revealed word of God. There is no sense here of Jesus as either Redeemer or Revealer, and only an unattributed echo is heard of Matthew's line in Jesus' mouth (7:24): "What then of the man who hears these words of mine and acts upon them?"


 149. - James 2:5
Listen, my friends. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? [NEB]
This is a prime example of an epistle writer 'urging' that his readers accept what he is saying, to have faith that something will happen or to follow a desirable mode of behavior. If Jesus himself had urged this very faith or practice, what Christian writer would not choose to clearly highlight such a thing? The argument that "there was no need" to do so cannot be invoked here, since every instinct on the part of such writers would impel them to make mention of Jesus' own words. Yet not even here, in echoing the memorable opening of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (5:3) or Luke's Sermon on the Plain (6:20), can this writer bring himself to state that connection with Jesus' pronouncement: "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."

 150. - James 2:8
If you are observing the sovereign law laid down in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' that is excellent. [NEB]
Hardly less memorable is Jesus' general teaching on love, at least in the minds of two millennia of Christians who tend to view such a teaching as the centerpiece of Jesus' ethics. In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, as James does above, Jesus more than once quotes Leviticus, while answering the question "Which is the greatest commandment?" James shows no sign that he is aware of this pronouncement by Jesus. Twice does Paul do exactly what Jesus is reported to have done. In Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14 he speaks of the whole Law being "summed up" in the one rule of 'loving one's neighbor.' Like James, he makes no mention of Jesus' own view on the matter.Christian love is an obsessive focus in almost every epistle writer, yet not a single one of them points to Jesus as a teacher on the topic. Paul, as we have seen, goes so far as to say (1 Thessalonians 4:9) that: "You are taught by God to love one another"!


 151. - James 2:10
For if a man keeps the whole law apart from one single point, he is guilty of breaking all of it. [NEB]
Matthew and Luke, drawing from Q, have Jesus express the conviction that "not a letter, not a stroke, will disappear from the Law" (Mt. 5:18). The continued applicability of the Mosaic Law was a hotly debated issue in the early Christian movement. We can safely state as a general principle where any movement based on a great teacher is concerned, that any important issue will soon be regarded as having been pronounced upon by him, regardless of whether he did or not. While scholars tend not to take Q's statement on the Law, as reflected by Matthew and Luke, as authentic, its presence in their Gospels illustrates this principle (as do so many other Gospel sayings rejected as 'inauthentic'). Yet James here makes no appeal to any pronouncement by Jesus to support his own claim on this very important matter.

 152. - James 4:4
Have you never learned that love of the world is enmity to God? Whoever chooses to be the world's friend makes himself God's enemy. [NEB]
Matthew 6:24: "No servant can be slave to two masters; for either he will hate the first and love the second, or he will be devoted to the first and think nothing of the second. You cannot serve God and Money."

 153. - James 4:6 . . . 10
6. . . Thus Scripture says, 'God opposes the arrogant and gives grace to the humble . . . . 10Humble yourselves before God and he will lift you high. [NEB]
As in 1:9, 'James' fails to appeal to Jesus' assurances that the exalted will be humbled and the humble exalted. But he goes further in this verse, in that he apparently feels the need to ground his thought in some authority. The authority he chooses is not the teaching of Jesus, but the quotation of a passage from Proverbs. If we can make anything resembling a logical deduction in this field of research, we are surely entitled to claim that the writer of this epistle can have no knowledge of Jesus' teaching on this matter.

 154. - James 4:11
Do not, my brothers, speak ill of one another. The one who speaks ill of his brother or judges his brother is speaking against the law. [NAB]
Matthew 7:1f: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

 155. - James 5:1-3
1Next a word to you who have great possessions. . . . 2Your riches have rotted; your fine clothes are moth-eaten; 3your silver and gold have rusted away . . . [NEB]
Again, an example of 'urging' a point of view on those who would not be sympathetic to it. No writer in such a situation could have passed up a pronouncement imputed to Jesus on this point of view, as we find in Matthew 6:19-20 (and Luke 11:33-34, from Q): "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where it grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal it. Store up treasure in heaven, where there is no moth and no rust to spoil it, no thieves to break in and steal. For where your wealth is, there will your heart be also."

 156. - James 5:6
You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you. [NASB]
Continuing his condemnation of the rich and powerful, the writer of James accuses them of killing the innocent, who are unable to offer any resistance. Not only does he hear no echo of the teaching Jesus in his ethical admonitions throughout the epistle, he apparently possesses in his mind no image of the Gospel picture of Jesus' death. Who could fail to draw the natural comparison to the powerful authorities who had condemned an innocent Jesus to death, and his humble acceptance of such a fate? This silence is intensified when we get to 5:10, where the writer says: "If you want an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord." (See Top 20, #10.)

 157. - James 5:7
Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. [NASB]
One of the prominent ideas of the Gospels is that Jesus would return at the end of the world to judge humanity and bring about God's kingdom. The writer of James seems to know nothing about this, for his reference to the "coming of the Lord" is a reference to the traditional Jewish expectation of the Day of the Lord, when God himself would come to judge the world and establish his kingdom.That "the Lord" in the verse above is a reference to God and not to Jesus can be clearly seen from an examination of the passage as a whole. In verse 10, the writer refers (as noted above) to the prophets "who spoke in the name of the Lord," which must be a reference to God. In verse 11, the readers are reminded: "You have all heard how Job stood firm, and you have seen how the Lord treated him in the end," again a clear reference to the God of the Old Testament writings. Nothing would indicate that the epistle writer abruptly changed his meaning in the use of the term "Lord" in verse 7.


 — James 5:10 - See "Top 20" #10


 158. - James 5:12
But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment. [NASB]
Here the writer is virtually commanding his readers to follow a specific mode of conduct. Had Jesus spoken a similar command, and he was aware of it, there can be no doubt that he would have appealed to it. In Matthew 5:34-37 we read: "But what I tell you is this: You are not to swear at all . . . Plain 'Yes' or 'No' is all you need to say; anything beyond that comes from the devil."

 — James 5:15 - See "Top 20" #19


1 Peter
 159. - 1 Peter 1:4-5 . . . 7
4The inheritance to which we are born is one that nothing can destroy or spoil or wither. It is kept for you in heaven, 5and you, because you put your faith in God, are under the protection of his power until salvation comes—the salvation which is even now in readiness and will be revealed at the end of time. . . . 7. . . so that your faith may prove itself worthy of all praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. [NEB]
As in so many other similar references to the coming of Christ throughout the epistles, there is again no sense of this being a return, or second coming. Instead, the verb "revealed" conveys the idea that Christ will be seen for the first time only at the Parousia (coming/presence). Even the concept of "salvation" is something that will be manifested only at the Parousia. Can these writers and readers have the life and death of Jesus before their mind's eye and not express the thought that salvation had arrived at the time of those events, that it had been revealed in the person and deeds of Jesus on earth?Here we have the precise language that would fit the mythicist interpretation. Knowledge about Jesus, who underwent his sacrificial redeeming act in a mythical time and place, has been revealed to the world through inspired Christian prophets, but when the End-time arrives, he will become visible to all, arriving on earth in his glorious Parousia. The text conveys nothing of the recent earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth.


 160. - 1 Peter 1:8
You have not seen him, yet you love him; and trusting in him now without seeing him, you are transported with a joy too great for words . . . [NEB]
Here the writer talks of "seeing" Christ. Commentators assume that, the writer being Peter or purporting to be Peter, the implication is that 'whereas I and others have actually seen him (in person) and thus believe, you have not and yet do.' The text hardly goes this far, and any such meaning is simply being read into it. In fact, it is remarkable that no such sentiment is openly expressed. Here is a piece of writing represented as written by the chief apostle of Jesus on earth, and yet the speaker never mentions that fact, never talks about any of the things he did see with his own eyes.The verb "to see" in this verse is the one used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:1: "Have I not seen the Lord?" This, of course, refers not to having been an eyewitness to Jesus' ministry but to a visionary experience, which Paul claims to have shared with all the others. When we move on to 5:1 in this epistle, we will encounter another statement commonly interpreted as meaning that 'Peter' has "seen" Christ in the flesh. There he is a "witness" of Christ's suffering, but the word is "martus" which refers to one who 'bears witness about.' In the context of religious belief, this means to profess one's faith in, not to offer some physical eyewitness. The writer of this epistle clearly has no sense that Peter knew Jesus on earth.
F. W. Beare (First Epistle of Peter, p.88) admits that the implication that the writer has seen Christ with his own eyes is "far-fetched." The idea of believing without seeing is a common one in the New Testament, especially in Paul, and a check of those passages shows (e.g., 2 Corinthians 5:7, Romans 8:24-25) that the idea is simply: we do believe in someone or something we do not see. No more than this is meant here in 1 Peter. In fact, one of the remarkable omissions here and elsewhere in the epistles is that no comparison is ever made between those who 'do not see' Christ, and those who presumably had seen him during his ministry on earth. When Paul says (2 Cor. 5:7) that "faith is our guide, we do not see him," there is no suggestion that this does not apply to everyone, apostles, prophets or anyone else alive today. There is no suggestion that many fortunate people did in fact recently have the privilege of seeing Christ in person with their own eyes.


 161. - 1 Peter 1:12
It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you [i.e., they were speaking not of matters relating to their own time but to yours], in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven . . . [RSV]
Here we have yet another instance (compare Romans 1:2 and Titus 1:3) where an epistle writer points to an ancient event or prophecy in scripture, and moves from there to a present fulfillment in the apostolic movement, with no glance at any intervening event or fulfillment in the life of Jesus. The prophets have made predictions in the past, and those matters are now embodied in the gospel preached by apostles inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is Jesus' own chief apostle, and yet he cannot express the thought that such apostles have been inspired by Jesus himself and are carrying on his own preaching work!The previous verses (1:10-11) are often pointed to as containing an oblique reference to an historical Jesus, in that the latter part of verse 11 is usually translated: "foretelling the sufferings in store for Christ and the splendors to follow." This passage will be dealt with at length in the Appendix, but here it can briefly be noted that, while such sufferings could be taken as applying to those of Christ in the higher world, in a mythical setting, an alternative understanding of this verse has been given by some translators. Not that Christ's sufferings are meant, but the believers' own. The for Christ is "eis Christon" which could produce the translation: ". . . the sufferings in store (for you, the believers) on your way to Christ and the splendors (yours) to follow." Selwyn uses the phrase "on the Christward road" (see Ernest Best, 1 Peter, p.81-3).
Reverting to the verse under examination, the writer mentions that these matters—about the sufferings destined, supposedly, for Jesus—were brought to the readers by the apostles. But if there was any subject about which Jesus himself had a lot to say, as recorded in the Gospels, it was his suffering, death and resurrection. Thus, we might have expected the writer to express a thought like: "as Jesus himself foretold to us who were with him, in his prophecies about the Son of Man." (The latter term, incidentally, is notably absent in all the epistles.)


 162. - 1 Peter 1:15
The One who called you is holy; like him, be holy in all your behavior, because Scripture says, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.' [NEB]
The quotation from scripture (Leviticus 19:2) shows that the reference here is to God. Not only does this writer regard Christians as having been "called" by God, not Jesus, but God and not Jesus of Nazareth is offered as the benchmark of holiness, the example to be followed in the Christian's own practice of holiness. The profound void on the Gospel Jesus in the minds of first century Christians is rarely demonstrated so compellingly.F. W. Beare (1 Peter, p.98) points out that "The rule of Christian conduct is holiness, modeled upon the holiness of God," and it is true that this is a theme running through the Old Testament. The writer is no doubt drawing upon it in expressing his idea. But the Old Testament did not have the available example of a Jesus. Christ on earth would have been an even more ideal model for Christian holiness, especially in the attributes the writer has just been discussing: self-control, obedience, general moral rectitude. And he, unlike God, had lived in human form and taken on the weaknesses, presumably, of flesh. Offering Jesus as an example should have been virtually inevitable by a writer who was supposed to have known him intimately in person.
This is a powerful silence, one to which the "no need to mention" explanation is entirely inapplicable.


 163. - 1 Peter 1:20-21
20He (Christ) was predestined before the foundation of the world, and in this last period of time he was made manifest for your sake. 21Through him you have come to trust in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, and so your faith and hope are fixed on God. [NEB]
In verse 20, the verb "made manifest" is phaneroo: to reveal, bring to light. Moreover, the form is the passive participle. Christ is not the agency of his own revelation; rather, someone revealed him. This would be an extremely awkward way of describing Jesus' own coming to earth and living a life in full view of many.Verse 21 shows who that agent of revelation was: God. This is in keeping with the way Paul and others consistently describe the present advent of the Son: he is an entity who has now been revealed through scripture to inspired apostles like himself, by God and the Spirit. This Son was previously unknown, a secret hidden through long generations, but he has now been disclosed (Romans 16:25, Ephesians 3:5, etc.). Verse 21 concludes with the universal focus of the epistle writers: their faith and hope are fixed on God. No movement proceeding from the person of Jesus on earth, preaching such a person and following his example, could consistently and exclusively think, feel and express itself this way.


 164. - 1 Peter 1:23-25
23 You have been born anew, not of mortal parentage but of immortal, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For (as Scripture says):
'All mortals are like grass;
All their splendor like the flower of the field;
The grass withers, the flower falls;
25 But the word of the Lord endures for evermore.'
And this 'word' is the word of the Gospel preached to you. [NEB]
Another profound silence here. If Jesus taught that one must be "born again," or indeed if he taught anything, this writer seems to know nothing about it. For him the Christian is born anew, not through the word preached by Jesus, but by the word of God, found in scripture. That word is also contained in the Gospel preached by Christian prophets, but there is no sign that this is to be derived in any way from an earthly Jesus. Rather, it is the word of God in the sacred writings, and other passages (such as Romans 1:2) have also stated that the Gospel preached by such as Paul is one derived from God and scripture and not from any precedent in Jesus. No wonder no one ever attributes Christian ethics to Jesus; the concept itself doesn't exist in the minds of the early Christian writers.

 165. - 1 Peter 2:12
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. [NIV]
This is yet another example of ignorance about the Gospel tradition that Jesus will be returning (as the Son of Man) to judge the world. Instead, like similar instances in James and 1 John, this community adheres to the older tradition that it is God himself who will be coming to earth, on the Day of the Lord. We must assume that the writer, Peter or otherwise, has no recollection of hearing Jesus' own predictions about his future return.The thought in the opening part of this verse is very similar to one expressed by Jesus in Matthew 5:16: "And you, like the lamp, must shed light among your fellows, so that, when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven." A reminder of this would not have been out of place here.


 166. - 1 Peter 2:13
Submit yourselves to every human institution for the sake of the Lord. [NEB]
This writer must have no awareness of Jesus' famous dictum: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (A similar silence can be found in 2:17.)

 167. - 1 Peter 2:21-23
21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example. 22He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. [RSV]
Here, the writer wishes to point to Christ's sufferings and humility, as an example for his readers to follow. Does he cite oral traditions about Jesus' historical sufferings on Calvary? No, he paraphrases elements of Isaiah 53, the "song" of the Suffering Servant, a scriptural passage which contributed more than any other to the development of early thought about a suffering Christian Messiah in the spiritual realm. Scripture was the source of information about the Christ, which is why the early epistle writers consistently appeal to it in describing Christ's experiences. Later, Isaiah 53 contributed many details to the Markan Passion story. We can hear above some allusions to features of that story: the silence maintained at Jesus' trial before Pilate and the High Priest, his stoic bearing of abuse, his innocence.Verse 22 is a close copy of Isaiah 53:9b: "For he practiced no iniquity, nor was deceit in his mouth." Verse 23 is dependent on the ideas of 53:7: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth."
There is another silence evident in this passage. Jesus is sometimes portrayed in the Gospels as urging or warning his followers that they must follow and suffer in his footsteps. Yet the writer appeals to no such saying as: "Take up your cross and follow me." Had Jesus himself required that his followers emulate his suffering, it is difficult to believe that the writer would not have appealed to it. (In the Q from which this Gospel saying is taken, there is no support for the idea that the original saying referred to the cross of Jesus himself, thus constituting an allusion to the crucifixion. The cross is a potential one for the follower, and the saying may have been a circulating proverb.)


 168. - 1 Peter 3:5-6
5Thus it was among God's people in days of old: the women who fixed their hopes on him adorned themselves by submission to their husbands. 6Such was Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him 'my master.' Her children you have now become, if you do good and show no fear. [NEB]
Here (in verses 1 through 6) the writer fails to hold up Mary, Jesus' mother, as a model when he is advising women to be chaste, submissive in their behavior, and reverent like those "who fixed their hopes on (God)." Mary's submission to God's will is perhaps the most prominent characteristic given to her by Christian writers, as in the Magnificat of Luke's announcement scene (1:46-55). In 1 Peter, the writer can only offer Sarah.

 — 1 Peter 3:9 - See "Top 20" #5


 169. - 1 Peter 3:14
But even if you do suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. [RSV]
Matthew 5:10: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Perhaps Peter wasn't present for the Sermon on the Mount.

 170. - 1 Peter 3:18-19
18In the body [i.e., flesh, sarki] he was put to death; in the spirit he was brought to life. 19And in the spirit he went and made his proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. [NEB]
The glaring silence here concerns Christ's bodily resurrection, the Easter miracle described in the Gospels. There is no sign of such a concept in this epistle. Christ "came to life" in the spirit state and world; what he did in that spirit state was to visit the souls of the dead. Verse 22 then has him entering heaven after receiving the submission of the "angelic authorities and powers." The writer of this epistle can have no knowledge of the Gospel post-resurrection scenes, which portray Peter as being among the first to see the risen Christ in the flesh. He can speak of Christ visiting the angels after death, but nothing about him coming to life in the body and visiting his own followers.[ In the first part of verse 18, we again encounter that curious, stereotypical way the epistle writers have of referring to Jesus' death and the occasional other 'human' sounding feature. They employ the word "flesh" (sarx) in standard phrases like (ensarki, kata sarka. The translation of these phrases is by no means certain, and they are used in a variety of ways which are not identical. (Compare, for example, Romans 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 5:16.) If there is a common implication about them all, it is the idea of 'relation to the material world of the flesh,' whether this means the abstract 'worldly standards' (as in 2 Cor. 5:16) or an entering of the god into a state or arena where he takes on counterpart features or "likeness" to the flesh. For a divine being to communicate with and impact upon the human world, he must leave his fully transcendent state in the highest heaven and approach the realm of matter, whether one is referring to the savior-god concept or to the simpler idea of the Logos as a divine force and channel between God and the world. In other words, he/it must become "immanent." (See the fuller discussion in the Appendix article under Romans 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 5:16.) ]


 171. - 1 Peter 4:14
If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. [NASB]
Here, surely, any writer would want to remind his readers that Jesus himself had called them "blessed" who suffered such persecution: "How blest you are, when you suffer insults and persecution and every kind of calumny for my sake" (Mt. 5:11).

 172. - 1 Peter 5:1
And now I appeal to the elders of your community, as a fellow-elder and a witness of Christ's sufferings, and also a partaker in the splendor that is to be revealed. [NEB]
If this were Peter writing, or even someone writing in his name who knew of him as Jesus' chief apostle, he would hardly have characterized him(self) simply as a "fellow-elder" and make no mention of having been a follower of Jesus on earth. Of the latter there can be no knowledge on the part of this writer. If the epistle is being written in Peter's name there would have been even less reason for failing to include this information in a situation where he is "appealing" to the reader. Whether the letter was originally pseudonymous, or whether the ascription to Peter (1:1-2) was added later, it would appear that either of these stages was still prior to the dissemination of the Gospel story. Peter would only have been known as a prominent apostle of the spiritual Christ, as he was known to Paul.J. N. D. Kelly (characteristically), in his First Epistle of Peter (p.198), tries to suggest that this silence on Peter's part is "self-effacement," a playing down of his status so that he can rank himself with the local church leaders. This is clearly special pleading, and hardly convincing, since no one would have considered Peter 'proud' simply for stating his role in Jesus' ministry, especially if the "witness" reference were to be taken as an eyewitness to the sufferings mentioned. Again, the power of authority and status in urging a course of action upon the reader would have been the overriding consideration.
In regard to that "witness," the word used is "martus." Some try to see this as having the meaning of 'eyewitness,' others interpret it as a declaration of faith. I can do no better than to quote the conservative Kelly, in his opinion (op.cit., p.198) on the matter: "The obvious and straightforward interpretation of this might seem to be that he has been an eyewitness of the Lord's passion, and as such is qualified to hold up His patient endurance of suffering as an example. But although many understand the phrase so, we should hesitate to follow them. Not only is the motive alien to the context, but Peter could hardly be described as having been in any strict sense a spectator of the passion. Properly speaking, martus [as does the related verb, martureo] denotes one who testifies rather than an eyewitness, and it is frequently applied in the NT to people who proclaim, and so bear witness to, Jesus."
Kelly goes on to suggest that the underlying meaning goes even further: that 'Peter' is a "martyr" in the sense that he has suffered himself, in a persecutory sense, on account of the testimony to Christ that he gives. This 'martyr' meaning is, of course, the one which the word martus eventually took on in the Christian context. All of this further removes the thought from any sense of eyewitness.
We can also bring the 'witness' of the entire epistle to bear on interpreting this passage. Our survey of the letter shows that Peter never speaks in terms of eyewitness. He fails to refer to Jesus' teachings in key arguments where an appeal to them would be most natural. He has not even an allusion to make about the bodily resurrection or the eyewitness of followers to the risen Christ in flesh. Rather his faith, and even his knowledge of Christ's passion, comes from the scriptures, as 2:22-3 illustrates.


 173. - 1 Peter 5:4
And when the chief Shepherd is manifested (or, revealed), you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. [RSV]
Peter, of all people, would surely have instinctively expressed the idea of Christ's "return." Instead the writer speaks only of Christ's 'revelation,' in the same way that all the epistle writers convey the idea that Christ is a revealed entity whose first appearance is yet to come, that he will first manifest himself to the eye of the world only at the imminent End-time.[ In this particular reference to the Parousia, it is impossible for commentators to use a common 'out' to get around the silence about a 'return' of Jesus. They often rationalize that writers speak of the coming of Christ and not his return because they are referring to the exalted Christ who, when previously on earth, had not yet been exalted, and so, strictly speaking, by splitting semantic hairs, it could be said that the exalted Christ would not be spoken of as 'returning' to earth, but only coming for the first time. (One wonders if all the New Testament writers who so express themselves were capable of, or would have been concerned with, such peculiar nicety of expression.) But here in 1 Peter 5:4, the opposite is the case. A notable Gospel image of Jesus in his earthly career, in his teaching and ministry to the poor and the sick, is the image of the shepherd (John calls him the Good Shepherd). In using this term, the writer of this epistle would have had every justificationone might say, every impulseto express the idea of 'return.' ]


 174. - 1 Peter 5:5-6
5. . . Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6Humble yourselves then under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. [RSV]
Like James, the writer of this epistle appeals to the thought that the mighty lack God's favor and the humble receive it, and he expresses the idea that a reversal of this fortune is to be expected. Yet, like James, we receive no indication that the writer is aware of Jesus' own teaching on this matter: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Mt. 23:12).

2 Peter

 175. - 2 Peter 1:3
His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and true religion [literally, godliness], enabling us to know the One who called us by his own splendor and might. [NEB]
A possibly ambiguous passage, though the overall sense of it, especially within the larger context of 1 and 2 Peter, makes it virtually certain that the "His" at the opening of this verse is a reference to God, and "the One" toward its close is also a reference to God. (Compare the latter with the phrase in 1 Peter 1:15: "The One who called you is holy" which is without question referring to God: see above #162). J. N. D. Kelly (The Epistles of Peter and Jude, p.300) opts for the meaning of God in the phrase "His divine power," though he points out that some take it as Christ's. Ironically, Kelly opines, "One is tempted to think the author had not sorted the matter out clearly in his own mind," illustrating the perplexity which many scholars feel in the face of a silence like this.In fact, this verse contains a dual void in the thinking of the author. He first says that it is God who has bestowed "everything that makes for life and godliness," an astonishing statement. Had not Jesus made some contribution to the attainment of life and godliness and would that not be a natural thought of any Christian writer? The bestowal of these things by God, he goes on to say, has enabled the believer to know God himself, as the One who has called the Christian. Amazingly, Jesus is not envisioned as having made that call (an omission reinforced by 1:10: "exert yourselves to clinch God's choice and calling of you").
The writer, in the next verse (4), speaks of God, through his might and splendor, as the one who "has given us his promises, great beyond price," and again we wonder at the absence of any thought that Jesus, too, had made promises in his ministry, about God and about the future.


 176. - 2 Peter 1:16-18
16It was not on tales artfully spun that we relied when we told (gnoridzo) you of the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming (parousia); we saw him with our own eyes [literally, we became eyewitnesses] in majesty, 17when at the hands of God the Father he was invested with honor and glory, and there came to him from the sublime Presence a voice which said: 'This is my Son, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests.' 18This voice from heaven we ourselves heard; when it came we were with him on the sacred mountain. [NEB]
This passage is often referred to as the "Transfiguration" scene, since it bears a strong resemblance to the Gospel incident as recorded in Mark 9:28, Matthew 17:1-8, Luke 9:28-36. But is 2 Peter's account based on the memory of such an historical incident in Jesus' ministry, or upon the tradition as presented in a written Gospel?There are significant missing details. No mention is made of the perceived presence of Elijah and Moses, no mention of the brightening of Jesus' clothes or face. The epistle does not record Peter's suggestion that a tabernacle be set up. Nor does it supply any setting for this incident, neither in Galilee nor indeed within an earthly ministry of Jesus. All these things have to be read into the epistle's account—and often are.
Taken by itself, with no preconceptions brought to it, the account in 2 Peter sounds like an epiphany, a visionary experience attributed to the apostle Peter and unnamed others. "We saw him with our own eyes in majesty" does not suggest that they had earlier that day been walking about with him as Jesus of Nazareth. There is no implication of achange in Jesus' state or appearance. Rather, they have received a vision of the Lord whom they worship and whose arrival in glory (the Parousia) they are awaiting. The writer offers this vision as 'proof' to the readers (some of whom have expressed skepticism) that this divine Son is powerful and blessed by God, that he is present among them and is indeed coming.
Certain Gospel preconceptions have been brought to the NEB translation, as is the case with most translations. Rather than the "honor and glory" being a separate event, implying a change of appearance, the Greek has the honor and glory bestowed by the divine words themselves. The Greek of verse 18 limits the "while we were with him" to this hearing of God's voice, not the entire event, which implies that the "with him" only became operative once the epiphany had taken place, ruling out a broader reference to the apostles being in Jesus' company prior to his 'transfiguration' experience.
In any case, we must ask, if the writer knows the Gospel tradition and is seeking to provide proof of the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, why does he not appeal to an incident Peter himself had witnessed which was far more dramatic than a supposed transfiguration in appearance: namely, Jesus rising from death? The post-resurrection appearances, including to Peter, could have been thrown in as well. What better way to illustrate the promise of eternal life (1:11)? (Scholars have asked these questions, too, in some perplexity.)
The word for "eyewitnesses" is epoptai, which is also used of the higher grade initiates in the Greek mystery cults who had experienced the perceived presence of the god. There is a high scriptural content in this passage as well. The overall atmosphere is of a typical Old Testament theophany of God; the voice from heaven is the well-known verse from Psalm 2; "honor and glory" echo Psalm 8:5; and "on the holy mountain" suggests Psalm 2:6's "on Zion his holy mountain." Not only is the writer describing a revelatory experience attributed to Peter, he must construct it out of scriptural pieces (in the fashion of midrash), presumably because no memory or exact tradition about such a Petrine vision was available.
A fuller discussion of this passage in 2 Peter (taken with verse 19: see next item) can be found in Supplementary Article No. 7: Transfigured on the Holy Mountain: The Beginnings of Christianity.


 177. - 2 Peter 1:19
All this only confirms for us the message of the prophets, to which you will do well to attend, because it is like a lamp shining in a murky place, until the day breaks and the morning star rises to illuminate your minds.
The writer concludes this passage with a statement that would be astonishing had he really been recounting a Gospel incident; instead, it illuminates the real nature of that experience. The vision of Jesus in majesty is said to "confirm the message of the prophets." Would an event in the ministry of Jesus be offered as something secondary to the promise contained in the scriptures? Would those scriptures be described as "a lamp shining in a murky place" until the Parousia arrives, ignoring the light cast by Jesus' own presence on earth as teacher, miracle-worker, prophet of the future, dying and rising from death?Instead, the writer of this epistle is presenting Peter's vision as a corroboration for the primary testimony about Jesus and the hope of his coming: the Jewish scriptures. There can have been no experience of Jesus himself on earth prior to or subsequent to this vision. This epiphany of the Christ they awaited confirmed his presence, his power, his imminent arrival, and has given a boost to a faith that was first and foremost dependent on an interpretation of the sacred writings. Even a decade or so into the second century (which is when scholars tend to date 2 Peter), a Christian writer shows no sign of believing in an historical Jesus.


 178. - 2 Peter 2:1
But false prophets also arose among the people [of Israel], just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies. They will go so far as to deny the Master who acquired [lit., bought] them for his own. [NASB/NAB]
Did not Jesus warn his disciples that "Imposters will come claiming to be messiahs or prophets, and they will produce signs and wonders to mislead God's chosen" (Mk. 13:22)? One of the common tendencies of sectarian groups is to try to neutralize the development of heresies in their midst (and to demonize the heretics) by claiming that the founder of the movement had foretold that very thing. The writer here can make mention of "the Master" who has gained their allegiance, but not as the source of any teaching or prophecy. "Despotes" (Master) is a word meaning "lord, sovereign, a master, especially of slaves" and is often used of God himself. It conveys no sense of a simple human teacher.

 179. - 2 Peter 3:2
I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. [NIV]
Again the writer seems to lack any awareness of prophecies spoken by Jesus himself. And when the idea finally appears that anything had actually come from Jesus, it is said to be "through your apostles." The latter phrase is not likely to be employed when speaking of teachings pronounced by Jesus on earth, since everything of that nature would naturally be regarded as coming to later generations through community leaders and apostles. Rather, the thought suggests that the Lord and Savior is speaking through revelation to those apostles, and they in turn are passing on the perceived communication from him to the community.

 180. - 2 Peter 3:3-4
3Note this first: in the last days there will come men who scoff at religion and live self-indulgent  lives, 4and they will say: 'Where now is the promise of his coming? Our fathers have been laid to their rest, but still everything continues exactly as it has always been since the world began.' [NEB]
Detractors and scoffers have been questioning the veracity of the expected Parousia. Would not a natural recourse have been to appeal to Jesus' personal promises? Mark 9:1 has him say: "I tell you this: there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God already come in power." In fact, why do the scoffers not raise the whole question of Jesus' promises? Why is there not a debate in the community over the accuracy and dependability of those promises, especially if (as the letter suggests) a sufficient period of time has elapsed that they may be reasonably called into question?Nor is it possible, along modern scholarly lines, to suggest that such promises are not 'authentic' to Jesus but were attributed to him later. If the Gospel communities could make such an attribution, how likely that the community of 2 Peter had not done the same? In fact, on something as important as the 'return' of Jesus at the End-time, no Christian community could have failed to develop the tradition that he had personally promised to return, whether authentic or not. Such promises seem outside the ken of this writer's circle.
Another omission is evident here. Where is the Son of Man? The Gospels (and even Q) are focused on the arrival or return of Jesus in his role as the Son of Man, a figure derived from Daniel 7. Why do none of the epistles, which are also saturated with the idea of the imminent End-time and arrival of the Christ, make no mention of such a figure or identity for Jesus? Why, if this focus on the Son of Man was a reality of the Gospel world, do all the epistles and their communities seem completely ignorant of it?


 181. - 2 Peter 3:10
But the Day of the Lord will come; it will come, unexpected as a thief. [NEB]
Jesus' warning recorded in Matthew 24:43, that one must be on guard at all times since it is not known "at what watch of the night the thief will come," is one of his more memorable prophecies about the End. Paul, too, expresses himself in similar phrases (1 Thessalonians 5:2), yet neither he nor the writer of 1 Peter (nor, as we shall see, the author of Revelation) links such a warning or image with Jesus' own teaching on the matter. Neither one of them, as well, introduces the figure of the Son of Man, the centerpiece of the discussion in Matthew and its parallels.

1 & 2 JOHN, JUDE, plus REVELATION

1 John

 182. - 1 John 1:1-4
1What was from the beginning; what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life— 2and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. [NASB]
This is a curious epistle. Its contradictions have threatened to drive commentators "to despair" (to quote J. H. Houlden's phrase). Its meanings are often murky. It is devoid of any Gospel atmosphere, any echoes of Gospel events, any Gospel teachings of Jesus. It is largely theocentric, with Christ an oblique figure, one spoken of (as so many epistles do) as being "manifested," presented in mystical ways. There is no direct reference to the cross or to Calvary, and none at all to the resurrection. The oft-quoted 3:16 simply states that Christ "laid down his life for us," with "life" rendered by the word "psychê" which can have a meaning of 'soul' as much as bodily life, and could thus be applicable to a spiritual being (as of God, in Matthew 12:18/Isaiah 42:1). The reference to that 'sacrifice' as a "propitiation" for sin (2:2, 4:10) seems incompatible with other statements which portray Christ as an advocate in heaven, "pleading our cause with the Father" (2:1) but not as a propitiatory sacrifice, or which show no sign of a salvific Son at all, as in 1:9: "if we confess our sins, (God) is just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrong."The two sets of dissidents in chapters 2 and 4 also seem incompatible. The issues and features surrounding these respective disputes are different and cannot be reconciled. There is no apostolic tradition, nothing traced back to Jesus or early apostles; everything is by spirits sent from God, with no sign of even the basic traditions of the Gospel of John, such as Jesus' promise to send the Paraclete after he is gone. Nor is there any sign of the so-called (and unnamed) "beloved disciple" of Jesus found in the Fourth Gospel.
The only solution to all the problems of this epistle is to regard it as a layered document, added to over time, with new ideas and situations set alongside old ones, a process which created inconsistencies and contradictions. Because of its total lack of connection to any elements of the Gospel of John, the epistle must be regarded as earlier, at least in all but perhaps its latest stratum, or as proceeding from a related but separate community to that which produced the Gospel, one that was unaffected for most of its development by the ideas of the Gospel-producing community. These issues are thoroughly discussed in my Supplementary Article No. 2: A Solution to the First Epistle of John.
But let's take a look at the so-called "Prologue" of this epistle, as quoted above, verses 1:1-4. Despite commentators' best efforts to regard this as some kind of description of Jesus and his ministry, based on the eyewitness of apostles like "John," it is better understood as a poetic account of the beginnings of the sectarian group itself, its revelatory experience of God and the eternal life he now offered. The language is that of revelation, the pronouns are neuter. In verse 2, this eternal life was "with/in the Father" and was revealed. Only the most forced 'reading into' could render this a reference to Jesus of Nazareth and his life on earth; rather, "life" is a spiritual benefit that God has created for believers and which he has now disclosed. In fact, the pointed absence in this key sentence of any reference to the Son or his identification with the process of salvation, makes the one appearance of the Son in this Prologue—at the end of verse 3—look all the more like a tacked-on idea, introduced when the concept of the Son had developed at a later stage of the community's thinking and began to be introduced at different spots into the basic, earlier stratum of the document. Indeed, the entire first section of the epistle (to 2:17) has only a handful of references to the Son, many of which seem incidental or inconsistent with the context, and is otherwise entirely theocentric. The series of metrical lines in 2:12-14, concerned with sin and mastery over Satan, is solely focused on God. The "light" as opposed to the darkness found beyond the sect, is solely identified with God, and so on.


 183. - 1 John 2:7-8 / (2:6)
7Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. [NASB]
In all this talk about "commandments" both here and throughout 1 & 2 John, there is no suggestion that any of this ethical teaching came from Jesus, on earth or in heaven. The command to love one another is said to have been given to the community at its "beginning," meaning the revelatory experience described in the Prologue. It was part of the message from God "heard" by the community at that time, not one passed on from Jesus through oral tradition. Most like to take the "in Him" of verse 8 as a reference to Christ, but "Him" in previous verses has always referred to God, and the succeeding reference to "light" casts its gleam back onto that pronoun, and the author has stated clearly that "God is light" (1:5). Besides, the commandment's source has been, and will continue to be, identified as God, not Christ.[ The passage quoted above is preceded by one of the two references in the epistle—the other being 3:16—which might be regarded as implying Christ's presence on earth: "Whoever claims to be dwelling in him (God) ought to conduct himself as Christ (ekeinos) did [literally, ought to walk as Christ ("that one") himself walked]" (2:6). First of all, was this thought part of the original context? The preceding verses speak of knowing God by keeping his commands; the following verses 7-8 (above) again speak of the commands of God, old and new, known from the "beginning." If 2:6 were original, referring to the ethical behavior and teachings of Jesus while on earth, it is curious that neither before nor after would the writer bring in those teachings as the standard for knowing God and keeping his commands.
The other curious feature is that 2:6 does not refer to Christ or Jesus by name. Here, as in several other places in the epistle (3:3, 5, 7, 16, 4:17), the Son is referred to by the demonstrative pronoun "ekeinos," meaning "that one." No one has provided a convincing explanation for this peculiar mode of expression. My own feeling is that it began as a way of referring to a specific part of God, that emanation of him which served as an intermediary, the spiritual Son. It has an impersonal character out of keeping with the idea of a recent historical person or distinct human personality. Raymond E. Brown (The Epistles of John, p.249) acknowledges, along with other scholars, that in this epistle there is often "no sharp distinction between God and Christ." This produces an occasional confusion as to which figure is being referred to. This would support my contention that both God and Christ are closely linked spiritual entities, lacking the distinction that would emerge if Christ had been a recent historical man. 1 John 3:16 is not "Christ laid down his life for us," as most translations render it, but "that one laid down his life for us," with the name Jesus or Christ nowhere in the vicinity.
We might also note that in 4:17, the writer compares the believer's behavior with ekeinos by saying that "we are as that one is," not "was." Compare the similar present tense in 3:3, where the exemplary Christ ("that one") "is pure," and the passage under discussion (2:8 above), if the "in Him" were a reference to Christ, as some claim. Christ would seem to be a model who exists in a timeless state, both past and present, implying a spiritual entity, not a recent historical one. If 2:6 is a late insertion, it may reflect a general sense that Christ had at some time come to earth (compare the dispute in 4:1f, below) but little was known of such a coming. Or it might still be an expression of mythical thinking in regard to Christ's activities. The reference is in the context of Christ providing an example or precedent, a universal feature of the relationship between mythical gods and present societal practice. ]


 184. - 1 John 2:27
But as for you, the initiation (lit., anointing) which you received from him stays with you; you need no other teacher, but learn all you need to know from his initiation, which is real and no illusion. As he/it taught you, then, dwell in him/it. [NEB]
A most revealing silence. The "initiation" (anointing, chrisma) seems to be a rite for entry into the sect. In 2:20 it is referred to as "the gift of the Holy One," which is a reference to God, a gift by which "you have all knowledge." Here in 2:27, all that the believer needs to know is said to be gained by this initiation ceremony, which pointedly excludes all teachings and example that might have come from Jesus' ministry. No Christian writer who possessed any information whatever derived from Jesus through oral or apostolic tradition—or even the barest idea of such—could possibly have made this declaration.

 185. - 1 John 2:28
Even now, my children, dwell in him, so that when he appears [lit., is manifested] we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming (Parousia).
Is this a reference to Christ's Parousia, his arrival or 'second' coming? Or is it to the Parousia of God, the traditional Jewish expectation of the Day of the Lord? Scholarship has striven to make it the former, but this involves considerable manhandling of the text.The exhortation at the beginning of the verse, to "dwell in him," should logically be a reference to God, since the 'dwelling in him' of the preceding verse (see previous item) follows on the reference to God's initiation, or anointing. The "he" of verse 28 goes on in verse 29 to be applied to the one of whom every believer is a "child," and this reference is made clear by the following "God's children" in 3:1. The sequence of thought, therefore, is an unbroken and unmistakable reference to God, and the "coming" is that of God.
Verse 3:2 goes on to reiterate this meaning: "Here and now, dear friends, we are God's children; what we shall be has not yet been disclosed, but we know that when it is disclosed (or, when he appears) we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (NEB). There can be no doubt that the expected Parousia is that of God.
The measure of what is at stake here is seen in Raymond E. Brown's desperate attempt (op.cit. p.379) to read verse 29's "his child" as meaning a child of Christ, even in the face of the "God's children" in the next verse and elsewhere (eg, 3:9). Brown's justification for doing so (as was Brooke's in the 1912 International Critical Commentary) is his assumption, determined of course by the Gospels, that the "his coming" in verse 28 must be a reference to Christ's Parousia, which would then govern the meaning of the "his" child in verse 29.
Why is this need so critical? Because if this is in fact a reference to the coming of God and not Jesus, this puts 1 John into a 'Christian' milieu which is not what one would expect in the orthodox stream of things. If these are believers in Jesus of Nazareth as the crucified and resurrected Messiah, why do they not have the expectation of his Second Coming? Why is there no reference to Jesus as judge or ruler upon his return? 3:2 shows that the focus of this entire section of the letter is on God. We are God's children and our destiny is to be like him (God) when he appears or when everything is revealed. In the mind of the writer (of these early strata of the epistle), Christ the Son occupies a subsidiary, accessory position; he is a channel only, a spiritual force. He is given no role commensurate with the Gospel picture of him. Intimations of such a role creep in only at other points, in strata which have all the marks of later insertions, and even here, there is no clear placement of him on earth.
1 John, in those strata that have been laid over a bedrock layer with no Son at all (see Supplementary Article No. 2), is an example of fledgling and evolving "Christ belief." For this sect, Christ began as a manifestation of God, God's point of contact with humanity, the channel through which God is known (see 5:20), one who comes with the Spirit through the sect's ritual sacraments (see 5:6). Soon he was taking on concepts of being a heavenly advocate (2:1), then a propitiation for sin (2:2), serving as an example of good behavior (2:6) and laying down his life/spirit for the believer (3:16). All this knowledge about the Christ was a product of revelation, as we can see in the next item.


 186. - 1 John 3:5...8
You know that he (Christ, ekeinos) was revealed in order to take away sins, and there is no sin in him. . . The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. [Translator's New Testament]
Lapsing into that most universal manner of expression found in the epistles, the writer declares that the Son "was revealed" by God for purposes of salvation. The verb here is the passive of phaneroô, which hardly conveys the coming of the Son to earth and acting in his own person in a life of teaching and self-sacrifice. In fact, there is a notable lack of any implication of death or resurrection in these verses, implying that the Son was at this stage not conceived of as dying, let alone rising. That conception comes, partially, only in 3:16.

 187. - 1 John 3:11
For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. [NASB]
As we have seen above (#182 and 183), the idea of 'hearing from the beginning' refers to the revelation the group received at its formation, not to anything concerning teachings of a Jesus passed on through apostolic tradition. That revelation came from God and was about eternal life, and it seems also, to judge by this verse, to have included the injunction to love one another. In many other passages, the love command is said to have come from God.Yet how could the Johannine community not have inherited the tradition, or developed its own artificial one, that Jesus himself while on earth had taught about loving one another? Right in the Gospel of John we encounter such teachings, aimed at the community of Jesus' followers: "I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another" (13:34-5), or "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Dwell in my love. If you heed my commands, you will dwell in my love, as I have heeded my Father's commands and dwell in his love" (15:9-10). How could the community and the writer of 1 John not be saturated in these ideas, constantly pointing to Jesus as the source of such teachings and the prime example for their practice? The answer is that the construction of the Fourth Gospel's Jesus came only later. The teachings previously ascribed to God and revelation were placed in the mouth of an allegorical Jesus of Nazareth, borrowed from the groundbreaking creation of the writer of Mark and imposed upon the theological outlook of the Johannine circle of belief about a spiritual Son.


 188. - 1 John 3:16
It is by this that we know what love is: that Christ (ekeinos, that one) laid down his life for us. And we in our turn are bound to lay down our lives for our brothers. [NEB]
This declaration is painfully out of place here, for the text goes on in verse 17 to descend with a dull thud from this lofty idea to the remark that if a man has enough to live on he should give to a brother in need. The latter verse, in its tone and motifs, follows on logically from verses 14 and 15. Some scholars (eg, Houlden, Grayston) have recognized the unhappy sequence of ideas here, but they need to be more courageous in their implication that 3:16 may have been lacking in earlier versions of the text.As an injunction, 3:16 is surely to be regarded as the most significant in all the epistle's thinking. And yet, not even here can the writer be drawn into quoting a teaching of Jesus on the subject, not even from the traditions which presumably went into the Gospel which his own community eventually produced. In John 15:13-14, we read, as spoken by Jesus: "There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you." Is it conceivable that the epistle writer would declare the necessity to "lay down our lives for our brothers" without appealing to Jesus' own powerful injunction to do that very thing? Rather, we need to see the saying in the Gospel as an invention, words that were accorded to Jesus based upon the earlier statement of principle, unattributed to anyone, found in the epistle. The same observation could be made about Jesus' saying in 10:11, about the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. These silences in the epistle also allow us to conclusively state that the Gospel of John could not possibly have preceded the epistle and been known to the writer, as many scholars continue to claim.
We might note that in this allusion to a sacrificial death for Jesus in 1 John, there is no hint of what that death might have consisted of, or its soteriological nature. The image of the "cross" is entirely absent from this epistle, as is any atonement doctrine. The idea of sacrificing one's life for one's fellows is not confined to Christianity, and was in fact widespread in ancient philosophy.


 189. - 1 John 3:21-24
21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God, 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him and he in them. [NIV]
Scholars recognize that the "as he commanded us" in verse 23 could, in grammatical terms, refer to either God or Christ. But other statements in this epistle about the source of the love command, as well as in 2 John, do not allow for such an ambiguity. In the above passage, verse 22 refers to keeping God's commands, and verse 24, which refers back to that ambiguous pronoun, contains the idea of 'dwelling in him,' which analysis of 3:27-28 has identified as an idea relating to God. Loving one another has also been identified as part of the revelation from God at the sect's "beginning" (as in 3:11). And reference to the love command in 4:21 and 2 John 4-6 (see below) make it clear that it is God who is in mind as the source.Another silence here is the failure to refer to Jesus' teaching about praying to God, that if one asks, one shall receive. Not only is this advice well-known from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 7:7), it is particularly pervasive in the Gospel of John, with the focus shifted to asking Jesus: "If you ask anything in my name I will do it" (14:15); "Ask what you will, and you shall have it" (15:7); "...so that the Father may give you all that you ask in my name" (15:16). It would be difficult to understand why the writer would consistently fail to appeal to such injunctions from Jesus himself if they were a part of the Johannine traditions.
But perhaps the most telling feature of this passage is the command in verse 23: "to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ." A divine name contained mystical, magical properties. Revelation of that name gave access to the deity's attention and powers. It was part of the knowledge about him that the believer and miracle-worker sought. Through access to the name, they became intimate with him, protected and blessed by him. To "believe in" a deity's name was to believe in his existence, to acknowledge his role in the scheme of faith and salvation, to make a personal commitment to him. The point is, such language best fits the community's belief in Jesus as a spiritual force, a deity beside God in heaven, who has acted entirely in that supernatural world, as God himself does and every other mythical deity believed in at that time. It hardly seems a natural or appropriate style of expression about a recent historical man who had done his work on earth. One might rather expect that the 'command' of God would have been to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had been God's Son and Christ and that his death on Calvary and rising from the tomb had bestowed salvation. But this atmosphere is entirely missing from the Johannine epistles.


 — 1 John 4:1-3 - See "Top 20" #15


 190. - 1 John 4:4 . . . 6
4 But you, my children, are of God's family, and you have the mastery over these false prophets, because he who inspires you is greater than he who inspires the godless world. . . . 6 But we belong to God, and a man who knows God listens to us, while he who does not belong to God refuses us a hearing. That is how we distinguish the spirit of truth from the spirit of error. [NEB]
Following on the 4:1-3 passage ("Top 20" #15), the writer reiterates the principle of who has a pipeline to the truth, how the community is to distinguish truth from error. In verse 2 he has said that those who acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh—which would seem to be a statement that the divine Son had come to earth, a belief apparently not held by those he is condemning—are in possession of the true spirit from God, while those who do not so acknowledge have received 'spirits' not from God and are "Antichrist." In the succeeding verses above, he again speaks of "spirits" of truth and of error.For this community, all information and faith have come through revelation from God. No one appeals to anything Jesus might have said or done, to oral traditions about his life, not even to the concept of Jesus having promised and sent the definitive Spirit in the form of the Paraclete, an essential element of the Gospel of John. It would be difficult to envision a Christian movement originating in the person and followers of Jesus, spreading outward from a single center, which would arrive at the end of the century in a community like that of this epistle and yet not evidence the slightest concept of apostolic tradition.


 191. - 1 John 4:12
Though God has never been seen by any man, God himself dwells in us if we love one another. [NEB]
An odd thought, that God has never been seen by any man. Jesus of Nazareth may have been viewed as more than a man, but he had presumably been a human who walked the earth and who was seen as coming from heaven, and to that extent, God had indeed been seen by at least one man.

 192. - 1 John 4:14-15 / (5:1)
14And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. [NASB]
The epistles are full of the expression that God "sent" the Son, often (as here) in the perfect tense, which can have more of a present implication than a past one. It is the same verb as employed in the "sending" of the Holy Spirit. The consequence of both those sendings is expressed in terms of the present time rather than of some set of past, historical events.In verse 15, the confession is in the present tense. Jesus is the Son of God, not that a certain historical man was the Son of God. Like the description of the first set of dissenters in 2:22f—"Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?"—this is a faith declaration about an existing entity, not about the identity of a past historical man. 2:22 is usually interpreted in the latter sense, a denial that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, but when Gospel preconceptions are set aside, such an interpretation can be seen not to work. These "deniers" are still part of the Christian community. "You no less than they are among the initiated" (2:20, NEB). If the opponents denied Jesus' Messiahship, they would no longer be Christians. Rather, the expression in both passages (to which compare Romans 10:8-9) is a confession of faith in this deity, a deity who is the Son of God and Savior.
Here in 1 John 4:15, God requires the believer to have faith in the existence and power of his Son (as in the "name" in 3:23 and 5:13), and God will abide in them. This thought, consistently in the present tense, is repeated in 5:1, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God," and in 5:5, "he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." Brooke (International Critical Commentary, The Epistles of John, p.128) equates the meaning of "Jesus is Christ" with "Jesus as Christ," demonstrating that this is a faith declaration relating to a present entity in heaven, and not a past one on earth.


 193. - 1 John 5:6-11
6This is the one who came by [through] water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. 7And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth. 8For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. [NASB] . . . (continued below)
There is perhaps no other passage in all the New Testament epistles which gives us a clearer picture of the nature of the early Christian movement, the belief through revelation in a Son and Christ who is God's agent and channel of salvation. Consequently, there are few passages in the epistles that are subjected to more tortured interpretation than this one in order to bring it into line with Gospel preconceptions. A good example is The Translator's New Testament, which takes the phrase "came through water and blood" and offers this elucidation: "That is, through his whole ministry from the baptism to the cross, with all their implications."But of such Gospel events, or implications, there is no suggestion here. The Gospel of John, in fact, does not even contain a baptism scene. Water as representing the baptism of Jesus can hardly figure in this passage's centrality of argument when it is not even present in the community's ongoing record. Nor is the idea of Christ laying down his life, alluded to in 3:16, associated in this epistle with a death on the cross.
It is sometimes suggested that the "blood" element is a reference to the Eucharist, the sacrificial meal established by Jesus at a Last Supper, but here again, no such Eucharist appears in the Gospel of John, let alone the epistle, and the one eucharistic element (so claimed) in that Gospel relates to 'eating the bread of life' (6:48-51), which is not linked to a Last Supper or sacramental ceremony. The enlargement on that idea in the following verses 51b-56, which adds the dimension of drinking Jesus' blood (though still unlinked to a Last Supper), is judged by some to be a later interpolation, probably by the Roman church, to add the missing eucharistic element (e.g., D. Moody Smith,Johannine Christianity, p.19; and Howard M. Teeple, The Literary Origin of the Gospel of John, p.85).
The "water" is undoubtedly a reference to the water of baptism, a rite that would have been present within the community and a sacrament which, like all sacraments, served as a channel for the bestowal of divine grace and spiritual benefits on the believers. Paul's discussion in Romans 6:1-4 of his version of Christian baptism (how similar it was to that of the Johannine community cannot be said) shows that such rites enabled the believer to enter into a mystical union with the deity; they brought the deity into contact with the community, and thus he could be said to have "come" through the water of baptism. The significance of the "blood" is a little more mysterious. J. H. Houlden (The Johannine Epistles, p.125) calls both terms "enigmatic." But the blood almost certainly reflects the thought behind those few phrases inserted into the epistle in a later stratum, such as 1:7b, 2:2 and 4:10, the idea that sin has been atoned for "by the blood of Jesus his Son."
One implication in the wording of 5:6, in the writer's insistence that Christ has "come" through the blood as well as the water, is that this point was in dispute within the sect. This supports the idea that the "blood/propitiation" concept is indeed a later stratum of thought, superimposed on an earlier layer which lacked it, and over some opposition. This in itself would nullify the interpretation that the "blood" element is a biographical reference to Jesus' death on the cross, for who would deny that Jesus had been crucified, or that his crucifixion was not a significant element of the picture about him which has come to the community? Nor would anyone tend to deny the historical or sacramental significance of Jesus' establishment of the Eucharist if any such tradition existed.
Rather, those who are 'denying' the blood must be denying its symbolism as a rite or as a theological element; they are denying its connection to the divine Jesus, perhaps denying that the spiritual Son had anything to do with a blood sacrifice. This reveals an evolution of christology and soteriology taking place over time within the community, a debate which seems to be entirely dependent on revelation and which never appeals to historical traditions about Jesus' life or about what earlier apostolic tradition had taught. The Johannine community (or circle of them) lives within its own world, and while drawing on current trends of thought, is essentially independent and self-sufficient.
Verse 7, "And it is the Spirit that bears witness, and the Spirit is the truth," makes it clear that the engine of faith is not apostolic tradition or the record of Jesus' life, but the force of the Spirit, God's revelation directly to the community. The Spirit has provided the sect's confirmation that the rites of water and blood, or the christology inherent in those concepts, is indeed the truth. In verse 8, somewhat inconsistently, the Spirit joins forces with the two elements of water and blood, and all three bear witness to the divine Son. Since the Spirit is here regarded as on a par with those other two elements, and since the Spirit is a revelatory agency, it is hardly likely that "water" and "blood" would be references to historical events, but would also serve to "reveal" the Son and provide a channel to him. This commonality of meaning between all three is further supported when we go on to verses 9 to 11, in which the focus shifts directly onto God.
9Do we not accept human testimony? The testimony of God is much greater: it is the testimony God has given on his own Son's behalf. 10Whoever believes in the Son of God possesses that testimony within his heart. Whoever does not believe God has made God a liar by refusing to believe in the testimony he has given on his own Son's behalf. 11The testimony is this: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [NAB]
God has himself borne witness to his Son through those three avenues, the Spirit, the water and the blood, with the implication that they are all revelatory channels. But what of traditions and memories about Jesus on earth? What of the record of the things he had said and done, transmitted over the intervening generations by apostolic tradition? Why would these not serve as sources of the truth about the Son, as "testimony" to him? The opening sentence of verse 9 does not do this. It is simply a comparative thought to 9b, a general rule: 'We are in the habit of accepting testimony from men (in certain circumstances), are we not? How much more should we not accept God's testimony?' The former does not specify witness about the Son, and there is no suggestion that it refers in this one instance to the otherwise missing element in the epistle about apostolic tradition concerning Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, verse 8 has already enumerated the three sources of knowledge about the Son, and whatever they may mean, an apostolic source is not included.This sectarian community, like all the other communities of Christ belief springing up in the first century across the eastern half of the Roman empire, has come to the conviction, through perceived revelation by God and the Holy Spirit, that God has a Son, that he is the channel of knowledge about God and the agency and dispenser of God's salvation. Verse 10 above could not state it more clearly, in that belief in a Son is the new idea abroad in the world, a Son as yet unidentified with any recent human figure who was regarded as the Son's incarnation. The Son is known only by revelation from God, there has as yet been no witness to the Son by the Son himself, a dimension that comes only with the Gospels. In the world of the epistles, God has provided revelatory evidence that such a spiritual Son exists, and belief in that evidence, says this writer, is the avenue to eternal life.
Once the idea of the Son was let loose, it underwent a fairly rapid evolution. He began as an adjunct to God's own activities, a spiritual channel who, in this community, was soon seen as an "advocate" in heaven, pleading for the forgiveness of sins, then as a propitiation for those sins, through sacrifice— though the nature of that sacrifice seems not to be clearly established in the thought of the epistle. In this latest stratum, however, the epistle has apparently outstripped the Johannine Gospel, which contains little concept of atonement or propitiation, especially in its portrayal of the crucifixion. All this means is that the so-called community of John was not monolithic, and in fact the epistle known as 3 John shows that it comprised a number of congregations at some distance from each other, congregations which seem not always to have been in agreement as to "true" doctrine.
Verse 11 sums up the entire spirit of the age: "(God's) testimony (through revelation) is this: God gave us eternal life and this life is in his Son." The religion of the Hellenistic age was the concern for personal salvation and immortality, usually granted through subordinate deities such as those of the mystery cults. In Christianity, that subordinate deity was the Son of the Jewish God, transformed into an expanded and divinized version of the expected Messiah (Christ), and usually given the name "Jesus," meaning Yahweh saves. In line with the dominant philosophical concept of the period, this "Christ Jesus" is God's agent and intermediary, revealed by him through the Holy Spirit. When, through a set of unusual circumstances, that intermediary was brought to earth to do his work "among us" (John 1:14), this Hellenistic-Jewish brand of salvation blew away the competitors and established itself on a 2,000 year run.


 194. - 1 John 5:14-15
14We can approach God with confidence for this reason: if we make requests which accord with his will he listens to us; 15and if we know that our requests are heard, we know also that the things we ask for are ours. [NEB]
While this silence has been noted before, even in this epistle (#189), we might highlight it once again in the light of the thought which leads into it. The writer has just said (5:13) that his letter is addressed to those who "believe in the name of the Son of God." As noted earlier (#189), believing in the "name" of a deity is to draw on his power. What deity who had taught on earth, providing knowledge and insight into God's will and benefits, would not be regarded as having manifested that power through his sayings and deeds? Yet even this all-important question of appealing to God for favors is not supported by pointing to Jesus' own teaching and assurances on the matter, that one need merely ask something of God—or of himself—and it will be granted.

2 John

 195. - 2 John 4-6
4It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. 5And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. [NIV]
This passage makes it unmistakably clear that the command to love has come not from Jesus, but from the Father. Moreover, that command is stated as having originated at the "beginning." Since it comes from the Father, that "beginning" cannot have been in the ministry of Jesus—since in that case it would be stated as coming from him, or at least through him—but is an event of revelation, probably lying at the inception of the sect itself.A point I have made many times before is that if a key doctrine is held by a community, and the founder of that community was a prominent and respected teacher, it is inevitable that the teaching of such a doctrine would soon be attributed to him, regardless of whether he had in fact been its source. Yet none of the issues that are central to the interests of this epistle writer are related in any way to a teaching Jesus, and thus we are entitled to place the highest doubt on, indeed to reject, any knowledge of such a figure on the part of the author's community at this stage. Such a figure would step onto the scene only with the writing of the Fourth Gospel, with its Jesus of Nazareth character a reworking of the Synoptic precedent of Mark's invention, re-suited in the christological garments of the Johannine circle of belief.


Jude

 196. - Jude 1
From Jude, servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those whom God has called, who live in the love of God the Father and in the safe keeping of Jesus Christ. [NEB]
Few scholars today regard this epistle as the product of Jude, apostle and supposedly a sibling of Jesus, first introduced as such in Mark 6:3. But if it had been so authored, or if it were a pseudonymous product written in the name of Jude, with the object of claiming the authority of that figure (perhaps an early apostle of the Christ), or even if such an ascription were added later to an existing letter, there is little conceivable reason why such a writer or editor would not have identified this Jude as the brother of Jesus, if he had been so, and not simply as his servant. It seems clear that, as in the case of the letter of James (#145), no such sibling relationship was known at that time, probably because the idea of an historical Jesus was itself unknown.

 197. - Jude 17
But you, my friends, should remember the predictions made by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the warning they gave you: 'In the final age there will be men who pour scorn on religion, and follow their own godless lusts.'
Throughout the epistles, "apostles" are those like Paul who are proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ, with nothing to suggest that they were followers of a Jesus on earth. They are men who have been inspired by the Spirit to preach this heavenly figure. Although there are no close Gospel parallels to these words or sentiments, the Gospels place many predictions about the final age in Jesus' mouth, some of them of a similar nature, such as Matthew 24:10-12: "Many will lose their faith; they will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many; and as lawlessness spreads, men's love for one another will grow cold." In any case, the point made above in 2 John 4-6 (#195) again applies. Such a prediction, important to the writer and his community, would have gravitated toward Jesus himself and inevitably have been placed in his mouth.

Addendum: THE REVELATION TO JOHN

While not, of course, an epistle, the Book of Revelation falls into that category of early Christian writings which show no knowledge of an historical, Gospel Jesus. The figure of Christ communicates entirely through spiritual or visionary channels, there are no teachings of Jesus offered, no references to miracles or other deeds on earth. The prophet envisions his Christ as having been "dead and came to life again" (2:8), but no circumstances of this dying and rising are ever given. No idea of a bodily resurrection appears. Titles and mythical features given to Christ, such as his identification with the "Lamb" and the "one like a son of man" from Daniel 7, are apocalyptic and messianic motifs longstanding in Jewish thought, and entirely heavenly. (For a full discussion of Revelation's lack of an historical Jesus, see my Supplementary Article No. 11: Revelation: The Gospel According to the Prophet John.)
 198. - Revelation 1:9
I was on the island of Patmos because I had preached God's word and borne my testimony to Jesus [lit., the testimony of Jesus]. [NEB]
The final phrase in this verse is grammatically ambiguous, in that it could mean John's own witness to Jesus, or the witness that Jesus himself bore. Translations render it as the former, or else reflect the ambiguity. In 1:2, on the other hand, John seems to be referring to the latter, saying that he is bearing witness to God's word and to the testimony of Jesus Christ. But the latter, in that case, is clearly a reference to the entire document, Jesus' revelation to the prophet about the coming apocalypse, and this is a "testimony" that has come to him through an angel (1:1), not from any Jesus on earth.In the above quoted passage (1:9), however, John is referring to his regular preaching message, the one for which he was arrested and exiled. That message is the word of God, not Jesus, and it is a word about Jesus, John's testimony to him. Since John is concerned with the apocalyptic end or transformation of the world, one would expect that Jesus' own preaching on this subject, as part of his ministry, would have been of intense interest and would have formed part of his picture of the End-time. But Revelation never speaks a word about Jesus' prophetic message on earth, nothing from the Little Apocalypse found in Mark 13, none of the predictions about the coming Son of Man placed in Jesus' mouth in the Gospels. The motif of the "thief who comes at an unexpected moment" appears in 3:3 and 16:15, but in the former it is part of the visionary Christ's letter dictated to the church at Sardis, and the latter seems to be placed in the mouth of God. There is no suggestion that Jesus had spoken something like it during an earthly ministry. The metaphor was probably common in the prophetic vocabulary of the day.


 199. - Revelation 1:13 and 14:14
I saw . . . among the lamps one like a son of man. / Then as I looked there appeared a white cloud, and on the cloud sat one like a son of man. [NEB]
The use of the phrase "one like a son of man" shows that the author of Revelation knows of no tradition that Jesus on earth had referred to himself this way, for he uses it in the form in which it appears in Daniel 7, not as a title, "the Son of Man," which the Gospels apply to Jesus. That an apocalyptically minded prophet like John would not have known of such a term used of Jesus on earth, were the Gospel element historical, is highly unlikely.

 200. - Revelation 12:1-6
1Next appeared a great portent in heaven, a woman robed with the sun, beneath her feet the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant, and in the anguish of her labor she cried out to be delivered. 3Then a second portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns; on his heads were seven diadems, 4and with his tail he swept down a third of the stars in the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that when her child was born he might devour it. 5She gave birth to a male child, who is destined to rule all nations with an iron rod. But her child was snatched up to God and his throne; 6and the woman herself fled into the wilds, where she had a place prepared for her by God, there to be sustained for twelve hundred and sixty days. [NEB]
Is this passage a highly mythologized rendering of Jesus' birth of Mary and its messianic significance? Perhaps a more telling question would be: if Jesus had indeed been born of the woman Mary, would readers of this document have associated the above passage with her and with Jesus' nativity, however much sensationalized? The answer would undeniably be yes.And yet, if so, how can the prophet portray a mythologized scene which not only contains no hint of any Nativity element known to us from the Gospels (or of any unknown one), but in fact makes no room for a life on earth at all? Here the child is snatched up to heaven immediately after birth, there presumably to await the appointed time when he would "rule all nations with an iron rod." The latter motif shows that this child is to be identified with End-time messianic expectation, but there is no suggestion that he had or would be destined for an incarnated life on earth prior to that time. Indeed, since this is part of a document prophesying what is to come, that birth from the woman robed with the sun is yet to take place; it is not something that has happened in the past.
Like many of the prophet's motifs, this one is fluid and allows for multiple applications. Some identify the woman as an ideal glorified Israel, as in the Zion that gives birth in Isaiah 66:7-8; others see in her the figure of Eve, as in Genesis 3:16. Hellenistic mythology is no doubt present, too, as in the myth of Isis with her newborn Horus fleeing the dragon Typhon, or the similar myth of Apollo and Leto. John the prophet was able to draw on a rich multi-cultural heritage for his highly charged imagery. But the telling point here is that the one heritage he fails to draw on is the Christian one itself, presuming that Christianity possessed by the end of the first century (Revelation is most often dated around 90 CE) some kind of tradition about a Jesus born of Mary, living a life and conducting a ministry some three-quarters of a century earlier. If it did, the writer would hardly fashion a scene which all of his readers would surely associate with that birth and life and yet leave out any suggestion of this child's sojourn on earth or the things he had performed there which directly related to his apocalyptic picture. This passage alone is sufficient to indicate that John the prophet knew of no historical Jesus.
And so John, like so many of the epistle writers, ends his work (22:20) with an appeal which rings throughout the earliest Christian record, echoed by Paul and others, an appeal to the Christ whom he knows solely through visions and revelations, to "Come, Lord Jesus!" This he cries in response to the Christ who has promised "Yes, I am coming soon!" Neither one of them conveys any sense that this coming one had been here already, recently and in the flesh.
That idea, unknown to the prophet John, lay on the immediate horizon.



Appendix
20 ARGUABLE REFERENCES TO THE GOSPEL JESUS
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT EPISTLES

Those seeking to discredit the Jesus-as-myth interpretation invariably appeal to a handful of passages in the epistles which would seem to support a human view of Jesus. "Of David's stock," "sprung from Judah," "born of woman," the occasional use of "anthrôpos" ("man") and the terms "blood" and "flesh," along with a few other miscellaneous items, are placed on the opposite side of the scale in the expectation that these can counter-balance the vast silence on the Gospel Jesus and events which the Sound of Silence has outlined, and tip the weight in favor of a human Jesus present in the minds of the early epistle writers.
The first thing to notice is that none of these things relate in any direct way to the Gospel character, none of them make reference to specific Gospel events, none locate the figure they refer to in any specific time and place. They are features associated with the Christ being preached by writers like Paul, and if they can be interpreted in alternate ways—such as being dependent on scripture or in keeping with Platonic philosophy—this removes them from any necessity to be applied to a recent human man.
(This is in addition to the three "historical" passages I have regularly addressed as a separate category. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is a widely accepted interpolation about "[the Jews] who killed the Lord Jesus," 1 Timothy's reference to Pilate in 6:13 is contained within a second century piece of writing but may also be an interpolation, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul's words of Jesus at the "Lord's Supper," can be interpreted as a mythical scene, one which may have given rise to the Gospel episode. These three will also be included below.)
Almost all of the passages itemized here have been covered to some extent either in the Sound of Silence proper or in various Supplementary Articles. Where that is the case, I will often give only a summary of the argument to be made, and refer the reader to the item or article where fuller discussion can be found. On the other hand, where important issues are concerned, as in the case of a term like "flesh" (as in kata sarka), I will make an extended review of the evidence, and even add new material not found elsewhere. In the case of certain terms, I will combine into one item the principal passages where each one appears and address them collectively. In the interests of preserving a continuous discussion of related subjects, the order of the items will not always conform to canonical order.
1. Romans 1:3
[...the Gospel of God, which he announced beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures], the gospel concerning his Son who was descended from the seed of David according to the flesh (kata sarka) . . .
In the "Romans" file, #21, I pointed out that this passage involves a curious silence, in that Paul is saying that God's gospel in the prophets announced not the life of Jesus itself but the gospel about him which Paul proclaims. No life of Jesus seems to have intervened between the prophets' forecast and the discovery of that gospel in scripture by Paul.And what of the reference to Christ being of David's stock? Paul says that he got this information from the prophets. It was part of God's gospel about his Son, as announced in the sacred writings. The scriptures, of course, contained several passages prophesying some future king and anointed one who would be descended from David, and they had to be applied to any belief in a Christ/Messiah, no matter what his nature. Paul makes no reference here to an historical tradition, nor is any link made with a recent human man. This is a feature which Paul has given the Son because of those passages from scripture. Can such a feature be applied to a spiritual Son in heaven, at least in minds like Paul's?
Considering that Platonic philosophy envisioned that all things on earth were copies of primary archetypes in heaven, the answer is yes. Even Jewish thought contained the idea that elements on earth mirrored ones in heaven, such as the earthly temple and the earthly Jerusalem having heavenly counterparts, or the righteous saints on earth having a heavenly paradigm and champion in the person of the Messiah and Son of Man who appears in the Similitudes of Enoch (indicating that some Jews did have a concept of a spiritual Messiah). Thus it was very possible for Paul to envision his heavenly Son and Christ as one who bore a spiritual relationship to David—even if he may not have fully understood how.
The fullest discussion of the Romans 1:1-4 passage can be found in Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man": Does Paul Speak of Jesus as an Historical Person? See also No. 5 below for a discussion of the use of the term "flesh" as in verse 3's kata sarka.


2. Romans 3:24-25 ("blood")
. . . (all) are freely justified by his [God's] grace through his redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation, through faith in his blood [i.e., his sacrificial death]. . .
. . . plus other references to Jesus' "blood" sacrifice, as in:
Ephesians 1:7, 1 Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 2:14 and chapters 8 & 9
Some of the myths of the Greek savior gods involved the concept of dying and sacrifice, including references to blood. Rituals and sacred meals of these cults made reference to the blood of the god (or in the case of Mithras, that of the bull he slew). This "blood" was not regarded as historical or earthly, and neither need we view that of Christ in the thinking of the earliest Christians. That blood could be spiritual and function in the upper world can be seen in the elaborate theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which (chapters 8 and 9) Christ as High Priest makes a sacrifice of his own blood in the heavenly sanctuary, with no reference to a shedding of blood on earth, let alone on Calvary.

3. Romans 5:15 (Christ as man, "anthrôpos")
For if the many died by the trespass of the one man [referring to Adam], how much more did God's grace and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many.
. . . plus 1 Corinthians 15:21:
For since by a man [no verb] death, by a man also [no verb] the resurrection of the dead.
. . . plus 1 Corinthians 15:47:
The first man [Adam] was of the earth, the second man [Christ] is of the heavenly.
. . . plus 1 Timothy 2:5:
For there is one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus, himself man. [NEB]
The reference in 1 Timothy can be regarded as based on the Pauline precedent. The Pauline comparison between Adam and Christ, spanning two epistles, is designed to contrast the "man" who brought sin into the world and the "man" who has taken it away. Paul is making an antithetical or "type-antitype" comparison. He needs to present a counterpart relationship. There is no need to regard the two "anthrôpos" elements as identical in nature, and in fact the salvation system of the mystery cult ethos requires that one be spiritual, the other material. Can a divine being be referred to as "Man"? In Hellenistic philosophy this is certainly the case. For example, consider Philo's discussion of "Heavenly Man":"There are two kinds of men. The one is Heavenly Man, the other earthly. The Heavenly Man being in the image of God has no part in corruptible substance, or in any earthly substance whatever; but the earthly man was made of germinal matter which the writer [of Genesis] calls "dust." For this reason he does not say that the Heavenly Man was created, but that he was stamped with the image of God, whereas the earthly man is a creature and not the offspring of the Creator." (From Allegorical Interpretation of the Law)
Look closely at 1 Corinthians 15:47, quoted above. Similar to Philo, Paul makes a clear distinction in nature between Adam, who is made of "earthly" material, and Christ who is made of "heavenly" material. He has already noted (verse 46) his basic contrast between the physical and the spiritual, between Adam and Christ. Following that sequence—meant to parallel the resurrection of the (human) body—he declares that the order is the physical body first, then the spiritual. Adam is physical, Christ is spiritual, and the latter will be the prototype for the resurrected bodies of men and women. Nowhere does Paul specify that the spiritual body of Christ he has in mind is the one he assumed after his resurrection, or when he reached heaven. That is always read into the meaning, or even into the translation (as in most translations of verse 45). Paul's two sorts of "man" are clearly not the same.
Note the earlier 15:21. Here translators tend to fill in verbs which are Gospel-oriented, assigning the second man (Christ) to the past, as in "for since by a man came death, by a man also came resurrection of the dead." But the following verse points to a future effect, and we may read the second phrase of verse 21 as lacking any past association: "by a man also will come (or has come, now) resurrection of the dead." Paul conveys no identifiable sense that this second man, in contrast to Adam, belongs to earth or to past history.
For a full discussion of these "anthrôpos" passages in Paul, see Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man". See also the "1 & 2 Corinthians" file, #54.


4. Romans 8:3 ("send" / "likeness")
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin.
The concept that the Son had been "sent" into the world is common in the epistles, just as we find the same idea applied to the Holy Spirit which has been sent to inspired apostles, as in 1 Peter 1:12. (That "sending" of the Spirit is also promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John.) Early Christians believed that the newly-revealed Christ was now present within themselves and was manifesting himself through them. (Compare the idea of "in Christ" which Paul regularly expresses: see "1 & 2 Corinthians" #55.) InGalatians 4:4-6, Paul says that God has sent his Son, but then clarifies that "sending" by stating (the same verb) that God has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts (verse 6; see "Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians" #69). On Galatians 4:4-6, see below, No. 11).The idea of "likeness" is a key element here. This is a recurring concept in the early Christian record. Philippians 2:6-11, a christological hymn, says three times in succession that Jesus, a divine entity in heaven who shared God's own nature, took on the form/fashion/likeness of a man. Never does the epistolary record say directly that he became a man, much less that he led a life on earth, or give us details of such a life. Consider the (probably) late 1st century Jewish/Christian The Ascension of Isaiah. In 9:13, as part of Isaiah's vision in the seventh heaven, he is told of the future descent of the Son through the layers of heaven, he "who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man." Here the clear implication is that he will not be. And who is "they"? Not the earthly authorities of Pilate and Herod, but "the god of that world," meaning Satan who, together with his evil angels, "will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is." Compare Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 2:8 that the "the rulers of this age" were unaware they were crucifying "the Lord of glory." Most liberal scholars acknowledge that "the rulers of this age" refers to the demon spirits, who were seen as inhabiting the lowest celestial sphere. Clearly, the "likeness" idea does not have a meaning of "identical" but of "similarity" (see also below), and this fits the concept of savior gods who descend toward the material levels of the universe and take on ever more material-like and human-like forms (though they do not physically enter matter itself). Such ideas about descending redeemers were a feature of Hellenistic mythology, and are found in such philosophers as Julian and Sallustius. On all these points, see Supplementary Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus?
We might also consider a very revealing passage in the Odes of Solomon. Ode 7 contains these verses:
He [God] has generously shown himself to me in his simplicity,
because his kindness has diminished his grandeur.He became like me that I might receive him.
In form [or essence, image] that I might put him on.
Like my nature he became, that I might understand him.
The Odist does not introduce any historical Jesus figure here; it is God himself who undergoes this transformation. While there is no death or sacrifice involved, nor a heavenly descent, these ideas fit the concept of a deity revealing himself by 'taking on' a different form, one "like" that of humans so that the latter can better understand and relate to him. Here the image is simply poetic; God reveals himself through concepts which the human mind can grasp. In the Odes as a whole, that process is portrayed as taking place through revelatory emanations of God, styled—with strong Wisdom characteristics—as the Son, the Word, the Beloved. In Ode 11:11 the Odist says that he has put on God "like a garment." None of these images are identified with an historical Jesus. The "diminishing of his grandeur" of Ode 7 (above) implies that such a process is a compromising of God's ultimate and unknowable nature as pure spirit, in order to become knowable, and to this we can compare the more graphic idea of a heavenly descent such as is found in the descending redeemer context. (For a full analysis of this fascinating and revealing document, see Supplementary Article No. 4: The Odes of Solomon.)For a closer consideration of the use of the term "flesh" see next item.


5. Romans 9:5 ("flesh" / "kata sarka")
From them [referring to the "people of Israel"] (are) the patriarchs, and from them the Christ according to the flesh (kata sarka), who is God overall, blessed forever [or, who is overall, God be blessed forever].
Before bringing in other examples of the use of the term "flesh," note the similarity here with Romans 1:3 (above, No. 1), in the use of the phrase "kata sarka" and its application to a concept of ethnic lineage, the former identified with David, the latter with the Jewish race.It is first of all not unusual that a god be accorded an ethnic identity. The Hellenistic savior deity Osiris was identified as Egyptian. Gods such as Dionysos and Attis were given close associations with their peoples of origin, as were many others in ancient mythology. In the case of David, many biblical passages identified the expected Messiah as his descendent, and this could not be ignored even when the earliest faith was a belief only in a spiritual Son and Christ. Any savior figure, human or spiritual, growing out of the Jewish tradition, could probably not fail to be identified with that racial group. (See also Galatians 4:4, with its "born (coming into being) under the Law"—No. 11.)
In any case, the idea of a spiritual divinity who was a paradigm or champion for a group on earth, guaranteeing them rebirth and resurrection after death—in the pattern of 'likeness' which Paul describes in Romans 6:5—had to possess parallel characteristics. That is how the system of salvation in the cultic philosophy worked. Initiates entered into union with the god and underwent what he underwent; they shared in counterpart features and experiences. Moreover, Platonic philosophy declared that everything on earth was an imperfect copy of primary expressions in heaven. The upper world and its features were the "genuine" part of the universe; the material world was its mirror. All these factors could combine to produce features of the spiritual, mythical Christ in the minds of people like Paul which to our ears have a human and historical sounding character. They could create a picture of a mythical world which possessed earthly features and savior gods who acted within that world. And they could especially do so when they were also dependent on scriptural passages, such as we see in the case of Galatians 4:4's "born of woman" (see No. 11).
Now to the question of the term "flesh" as in the frequent stereotyped phrases, en sarkikata sarka, etc. I have dealt with this at length in Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man" and in my Response to Pete in Reader Feedback 14. To summarize those ideas: just as it has been demonstrated that "blood" can be spoken of in a spiritual world context, and that the higher sphere contained heavenly counterparts to earthly features (particularly in a paradigmatic relationship with human believers), there should be no impediment to placing the concept of "flesh" as applied to Christ in the same setting, especially in view of the idea of descent on the part of savior gods to levels which were regarded as resembling the human and material. In fact, a commentator such as C. K. Barrett leans toward translating kata sarka as "in the sphere of the flesh." The demonic spirit powers who inhabited the air or "firmament" between the earth and the moon, the lowest celestial level, were regarded as belonging to the realm of flesh (see The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, VII, p.128) and they were thought of as in some way corporeal, though they possessed 'heavenly' versions of earthly bodies (op.cit., p.143). In certain contexts, the idea of kata sarka may entail the impact Christ has on the world of flesh and humans.
To quote in summary a paragraph from Reader Feedback 14: "Everywhere that an epistle writer uses a phrase about Jesus' nature or redeeming acts involving the word 'sarx' we can suggest that he is speaking of that point or state of contact or similarity between the spiritual and the material. In other words, the god has moved into the sphere or state of being which can react on the flesh, on humans and their salvation. Since philosophers like Julian speak very vividly of the graded higher world, whose spheres ever degrade as they descend toward, and start to affect, matter, and of gods moving down those spheres (compare the Ascension of Isaiah 9 and 10), we have a reasonable—if alien to our way of thinking— explanation for this pervasive manner of speaking among early Christian writers who never manage to place Jesus firmly on earth." Thus the terms most frequently used, kata sarka and en sarki, may use the word sarx to signify the world of humans (which includes the realm of the evil spirits who control it), but Christ is being described in that relationship he bears to the fleshly world of humans, in that spirit-matter dichotomy central to Platonic philosophy.
The other important locations in the epistles (beyond the three in Romans listed above) where the term "sarx" is used—and we can make a few further observations on them—are:
Ephesians 2:14-16:
For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. [RSV]
This is a highly mystical and even obscure passage. In 1:9-10, Ephesians has expressed a related idea: "For he [God] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth." Here Christ is a force or entity through which heaven and earth will be united. This reflects a concept of the period that heaven and earth were sundered, kept apart by the forces of evil in the lower heavens. Christ's death has served to restore that unity, to bring about the destruction of the evil forces that divide the universe. (Compare Colossians 2:15, and those passages noted above in 1 Corinthians 2:8 and the Ascension of Isaiah in which the identity of Christ is kept hidden from the demon spirits, so that they will proceed unwittingly with the sacrificial act which will ensure their destruction.)Verses 2:14-16 convey the companion idea (and we will see it carried further in 2:17) that Christ will bring about a unification between a divided humanity, namely between Jew and gentile. The use of "in his flesh" (en tei sarki autou) in verse 14 conveys the idea of "in his person," within that context described earlier in which Christ enters the "sphere of flesh" in order to fulfill his redemptive purposes. "Creating in himself one new man in place of two" (verse 15) is reminiscent of Paul's earlier doctrine about the collective "body" formed by Christ and his believers—Christ the head, the church the limbs—another mystical idea which hardly has in mind a Christ in human form. This "new man," as well as the "one body" which unites Jew and gentile (verse 16) must be regarded as spiritual in nature, the expression once again of a highly mystical idea. We will look at other uses of the term "body" below (Colossians 1:22 and Hebrews 10:5).
Colossians 1:22:
(And you . . . ) he [God] has now reconciled in his body of flesh (en toi somati tes sarkos autou) by his death [that of Christ], in order to present you holy and blameless before him . . .
One can sympathize with G. A. Wells' opinion that the concepts at the heart of the Pauline epistles are, for the most part, "unintelligible." Modern commentators either gloss over passages like this, failing to attempt any precise analysis of their meaning, or they try to twist and push them into some semblance of relevance for the modern mind. One thing is clear: these ideas are quite alien to us, based on modes of thinking and views of reality that are, or should be, no longer meaningful or sustainable within today's rational, scientific universe. The writer of this epistle has just emerged from a christological hymn (1:15-20) which presents a cosmic picture of the Son almost unparalleled in the New Testament. He is the image of God, he has primacy over all created things. Through him everything in heaven and earth was created, including the great ranks of spiritual powers good and evil. He is pre-existent and the very universe is held together through him. As in Ephesians, it is through the Son that the sundered chaos of the universe is reconciled to God, creating "peace" and unity through a blood sacrifice; so too are sinners reconciled to God. Yet nowhere in these epistles is this boundless unifying and redemptive force placed on earth or identified with a given human man. To descend from this cosmic setting to the hill of Calvary simply on the basis of the lonely word "flesh" or "body," especially within such mystical contexts, is, rather than a leap of faith, a tumble into the naïve and absurd.The writer (representing himself as Paul) goes on in verse 24 to contrast his own human nature with that of Christ, a passage which the NEB wisely translates this way: "This is my way of helping to complete, in my poor human flesh, the full tale of Christ's afflictions still to be endured, for the sake of his body which is the church." [NEB]
Here, the pseudo-Pauline writer makes a distinction between his "human" flesh and the "body" of Christ, which he defines as "the church," similar to the genuine Pauline concept pointed out earlier. This is a clear pointer to the two types of context for the word "flesh," a human and a spiritual one, to the mystical and mythological nature of all this language. Compare Ephesians 1:22-23, ". . . and gave him [Christ] as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." Christ is portrayed once again as a cosmic force, filling the church, which comprises his "body."
1 Timothy 3:16:
He who was manifested in flesh / Vindicated in [or by] the Spirit / Beheld by angels / Was preached among the nations / Was believed in throughout the world / Taken up in glory. . . .
In "1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus" #104, I pointed out that this little hymn has no specific reference to a life on earth, no glimmer of the character of Jesus of Nazareth. He was preached, but not said to have preached. He was seen by angels, but not by humans.The "en sarki" (in flesh) of the opening line may be understood as a revelation of the Son within the sphere of the flesh (that is, to humanity), or as a reference to his mythological operations within the lower, accessible portion of the universe through which gods came in contact with, and revealed themselves to, the material world.
Hebrews 2:14:
Since, then, the children [believers given to Christ by God] have flesh and blood, he [Christ] in like manner (paraplêsiôs) shared these things, so that through death he might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.
Again we encounter the principle of "likeness" and paradigmatic counterpart. In order to dissolve the power of Satan and death, Christ must conquer it through his own death. In order to undergo that death, he must 'take on' a nature which can experience it, a relation to flesh and blood. Most of the savior gods saved through their conquest of death; these had myths which described suffering and death in human-like terms. Yet no one regarded these experiences as historical, as having taken place on earth, and certainly not recently. Such 'flesh and blood' existed in the realm of the mythical and spiritual, though in the lower part of that realm, since the higher levels of heaven, where God dwelled, were pure spirit.The key word in this passage is paraplêsiôs, "in like manner." Does this word mean "identical"? No, it means "similar, resembling, near to." (This is fortunate for Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:27, for if his illness had been "identical" to death, Paul would be writing an obituary and not praising God for his colleague's recovery.) When we compare the emphasis in the Ascension of Isaiah 9 on the spirits only "thinking" that Christ "is flesh and a man" (see above No. 4), we can see a tendency to regard Christ as not fully partaking in a world and nature which is identical to the one humans share.
Hebrews 5:7:
In the days of his flesh [en tais hêmerais tês sarkos autou] he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears . . .
Has the writer of this epistle placed Jesus on earth in this passage? Or does this verse indicate yet another way of viewing the mythical Christ and learning of his activities? What in fact are the activities which this verse assigns to Jesus' "days in flesh"? Not earthly words or deeds, nor any Gospel-based piece of historical data. Rather, as scholars have pointed out (Ellingworth, Montefiore, Buchanan), the words refer to two passages in the Psalms. This is only one of several writers in the early Christian record who seem to regard Christ as one who 'lives' only in scripture-revealed myth.For a discussion of why this passage does not fit the Gospel account of Gethsemane, see "Hebrews" #122, and Supplementary Article No. 9: A Sacrifice in Heaven: The Son in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
1 Peter 3:18:
He [Christ] was put to death in (the) flesh [sarki, a simple dative], made alive in/by (the) spirit [pneumati].
The ever-present dichotomy of early Christian soteriology: Christ dies in flesh, he rises in spirit. (Not, we might note, rising in a physical body on earth and appearing to his disciples). This is a capsule summary of the descending-ascending redeemer principle. The god must descend to a state where he can undergo suffering and death. He then ascends—"rises" or, in Jesus' case, is "led up" by God—to the highest divine level, reassuming his former pure spirit nature and his seat beside God's throne. He enters the realm/sphere of flesh (which includes that of the demon spirits), taking on lower forms and capacities, performs his act of salvation, then returns to the realm/sphere of spirit and God.We may certainly ask why it is that these epistle writers, when speaking of the activities of Jesus, never give us an unmistakable reference to a life on earth. Why do they all choose to use such stilted, obscure language? Why is that language so consistent, so universal, using stereotyped terms? Clearly, these are philosophical concepts to fit mythical circumstances, and considering that they conform so well to the Middle Platonism of the era, we should have no trouble in deciding how to interpret them.
1 Peter 4:1:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in (the) flesh [sarki], arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. [NASB]
The other philosophical concept of the period, the basis of the mystery cult soteriology, was one of paradigmatic parallel, discussed above (compare Hebrews 2:14). The features and experiences of the savior god must mirror those of the devotee, and vice-versa in the matter of guaranteed salvation. We on earth have suffered in the flesh. The god too must suffer in the 'flesh' (the state he assumes when he descends toward the realm of matter). This need would eventually bring the savior, in the case of Christianity, onto the material earth and into a literal flesh (though some were to resist this trend and give rise to docetism). But in earliest Christianity, it could be fulfilled in the concept of the god's descent to a level of the universe where he could take on and undergo counterpart elements to human features and experiences. The above verse is a relationship of "likeness," similar to Paul's doctrine in Romans 6:5: "For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection."2 Corinthians 5:16:
Proper translations of this verse (probably the most noted example of kata sarka) actually lift it out of the category of an arguable reference to an historical Jesus. "Just as from now on we know no man according to the flesh [kata sarka] so too, even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, we do so no longer." Compare the NEB translation: ". . .if (worldly standards) once counted in our understanding of Christ, they do so now no longer."
Among others, C. K. Barrett (Second Epistle to the Corinthians, p.170-1) recognizes that the second "according to the flesh" does not describe an attribute of Christ, but Paul's action of "knowing." And thus "the view, based on a false interpretation of this verse, that Paul had no interest in the Jesus of history, must be dismissed." It is the attitude of humans toward other humans, and toward Christ, which has been filtered through "the flesh"—their own. Thus Christ as an entirely spiritual figure remains unaffected.


6. Hebrews 10:5 ("body")
We have already seen several examples of Paul speaking of "heavenly bodies" and of Christ's "body" in a spiritual and mystical sense (1 Corinthians 15:40-49, Colossians 1:24, Ephesians 1:23 and 2:16). And the term "body" has been dealt with in a few cases in association with "flesh." But the most striking use of "sôma" comes in Hebrews 10:5, and it is most revealing:
That is why, at his coming into the world, he says:
"Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire,
But thou hast prepared a body for me.
Whole-offerings and sin-offerings thou didst not delight in.
Then I said, 'Here am I: as it is written of me in the scroll,
I have come, O God, to do thy will.' " (Psalm 40:6-8 LXX) [NEB]
Here the use of the term "body" is determined by scripture. But is the concept placed in an historical, earthly setting? Seemingly not. The quotation from the Psalm is regarded as the voice of Christ speaking, and it is synchronous with his "coming into the world." Paul Ellingworth (Hebrews, p.499) calls the present tense used here a "timeless present." It certainly contains no association with a past moment of birth, at Bethlehem or anywhere else. All seems to take place in a scripture-revealed world of myth, unassociated with a given historical moment or incarnation.See "Hebrews" #134 and Supplementary Article No. 9: A Sacrifice in Heaven.
Thus, all these terms, "blood," "flesh," "body," can be seen to inhabit a mythical setting, in conformity with contemporary philosophy and views of the universe, and with the system of paradigmatic soteriology as represented in the mystery cults. If, alongside these terms, we were to find other instances in the epistles where references are made to Jesus inhabiting an earthly life and circumstances, we might be led to interpret such terms in a material fashion. But in the absence of anything but these ambiguous references, and in the presence of many passages which exclude or deny a role for a human Jesus in the faith movement, the Platonic interpretation of such terms seems eminently acceptable.


7. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
3  For I delivered to you, as of prime importance, what also I received:
    that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,
4  and that he was buried,
    and that he has been raised on the third day according to the scriptures,
5  and that he was seen (ôphthê) by Cephas, then by the twelve;
6  afterward he was seen by over 500 brothers at one time,
    most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep;
7  afterward he was seen by James, then by all the apostles;
8  last of all, as to one abnormally born, he was seen by me as well.
The gospel of Paul and the appearances. Few other passages are pointed to so frequently to support the relationship of the epistles to the Gospels. But this assumption overlooks several anomalies.What does the "received" of the opening line refer to? Almost universally it has been declared a reference to passed-on historical tradition, an oral gospel which Paul has gotten from others. But this would stand in direct contradiction with his adamant statement in Galatians 1:11-12: "For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not the product of men. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but (I received it) through a revelation of [about] Jesus Christ."
In that Galatians passage, Paul demonstrates that the verb paralambano can be used for both reception of a tradition and reception of a revelation, and in fact the verb was used in the mysteries in regard to a revelation from a deity. We are led, then, to regard Paul's gospel as stated in 1 Corinthians 15 to be one which he has personally developed from revelation. He also tells us specifically where he derived this revealed information. In verses 3 and 4, he uses the phrase kata tas graphas, "according to the scriptures," and while this is traditionally interpreted as meaning 'in fulfillment of the scriptures,' it may also have the meaning of 'as we learn from the scriptures.'
Can the details of Paul's gospel fit a mythical setting? Savior gods regularly died; they were even occasionally buried, as in the case of Osiris. (The 'burial' doctrine may derive from one of the elements in Paul's mystical view of baptism, that through this sacrament the believer was "buried" with Christ: see Romans 6:4. The rite determines the myth, a common process.) The rising from death is also an occasional feature of the mystery deities, but it may also be something Paul has derived from certain passages in the sacred writings, including that it occurred "on the third day" (as in Hosea 6:2).
An important corollary derives from the conclusion that Paul is speaking of a revealed gospel. He could hardly make such a claim if this information about Christ was circulating throughout the Christian world through oral tradition. Considering that he regularly speaks of Jesus' rising as a matter of faith (he even on occasion implies that thedeath is a matter of faith as well), we must conclude that no such historical traditions were in existence, and that these beliefs belong to the world of myth.
As for the list of "appearances" to people in Jerusalem, if the details of Paul's gospel are revealed myth, there is no necessary temporal connection between them and those "seeings" of the Christ. These men simply experienced some kind of revelation about him. Since Paul lists his own experience with the rest, with no suggestion that there is any difference in quality between his own and the others, we are entitled to conclude (as have some critical scholars, including those of the Jesus Seminar) that the latter are identical to Paul's, an experience which has always been accepted as entirely visionary, a revelation from the spiritual Son.
Finally, if the Gospels are regarded as the primary witness to the historical Jesus of Nazareth and his activities (and they must be, since he is to be found nowhere else in the early record), any document which fundamentally disagrees with that Gospel account should throw it into the deepest doubt. Paul's list of appearances shows glaring inconsistencies with the Gospel post-resurrection accounts, listing appearances which are not included in the Gospels (James and the 500) and completely ignoring the role and presence of the Gospel women.
This passage is dealt with at length in Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source of Paul's Gospel.


8. 1 Corinthians 7:10 / 9:14 ("words of the Lord")
Only once does a New Testament epistle writer offer pronouncements by Jesus which bear any resemblance to Gospel teachings. In answer to certain matters raised by the Corinthians, Paul twice mentions that he has a directive from "the Lord." Compared to the great ethical teachings recorded in the Gospels, these two little instructions are paltry. One (1 Corinthians 7:10) admonishes married couples not to divorce. The other (1 Corinthians 9:14) declares that apostles preaching the gospel should be paid for their trouble. When one considers how often Paul appeals to the scriptures for instruction and guidance, or how often he is engaged in crucial disputes but fails to draw on far more important teachings of Jesus to settle the matter, one can say that Paul has little or no sense of Jesus as a source of moral guidance. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9 he can even say that "you are taught by God to love one another"!
Where has Paul gotten these two directives in 1 Corinthians? We may once again turn to personal revelation. One of the hallmarks of the early prophetic movement was the practice of making pronouncements which the prophet claims he has received through direct personal revelation. Scholars call these "sayings of the risen Lord" and note that the early church made no distinction between such ongoing communications from heaven and the sayings of Jesus on earth. Of course, this is an unfounded rationalization, since the early record contains nothing which can be identified as having been regarded as sayings of Jesus on earth, since no such attributions to an historical Jesus are ever made.
Paul's own language points to a heavenly source for his "words of the Lord." Consider what he says a few verses after his directive against divorce, in 1 Corinthians 7:25: "About virgins (i.e., celibacy) I do not have a command of the Lord, but I give my own opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy."
The first-person phrasing indicates a general category of things Paul is accustomed to possessing for himself, not as part of a wide community knowledge or inheritance from tradition. In offering his own opinion, its value is based entirely on his sense of personal worth and reliability in the eyes of God.


9. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (the Lord's Supper)
This "Lord's Supper" scene is also included in scholars' catalogue of Paul's "words of the Lord" (as is the last of the group, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, an apocalyptic oracle about the coming of the Lord from heaven which has no parallel in the Gospels). Paul declares that he has received this information about Jesus' words at the Lord's Supper "from the Lord" (apo tou kuriou). While scholars have traditionally tied themselves in knots in order to see this as passed-on tradition from those who were at such a supposed event, the words plainly make it yet another case of personal revelation and Paul's own product. The verb he uses is paralambano, which we saw from Galatians 1:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:3 (above, No. 7) needs to be interpreted as reception through revelation.
A similar corollary also applies here. If Paul is describing words and a scene which he claims have come to him through a revelation from the Lord himself, this would rule out any circulating tradition about such an event throughout the Christian world, as Paul could hardly claim to know about it through personal inspiration. Indeed, as the present feature has pointed out, there seems to be a complete ignorance in the rest of the documentary record about any such Supper and any such establishment of a eucharistic sacrament (for example, in the Didache's thanksgiving meal of chapters 9 and 10, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews' discussion of the Mosaic covenant in 9:19-20—see "Top 20" #12).
As for the frequent translation of a phrase in the opening verse, "on the night he was arrested/betrayed," the latter renditions are dependent on Gospel preconceptions, whereas the word itself (paradidomi) has a basic meaning of "hand over" or "deliver up," which can equally apply in a mythical setting. Other passages in Paul (e.g., Romans 8:32) speak of God doing the delivering up, or even Jesus himself (Ephesians 5:2 and 25), which rules out, or renders unnecessary, a Gospel understanding. In regard to the setting at "night," there is nothing to prevent a mythical story from being set at night. If the Corinthian meal is observed after dark (Paul does not specify), the origin myth would likely be set at a corresponding time. Paul also links Christ's sacrifice with Passover (1 Cor. 5:7), a rite celebrated after sunset, though this link need only be symbolic and not identified with any specific historical Passover.
We are thus entitled to regard this "revealed" scene as a mythical development, possibly by Paul himself, and as such it falls into the same category as the sacred meal myths of all the other savior god cults of the time, many of which had meals which bore a strong resemblance to the Christian Eucharist.
The Lord's Supper scene is fully discussed in the section "Learning of a Sacred Meal" in Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source of Paul's Gospel.


10. Galatians 1:19 ("brother of the Lord")
But I did not see any of the other apostles, except James, the brother of the Lord.
Paul uses the term "brother" a total of about 30 times, and the plural form "brothers" or "brethren" (as some translations render it) several more dozens of times. A minority are in the context of ethical teaching, Paul admonishing his audience about how to treat one's "brother." In most of these (if not all), the term means a fellow believer, not a blood sibling. In all of the other cases—leaving aside the passage under consideration here—the term clearly refers to a Christian believer, usually in the sense of one who is doing some kind of apostolic or congregational work (Timothy, Apollos, Sosthenes, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, etc.). In not a single instance can the term be identified as meaning "sibling."It thus becomes a source of amazement to encounter those who claim that Galatians 1:19 is "obviously" a reference to James' sibling relationship to Jesus. When we compare the phrase with Philippians 1:14, "brothers/brethren in the Lord (adelphôn en kuriô)" which clearly refers to a brotherhood of believers, this is a strong indicator of what the almost identical phrase applied to James signifies. He, too, is a 'brother in/of the Lord.' The fact that Paul nowhere else applies this full phrase to other specific individuals is hardly a compelling argument against such an interpretation. James, as head of the Jerusalem brotherhood, may have been granted this designation as a special 'title.' We should also note that the phrase's formality seems out of place; if Paul were talking about a personal sibling relationship, "the brother of Jesus" might have been more apt, rather than "of the Lord."
The appearance of the phrase "the brothers of the Lord" in 1 Corinthians 9:5 can further refine the picture. While the term "brother" by itself in general parlance, to judge by Paul's use of it, seems to be applied to all manner of apostles and believers, the phrase "brothers in/of the Lord" may designate a certain sectarian group or organization, one located in Jerusalem. This is suggested by the mention of the "more than 500 brothers" listed among those who had a vision of the spiritual Christ (1 Cor. 15:6). They have been differentiated from Peter, James and "all the apostles," indicating that the latter may be a sub-group within the overall brotherhood. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 9:5, the "other apostles" and even Peter are differentiated from "the brothers of the Lord," which would suggest that the latter group are not simply 'believers' since such a term would surely include Peter and the apostles, as it would include Peter, James and the apostles separately listed in 1 Corinthians 15. Thus, "brothers in/of the Lord" seems to designate an organized body, even if it may have been one with a fluid membership. (These apparent anomalies in both 1 Corinthians passages should caution us against trying to make too fixed an interpretation based on Paul's words, or at least the words that have ended up in our extant copies.)
It has also been noted that the epistles ascribed to both James and Jude conspicuously lack any mention of either of these figures being brothers of Jesus. For a full discussion of these and other points in this question, see my Response to Sean in Reader Feedback 3.
I also consider it a distinct possibility that this phrase began as a marginal gloss which was later inserted into the text. While there is nothing to indicate one way or another, it is the sort of wording that a scribe might have placed in the margin to clarify which James Paul was referring to. Such a 'clarification' would have been needed during the second century, after "James, the son of Zebedee" became known as one of the Gospel apostles of Jesus, and James the Just had come to be regarded as Jesus' brother. A distinction might have been felt necessary in order to avoid confusion on the part of the reader.
     As a corollary, we also need to be cautious in relying too much on analyses that depend on the exact wording of our surviving text. Whole arguments in the case of "the brother of the Lord" have hinged on the word "the" or the preposition "of" as opposed to the "in" of Philippians 1:14. Considering that our earliest portion of Galatians in an extant manuscript comes from the third century, and in complete form only in the fourth, and that all sorts of scribal amendments were made, intentionally and unintentionally, to the New Testament texts, reliance on knowing the original wording of any passage is extremely unwise.


11. Galatians 4:4 (-7)
4But when the term [of enslavement to the Law] was completed, God sent his own Son, born of (a) woman, born under the Law, to purchase freedom for the subjects of the law, 5in order that we might attain the status of sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying 'Father!'7You are therefore no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then also by God's own act an heir." [NEB]
First, let's look at the principal phrase, "God sent his own Son." As described above (No. 4), this can be taken in the sense of the present-day revelation of Christ by God to apostles like Paul. It is a verb also used in the Old Testament in connection with the sending of spiritual beings such as angels, or Wisdom as in the Wisdom of Solomon 9:10. The basic form of the verb is used to denote the sending of the Holy Spirit. And in verse 6 the same verb is used to say that "God has sent into our hearts the spirit of his Son." Both the sending in verse 4 and the sending in verse 6 seem to be taking place at the same time, namely in the Pauline present. This is the arrival of the spiritual Christ within the current phenomenon of divine revelation.If Paul has the acts of an historical Jesus in mind when he speaks of freedom and attaining the status of sons (verse 5), why does he revert in verse 7 to calling such things the result of an act of God? In fact, in the Greek of verse 5, the subject of the verb "purchase freedom" (literally, redeem) remains God. In other words, Paul has introduced Jesus onto the present scene, but fails to let him do the redeeming while he is here. Paul continues his characteristic focus on God in subsequent verses.
The two qualifying phrases, "born of woman, born under the Law," are descriptive of the Son, but not necessarily tied to the present 'sending.' Edward D. Burton (International Critical Commentary, Galatians, p.216f) points out that the way the verb and participle tenses are used in the Greek, the birth and subjection to the Law are presented as simple facts, with no necessary temporal relation to the main verb "sent." In other words, the conditions of being "born of woman" and being "subject to the Law" —the latter is Burton's preferred translation—do not have to be seen as present occurrences. (Burton, it is true, does not himself advocate this conclusion.) Paul has simply enumerated two of the features of the spiritual Christ which are relevant to the discussion.
Burton also notes that the word usually translated as "born" (genomenon) is not the most unambiguous verb that could have been used for this idea; the passive of gennaô, to give birth, would have been more straightforward. Instead, Paul uses the verb ginomai, which has a broader meaning of "to become, to come into existence." (Paul also uses the broader ginomai in Romans 1:3, where he says that the Son "arose from David's seed.") "Out of woman," of course, implies birth, but the point is, the broader concept lends itself to the atmosphere of myth.
Moreover, Paul's "born of woman" is not only something that was said of certain mythical savior gods, like Dionysos, it is a detail he could well have based not on history, but on his source for all that he says about the Son: the scriptures. The famous passage in Isaiah 7:14, "A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son and call him Immanuel," was taken by Jew and early Christian alike to refer to the Messiah. Once again, a scriptural passage that could not be ignored was applied by early Christians to their heavenly Christ, in the sense of counterpart characteristics which he possessed in the higher world. National gods were often regarded as having the same lineage as the nation itself, which is one interpretation that could be given to Christ as "born" (or 'coming into being') under the Law.
Not surprisingly, Paul fails to give us the name of this woman, and she is notably missing only a few verses later (4:24-31) when he offers an elaborate allegory about mothers and sons in regard to the descendants of Abraham. One might ask why it is that Paul bothers to say that Christ was born of a woman, since this should be an obvious biological fact to his readers. His point may be that he wishes to stress the paradigmatic parallel between believers—who are themselves born of woman, as well as born under the law of the old covenant which Paul wants to abrogate—and Christ himself. Only through counterpart characteristics can paradigmatic effects exist. But such relationships by definition operate between higher and lower worlds, between the spiritual and the material. It follows, then, that Christ and his features must belong to the higher world, in order to be in appropriate counterpart to those of Paul's readers.


12. Ephesians 2:17
And coming, he (Christ) announced the good news, peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near, for through him we both alike have access in one spirit to the Father.
As in Nos. 4 and 11, Christ's "coming" is in a spiritual sense, one sent and revealed by God, as the epistles constantly tell us using verbs of disclosure and revelation. If the writer of this letter had the ministry of Jesus in mind, why did he not give us some of the teachings ascribed to him in the Gospels? Rather, the thought follows on the mythological idea of verses 14 to 16, discussed above (in No. 5), that the heavenly Christ has through his death reunited, not only a divided universe but a divided mankind, namely Jew and gentile. The thought expressed here in verse 17, in fact, is drawn from scripture, from Isaiah 57:19 which speaks of an end-time reconciliation between peoples. Even the preliminary words about preaching good news are based on Isaiah 52:7. This is a Christ coming in the spirit and speaking to the world through the reinterpreted sacred writings, a common feature of early Christian expression. The final phrase of the verse identifies him as a spiritual channel to the Father.

13. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
14You [referring to the Christians of Thessalonica] have fared like the congregations in Judea, God's people in Christ Jesus. You have been treated by your countrymen as they are treated by the Jews, 15who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God's will and enemies of their fellow-men, 16hindering us from speaking to the gentiles to lead them to salvation. All this time they have been making up the full measure of their guilt, and now retribution has overtaken them for good and all." [NEB]
Verses 15-16 of this passage are almost universally regarded among critical scholars as an interpolation. Their sentiment does not agree with attitudes expressed elsewhere by Paul toward his Jewish countrymen, and the final sentence contains a virtually unmistakable reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred after Paul's death. Their authenticity is also belied by Paul's silence elsewhere on any guilt of the Jews in the matter of Christ's death, such as in Romans 11, where such a reference would have been natural and expected.The question of interpolation in this passage has been thoroughly addressed in Supplementary Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus? Some of the scholars who have declared this an interpolation are Birger Pearson, Burton Mack, Wayne Meeks, Helmut Koester, Pheme Perkins, S. G. F. Brandon, Paula Fredrikson (see there for details).


14. 1 Timothy 6:13 / ( and 6:3)
1 Timothy 6:12-14 reads ("Paul" addressing "Timothy"):
12Run the great race of faith and take hold of eternal life. For to this you were called and you confessed your faith nobly before many witnesses. 13Now in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Jesus Christ, [who himself made the same noble confession and gave his testimony to it before Pontius Pilate,]14I charge you to obey your orders irreproachably and without fault until our Lord Jesus Christ appears."
While few scholars have openly declared this passage [in square brackets] to be an interpolation, some have pointed out certain problems in seeing it as a good fit within its context. These have been outlined in the Appendix to Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus?The possibility of interpolation is also supported by something suspicious which occurs a few verses earlier. This is in regard to a recurring phrase throughout the Pastoral epistles: "wholesome teaching." The one occurrence (6:3) in which any attribution to Jesus is attached has the look of a marginal gloss inserted into the text: "those of the Lord Jesus Christ." This is especially likely, since at its first appearance (1:10) such teaching is attributed to God. This question, too, is examined in Article No. 3, and in item #102 of the Sound of Silence.
The reference to Pilate in 6:13 may alternatively be seen as a reflection of a newly developing biography about an historical Jesus in the early part of the second century, since all three Pastoral epistles are regarded by critical scholars as not by Paul but as second century products. However, I regard the Pastorals as containing strong evidence that their writer(s) is still unaware of any historical Jesus, and thus would argue for the stronger likelihood of interpolation. (See "1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus" #102-114.)


15. Hebrews 7:14
For it is very evident (prodêlon) that our Lord is sprung (anatetalken) from Judah, a tribe to which Moses made no reference in speaking of priests.
Nowhere in Hebrews is the author concerned with recounting historical facts. All is dependent on scripture and archetypal relationships between old and new (with many of the most natural and compelling of those relationships, in regard to comparison with the Gospels, completely missing). The author needs to present his heavenly Christ as a new High Priest, one who supplants the old cultic sacrificial system. Although he makes no specific mention of David, he is drawing here on well-known scriptural references to the future Messiah as being of the house of Judah. The use of "prodêlon" (clear, manifest to the senses or to judgment) fits the sense of knowledge drawn from scripture, not a product of historical record. No question of genealogy, such as we find in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, enters the picture.The verb "anatellein", to spring (by birth), is also the language of scripture. It is used in several messianic passages, such as Zechariah 6:12 and Ezekiel 29:21 ("a horn shall spring forth"). To confirm Jesus' role as High Priest, the writer turns to nothing in history, he draws on no deed or saying from the story of Jesus' life, but delves instead (7:17) into the timeless pages of scripture: "Thou art a priest forever, in the succession of Melchizedek." This line from the all-important Psalm 110 he takes as God's word to Jesus.
We might also note that "is sprung from" is in the perfect tense in the Greek, not a past-tense aorist, such as we might have expected had the writer meant: "Jesus of Nazareth was sprung from Judah." Instead, he uses the perfect "has sprung" which fits the mythical outlook: such things have happened, but they are also eternal and timeless, just as scripture, the timeless word of God, continues to inform us of these spiritual events. Buchanan, in his Anchor Bible Commentary (Hebrews, p.253) admits that "the author may not have received the information from local tradition at all . . . (but) from his use of scripture." Scripture: God's 'window' onto the higher spiritual world and its counterparts to earthly things.


16. Hebrews 9:27-28
27And as it is the lot of men to die once, and after death comes judgment, 28so Christ was offered once to bear the burden of men's sins, and will appear [literally, he will be seen, or will reveal himself] a second time [ek deuterou], sin done away, to bring salvation to those who are watching for him.
Scholars claim that here at least—and they are willing to allow that it is only here in the entire corpus of New Testament epistles—a Christian writer clearly refers to the End-time coming of Jesus, the Parousia, as a second coming. But is there such a reference even here?If the "ek deuterou" means a second time, the parallel with verse 27 is destroyed. Verse 27 is saying that "first men die, and after that (or 'next') they are judged." There is no sense here of a "second time" for anything; the writer is simply offering us a sequence of events: death, followed by judgment. Does this not imply that verse 28 is offering a sequence as well? "Christ was offered once, and after that (next) he will appear to bring salvation."
The idea of appearing "a second time" would be intrusive here. Since the writer is clearly presenting his readers with some kind of parallel between verses 27 and 28 (note also the "once" in both parts), it seems unlikely he would introduce an element which doesn't fit the parallel, especially one he doesn't need. "Ek deuterou" can have the alternate meaning of "secondly" or "next in sequence," like the similar word deuteron, which appears in this sense in 1 Corinthians 12:28. Just as men's death is followed by judgment, so is Christ's sacrifice followed by his appearance, but with no indication of how long a time between the two. Before the turn of the century, Vaughan (quoted in The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol.4, p.340) translated verse 28 this way: "Christ died once and the next thing before him is the Advent." Thus even in Hebrews it would seem that we have no Second Coming of Christ.


17. Hebrews 12:2-3
2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. [NIV]
A seeming biographical element, reminiscent, if vaguely, of the Gospel story. Verse 2 is not a problem in itself. The reference to "the cross" can fit a mythical context, just as similar features in the myths of the savior gods do not spell an historical or earthly setting. We may compare the Ascension of Isaiah 9:13, in which the Son, descending through the layers of heaven, is "hung on a tree" by "the god of that world," meaning Satan; or Paul's similar reference to "the rulers of this age" (accepted by most critical scholars as meaning the demon spirits) as the crucifiers of "the Lord of glory." The context in these passages is the heavenly world, not earth. We should also note that the above passage in Hebrews provides a very clear example of how early Christian thought envisioned no sojourn on earth after the resurrection, but saw Christ as proceeding directly to heaven following his death—wherever and however that was. As soon as he has "endured the cross" he takes his seat by the heavenly throne of God.The matter of verse 3 is a little trickier. The Greek is literally: "Consider the one who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself (hupo tôn hamartôlôn eis heauton) . . ." Is this a reference to the Sandhedrin and Pilate, or the Pharisees who oppose Jesus' ministry, or the accusers and mockers at Jesus crucifixion? Some would like to read such graphic images into it, but the writer is not so accommodating. His vague reference, in fact, lends itself to a different interpretation, one conforming to the dominant practice one finds throughout Hebrews, namely the derivation of all its comparisons and archetypes from scripture.
Here, more than one scholar has pointed out the similarity of language and thought to the episode in Numbers 16:38 (LXX). There, Core, Dathan and Abiron have rebelled against Moses and his claim to speak for the Lord, with the result that they all perish in the abyss that opens up beneath their feet. The Lord then directs Moses to sanctify the censers of "these sinners against their own souls" (tôn hamartôlôn toutôn en tais psuchais autôn). The point is, they are sinners 'against themselves.' When we turn to the Hebrews passage, we find a similar phrase, now in the form of "sinners against himself," the latter referring to Christ. But this final word shows variants between manuscripts. Does the parallel in Numbers indicate that the original reading was "sinners against themselves"? Hugh Montefiore (Hebrews, p.216) accepts such a reading. Does the meaning entail the idea that Jesus is enduring hostility for sinners in general, that is, for their sake, not that the sinners are the ones being hostile to him, as in the Gospel portrayal? (This is Jean Héring's translation, Hebrews, p.109.) Jesus 'enduring hostility' may encompass no more than the mythical concept that he suffered and died.
Alternatively, if Jesus is said to have endured hostility—or rebellion, if the thought is a conscious parallel to the use of the word in Numbers—on the part of sinners, meaning that he suffered in order to redeem rebellious sinners (whether sinners against himself or against themselves), the whole idea may have been introduced in order to make a comparison to the believers in what the writer now urges upon them. Verse 4 goes on to say: "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." Just as Jesus suffered on account of sin, this too is the experience of believers, though their sufferings have not gone as far as his. But they too should endure, just as Jesus did. The writer rounds out his little homily by offering words of encouragement. Where are they taken from? Not from any voice of Jesus on earth, but once more from scripture, in Proverbs 3:11-12, a reference to God disciplining his sons.


18. Hebrews 13:11-13
11Those animals whose blood is brought as a sin-offering by the high priest into the sanctuary have their bodies burnt outside the camp, 12and therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to meet him outside the camp, bearing the stigma that he bore. [NEB]
The progression of the writer's thought in this passage reveals the source of this piece of "information" about Jesus, and is yet another example, following on the previous item, of his thorough dependence on scripture for the picture he presents. The starting point is not an historical tradition concerning Jesus, it is the sacrificial rite of the cult of Sinai as recounted in the scriptures. The writer's assumption is that everything to do with his heavenly High Priest must mirror that primordial archetype, that Jesus' actions in the higher, spiritual world had to have paralleled it. His language directly reflects such thinking. The animals' bodies were burned outside the camp at Sinai, and "therefore" Jesus himself did the same, "outside the gate." (It's too bad he didn't refer to Jerusalem or mention the names Calvary or Golgotha. Then we could all go home.)That the idea of "outside the gate" is essentially symbolic is also supported by the succeeding verse, which suggests that the author saw both Jesus and his own sect as rejected outsiders, living 'beyond the pale' with no permanent home.
This passage, along with an earlier one (7:1-3) which also demonstrates that the writer of Hebrews has no concept of Jesus ever having been in Jerusalem, is discussed at length in Supplementary Article No. 9: A Sacrifice in Heaven.


19. 1 Peter 1:10-12
10As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ (eis Christon) and the glories (doxas) to follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. [NASB]
As I pointed out in "James and 1 & 2 Peter" #161, the writer of this epistle is pointing to the prophets and what they wrote, asking whether this was meant for the time of those prophets or for the time of the epistle's readers. According to the writer, those prophecies pointed to the Christian apostles of his own day and the message they now carry, inspired by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. This curious thought, which ignores any idea that the prophets had foretold Jesus himself and passes over anything he might have done on earth, is remarkably similar to the way Paul expresses himself in Romans 1:2-4 ("Romans" #21), where the "gospel of God announced beforehand in the prophets" foretold Paul's gospel and not the life of Jesus. The thought also ignores any role for Jesus in the recent past, either in regard to prophesying his own sufferings (which the Gospels have him frequently do) or in setting in motion the movement to which those inspired Christian apostles belong.But what has the writer said in the previous verses? Standard translations, like the one above, inevitably cast things as though the prophets are foretelling Christ's sufferings and his subsequent glory. While this might be taken as applying to the "sufferings" of Christ in the higher world, in a mythical setting, an alternative understanding of the passage has been given by a few commentators. Note the overall idea contained in verses 10 to 12. Verse 10 speaks of the 'grace of God that would come to you,' and verse 12 'the matter the prophets spoke of related not to themselves but to you.' The readers of the epistle are in sight in both these verses. Thus when we look at the intervening verse 11, which talks of the spirit of Christ in the prophets pointing to and foretelling sufferings and glories to follow, it might be asked: should not these sufferings and glories alsorefer to the readers? And in fact, the phrase "eis Christon" which modifies "sufferings" can be taken not as the sufferings of Christ, but the sufferings of the believers in their goal to reach Christ, or as resulting from their faith in Christ. Such a focus on the readers would be in parallel with the focus on the readers in both flanking verses. Also, the latter half of verse 12 says that the preachers who bring the gospel announce such things (the sufferings and glories foretold by the prophets), as though these things are distinct from the "gospel" they carry, whereas if the sufferings and exaltation of Christ were the meaning, this should be an actual part of the gospel.
Ernest Best (1 Peter, p.81-83) points out that the term "glories" (doxas, plural) is unusual in application to Christ's exaltation, where such a thing is usually in the singular, and thus there is additional reason here to consider that the idea is not applied to Christ, but to the readers. Best quotes Selwyn's reading of "eis Christon" in the sense of "the sufferings (of Christians) on the 'Christward road' and their own subsequent glory." The "eis Christon" of verse 11 is paralleled by the "eis humas" of verse 10, both then relating to the readers. The last point to make is the idea implied by the final part of verse 12: "These are things that angels long to see into." The angels may be denied an understanding of the mysteries of salvation, but they would hardly be unaware of the fact that Christ had suffered and been exalted, as foretold by the prophets. Thus all things considered, the idea that verse 11 refers to prophecies of the sufferings of Christ is not at all necessary or compelling.


20. 2 Peter 1:16-18
It was not on tales artfully spun that we relied when we told (gnoridzo) you of the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming (parousia); we saw him with our own eyes [literally, we became eyewitnesses] in majesty, when at the hands of God the Father he was invested with honor and glory, and there came to him from the sublime Presence a voice which said: 'This is my Son, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests.' This voice from heaven we ourselves heard; when it came we were with him on the sacred mountain. [NEB]
Just as Paul has a single passage suggesting a scene found in the Gospels (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, the "Lord's Supper"), so does the remaining body of epistles have another passage reminiscent of a Gospel scene. Scholars inevitably regard 2 Peter 1:16-18 as reflecting the memory of the incident in Jesus' ministry (whatever it might have been) which ended up in the Synoptic Gospels as the so-called Transfiguration.I have already devoted a lengthy discussion to this passage in "James and 1 & 2 Peter" #176, as it contains notable missing elements when compared to the Synoptic passage, and raises many questions and anomalies which lead one to suspect that the writer knows nothing of a Gospel incident but is recounting a tradition about an epiphany, a visionary experience attributed to the apostle Peter. (Both Peter and the incident itself now lay in a fairly distant past, since this epistle is usually dated early in the second century. However, the epistle as a whole indicates that its writer and community still possessed no concept that that early apostle of the Christ had been a follower of an historical Jesus on earth.)
Important elements of the Gospel scene are not included, the writer passes up a far more convincing incident to prove Jesus' power, namely his resurrection from the tomb, the language has features which do not suggest that this took place during an earthly ministry and in fact the account resembles that of Old Testament epiphanies: these are only some of the arguments covered in the above-mentioned item #176. This is to be taken with #177, on the succeeding verse 1:19, in which the writer declares that this incident is secondary to the promises in scripture, the paramount source of Christian hopes. This is a bizarre idea no one with any knowledge of Jesus' life on earth could possibly have expressed. (These 2 Peter passages also constitute the central feature of Supplementary Article No. 7: Transfigured on the Holy Mountain: The Beginnings of Christianity.


Addendum: Revelation
While Revelation is not an epistle, a few of its silences were included in the main part of the Sound of Silence, and I will note here that there are two passing references in the final document of the New Testament which have suggested elements of the Gospel picture. To deal with those I will reproduce the relevant portions of my Supplementary Article No. 11: Revelation: The Gospel According to the Prophet John.
In 11:1-13 the author incorporates what are probably two earlier Jewish oracles originally spoken during the tribulations of the Jewish War. The first relates to the Temple and the abandonment of its outer court to the invading gentile. In the second, two prophets shall prophesy in the Holy City and then be slain. . . ."Their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified." (11:8, RSV translation)
Is John using these oracles literally, or only as a symbolic representation of the people of God being rejected and attacked by the godless world? As for verse 8's "great city," some commentators regard this as symbolic, and not a literal reference to Jerusalem. For example, John Sweet (op.cit., p.187) suggests that it represents the social and political embodiment of rebellion against God; "its present location is Rome." P. E. Hughes (Revelation, p.127) takes it as denoting "the worldwide structure of unbelief and defiance against God." G. Kroedel (Augsberg Commentary on Revelation, p. 226), while regarding the city on one level as Jerusalem, sees it "not as a geographical location but a symbolic place," representing the immoral, idolatrous, oppressive world. It is, then, a symbol of the corruption personified by great cities in general, the godless world "where their Lord was crucified." This says no more than that the sacrifice of Christ was the responsibility of the forces of evil and those who reject the gospel, a mystical concept which may have had no more historical substance than this in the mind of the writer.
We might also note that the clause "where their Lord was crucified" could be taken as tied primarily to the "allegorically called Sodom and Egypt" (the Greek phrase is literally "spiritually called"), and would thus be a step removed from any literal material "city," even were the latter to be understood as Jerusalem.
O. S. Wintermute, in a study of the Apocalypse of Elijah, observes (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, p.748, note 'w') that the term "great city" is frequently a pejorative expression, and was most often applied to the metropolis of a detested enemy. Comparing Revelation, he admits that its author always uses the term to refer to Rome. (He insists, however, that the one exception is here in 11:8, "where it is used to describe the city in which the Lord was crucified," a good example of the practice of denying the acknowledged evidence on the basis of preconception.)
As for the reference to the "twelve apostles of the Lamb" whose names are inscribed on the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (21:14), that this is a mystic number and not identified with any historical figures can be seen by the context: the heavenly Jerusalem possesses twelve gates bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and a city wall with twelve foundation stones; upon these stones are inscribed "the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Such "apostles" could have been envisioned as being of the type of John himself, namely prophets of the spiritual Christ.) It was probably such symbolic thinking which created the tradition that Jesus had had twelve disciples during an earthly ministry.

POSTSCRIPT
(Including a response to J. P. Holding's rebuttal essay to The Sound of Silence)


The kind of pervasive silence on the Gospel character and events found in the early Christian record would, in any other discipline or field of research, inevitably produce a self-evident conclusion. That a dozen different writers in over two dozen documents, representing Christian communities spread over half an empire and more than half a century, concerned with describing and defending their faith, ethics and practice, their christology and soteriology, engaged in disputes on a variety of issues that were critical to the success and survival of the movement, would nevertheless fail to mention—even by chance—a single element which would enable us to clearly identify the beginnings of their religion and the object of their worship with the man and events recounted in the Gospels, is a situation that allows for only one deduction: that early Christianity knows of no such man or events.
I have demonstrated that certain human-sounding features, of which there are a handful in the epistles, do not provide this identification. Mythical savior gods active in higher-world or primordial settings regularly possessed such features, and the principles of Platonic parallelism between the material and the spiritual realms readily explain such thinking. "Born of woman" and being "of David's stock" are, as well, ideas that are determined by scripture and do not, in any case, tie Paul's Christ to the Gospel Jesus of Nazareth, recently on earth. Paul's "Lord's Supper" words might have come close, but his declaration that he got this information "from the Lord" shows that it is derived from personal revelation, ruling out historical tradition; close parallels with the sacred meals of the mystery cults put this scene into the realm of myth. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 betrays clear evidence of later interpolation in its allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the mention of Pilate in 1 Timothy 6:13 is also suspicious, though being in a letter written in the first half of the second century, it may reflect a dawning of historical awareness which the earlier record so lamentably lacks. By any standard, this paucity of historical data, especially in view of the many opportunities within the early record to make clear reference to the man and events which are supposed to lie at the genesis of the faith, belie and destroy the myth of Christian beginnings.
But I have made all these points before. My task is now to bring such conclusions home in a new Postscript to the Sound of Silence which summarizes a feature two years in the making (mostly due to an intervening book) and which, to my knowledge, may be the fullest and most effective analysis ever published of the silence on the Gospel Jesus in the early Christian record. How to do it? Fortunately, a solution is to hand, thanks to Mr. J. P. Holding (a pseudonym) who, understandably impatient with the slow pace of my aural investigation, recently addressed the unfinished feature with a short essay on his Tekton Ministries web site, entitled "The Argument from (Epistolary) Silence Delineated." In this, he attempted to slay the Silence Monster by reviewing and to some extent enlarging on an argument he had used in earlier rebuttal essays to my views. (See "Special Items" at the head of the Reader Feedback section, with link included.) But his latest effort succeeds no better than his earlier ones, and in fact provides a ready opportunity for me to summarize and bring home the principles embodied in the Sound of Silence and to demonstrate that no explanation is sufficient to account for the void on the Gospel story found in the earliest record of the Christian religion.
I will address, point by point, Holding's rebuttal of my 200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles. Leaving aside his introductory paragraph and a few incidental remarks along the way, his text will appear in italics, interrupted by my own comments in response.
It is well to begin by reminding the reader of two things. First, no amount of "silence" is enough to disprove the existence of Jesus, or the non-historicity of ANY person. Second, the mere number of examples offered is meaningless. If all 200 are off the mark, then 200 times zero is still zero; and this is all the more likely because we are not really dealing with 200 arguments, but far less, since many of the cites use the same basic arguments - so that, rather than 200 objections, one might actually say that there are less than a dozen (to be generous). . . .
To address Mr. Holding's opening point, I have not sought to "disprove" the existence of Jesus, in the sense of offering a mathematical or scientifically unassailable conclusion. That would be unrealistic. Historical research is neither mathematics nor laboratory science. I am seeking to persuade, to commend to the reasonable, unprejudiced person not locked into rigid confessional interests, that the evidence of the early Christian record strongly indicates that there was no historical Jesus. To produce that 'conviction of probability' is all one can hope to achieve—indeed, it is all one needs to achieve. My web site and my book The Jesus Puzzle ask the questions: "Was There No Historical Jesus?" and "Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?" If the average, reasonably open-minded reader answers to both questions: "It certainly looks that way," I will have accomplished the task, and those like Mr. Holding, who would never allow any amount or quality of evidence to compromise their personal beliefs, will continue to sputter from the sidelines, with nothing to be done about it.
As for Holding's own brand of mathematics, it suffers from some logical deficiencies. First of all, he has hardly demonstrated that "all 200 are off the mark," since he has not troubled to address any of them individually, let alone all 200. His further proviso, that there are only a certain number of basic arguments (he allows a dozen) is also undemonstrated. Even if I were to agree in principle with this claim, he would need to itemize these basic arguments and refute each one of them. Even this, however, would overlook an additional factor that comes into play, and is an essential part of my overall position. One example of a silence might be dismissed by postulating that in this particular instance, on this particular occasion, it may be reasonable to suppose that the writer felt no compelling need to include a Gospel reference, even if such a reference might have been natural. But as these individual examples mount up, reaching a number like 200, this line of argument becomes untenable. It's a little like flipping a coin. One toss of a head is perfectly reasonable. If 200 tosses produce 200 heads, something is wrong and an explanation must be sought. Also, I would have no objection if all 200 Missing References could be reduced to twelve basic types, though this is probably a low-end exaggeration. Still, even twelve is a substantial number to work with, and the fact that these twelve would be furthermore distributed throughout 200 separate examples brings that additional factor into play to an extent which Holding has not even begun to acknowledge or address.
The other dimension which he has entirely failed to acknowledge, let alone address, collectively or individually, are the silences I have labeled 'positive'—namely, those descriptions of the faith movement and the object of its worship, in which the epistle writers cast things in terms which allow no role for an historical Jesus or even clearly exclude such a figure. Romans 16:25-6, Colossians 2:2 and 1:26, Ephesians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:5, Titus 1:3 are only some of the more blatant examples of such startling and exclusionary silences, yet Holding (or any other apologist I have debated, for that matter) offers no plausible interpretation of them.
The No Need Principle
One of my key arguments regarding the "silence" of the epistle writers was that they do not mention certain details of Jesus' life (such as his birthplace and hometown) because there was no need to do so. As I put it:
Where is the NEED for any reference to such trivial details? What compelling interest would there have been? Ignatius had the specter of docetism hanging over him, and thus a need to refer to historical detail; in what context does Doherty suppose these things ought to have been mentioned by our other writers? Why should Ignatius or anyone else have mentioned Joseph in light of his "non-role" in the conception of Jesus? (He barely makes a cameo appearance in the Gospels and is not mentioned at all in Acts!) All that we have is Doherty's own inferred opinion that these details ought to have been included - yet there is not a shred of hard evidence to support such assertions.
I find it hard to believe that someone as intelligent and widely read as Mr. Holding obviously is can really consider this 'counter-argument' to be effective—indeed, to be anything other than an embarrassment. Most of his present essay is devoted to this "No Need" position, and I will follow his lead.
Let's consider a basic list (in no particular order) of those things which Holding considers to be "trivial." (I assume, though he refers above specifically to Bethlehem and Nazareth, that the 'triviality' applies to all the other things on which the first century epistle writers are equally silent.)
Trivial items relating to Jesus: the fact that he underwent a trial. That he was crucified on Calvary. That there was a tomb outside Jerusalem where he was buried and from which he emerged alive. That he had lived recently. That he worked miracles. That he raised people like Lazarus from the dead. That he taught an innovative moral code. That he had chosen disciples and appointed apostles. That he made apocalyptic predictions.
Holding asks what contexts would have existed for the epistle writers to refer to such things, either by accident or by design. Well, the 200 Silences feature has been at pains to supply 200 contexts in which such references might be expected to appear—at least some of the time. If 200 coins are flipped, we expect at least the occasional tails. This has nothing to do with "hard evidence." It is a matter of common sense and the laws of nature, including human ones. The Christian movement supposedly arose in response to a man who had undergone and been responsible for all the trivial elements and more listed above. The epistle writers are talking about the object of their worship, the beginnings and ongoing state of their faith movement, its internal struggles and external threats, and much more. Can anyone envision how so many writers talking about so many things in so many different documents and situations could so consistently and universally avoid mentioning something about the Gospel story and its central character?
Doherty makes some attempt to answer this charge [of the "no hard evidence"], but what emerges is little more than a restatement of his original argument, thusly:
"Nor is it valid to rationalize that Paul and the other early writers did not need to mention a given point about Jesus because their readers were already familiar with it. Perhaps so, but do none of us, in our letters and conversations, ever insert things our listeners are familiar with? We might have little to say to each other if we didn't."
This argument is utterly misplaced. True, some of us do insert things in our letters that our listeners are "familiar" with, but there are usually reasons for doing so. Since Doherty is apparently very unclear on this concept, let's return to the most fundamental basics of writing and communication and ask WHY a certain thing is usually mentioned when we are writing . . .
Before looking at the particular analogy Mr. Holding goes on to offer in support of his "no need" stance, let me again state the obvious. Holding points to it himself, but turns a blind eye to its solid applicability within my own position, which he is claiming to refute. One of the main points of the exercise in my Sound of Silence feature is to demonstrate the "reasons for doing so." To offer just a few examples: If an epistle writer is arguing for the feasibility and reliability of the dead being raised, there is clearly reason—and compelling reason—to refer to the traditions about Jesus having raised the dead to life, or even to his Gospel promises that the dead will be raised, as proof that such a thing is possible and can be anticipated. Neither Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 nor the writer of 1 Clement (24, 26) calls upon such proofs. If the authority and reliability of rival apostles is in contention, there is surely good reason for one side or the other to make an appeal to personal appointment by Jesus himself or to apostles appointed by him (the concept of apostolic tradition)—or to call attention to the lack of such a thing—and for the other side to have to take this into account. If a writer is arguing in the face of contrary opinion that there is no such thing as an unclean food, there is very good reason—again, a compelling one—to refer to Jesus' own teaching on this matter, regardless of whether the reader might be expected to be familiar with it. In such debates as these, the writer would have the strongest natural inclination to make such an appeal to Jesus' own precedent and authority, regardless of whether his audience was familiar with it—again, at least some of the time. This is all only common sense, based on knowledge of human nature and practice.
Whether he realizes it or not, Holding's analogy works against him:
My wife was born in Granite City, Illinois -- a hardworking steel town across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. I have just told you this basic fact for the first time. Now that you know this, why would I need to ever tell you about it again? Here are some possible reasons:
1. You have forgotten, and it shows. Perhaps you didn't consider it important enough to remember. That's quite all right, but I won't know that you've forgotten unless you come up with some absurd comment like, "Hey, I was in your wife's hometown the other day. We went to see Disneyland." Now at that point I can guess that you seem to have forgotten that my wife's hometown was Granite City and not LA -- either that, or you have mistaken the St. Louis Arch for something that it isn't. Either way, your error gives me a reason to correct you and say, "No, it was Granite City she was born in. I told you that! What kind of drugs are you taking?" (We'll also include in this area the possibility that I have forgotten that I told you.)
2. You want to argue about it. For whatever reason, you think I'm lying. Or wrong. Or you just don't believe it. Or someone told you my wife was born in Kokomo, Indiana. Whatever the case, if there is some doubt about it, then I have reason to bring up the subject again.
3. A change in circumstances, an update, or a correction. OK -- let's suppose the unlikely event that my wife lied to me these past 15 years I've known her, as did her mother, and her family, and they even forged a birth certificate that I've seen that says "Granite City" on it. I find out she was actually born in Tacoma. So I may say to you, "I told you once my wife was born in Granite City. Well, she was actually born in Tacoma." Such an admission of course might follow upon an incident like #2 above, but it might also occur independently. (Similarly, if we once lived in Cheyenne, but moved to St. Paul, we might say, "We moved from Cheyenne to St. Paul." But more likely I'd just say, "We moved to St. Paul" and assume you knew it was from Cheyenne.)
Mr. Holding asks, "Why would I ever need to tell you about it again?" and goes on to offer some theoretical reasons, without realizing (apparently) that these reasons are exactly like some of those I appeal to in my own position. If Jesus had taught that all foods are clean and yet this was still an issue in the early Christian community, do we not have to assume that Paul's detractors have "forgotten" that fact? If Jesus himself had pronounced on the question and everyone remembered it, why was there any dispute? Why would Paul's rivals "want to argue about it," which they clearly did? If they thought he was "lying" or "wrong," which they must have, then Paul need merely have pointed to Jesus' own teachings and that would have settled the issue. Case closed. Here would have been a compelling reason to refer to something which presumably all Christians should have known, even if from the look of it they apparently did not.
Let's review this point in more formal logical terms: Those debates in the Christian community did exist. Therefore, (a) Jesus did not pronounce on such things, in which case the Gospels are wrong; or (b) he did, but not everyone knew this, in which case we can conclude that there was a natural and compelling necessity to remind people of what he said. In that case, if the epistle writers consistently fail to do that reminding, we are led to conclude the strong likelihood that they know of no such teaching by Jesus.
Another factor I have referred to in the main feature needs to be repeated in this context. If Jesus had been a prominent teacher, pronouncing on all manner of behavioral concerns, and everyone knew this, there would have been a strong tendency where disputed issues were involved to place pronouncements on such issues in his mouth. (We see this in the Gospels at every turn.) The fact that the epistle writers never do this leads us to conclude the strong possibility that they know of no teaching Jesus.
"A change in circumstances." To judge by the extant record, the Christian movement was a sprawling, uncoordinated one covering half the empire in small communities. Why should anyone presume that everything to do with the Gospel story and the life and death details of Jesus of Nazareth would be known by every Christian soul in all these places, only a couple of decades after his passing? Why would we assume that the myriad oral traditions about Jesus' career had reached all these people in equal amounts? And in ways and through agents that every Christian apostle would regard as thorough and reliable? That would be a highly unrealistic expectation. If Paul is writing to groups recently converted to the Christ—whether by himself or by an apostle like Apollos—is it feasible to expect they would already know every detail about Jesus? Every teaching, every miracle, every prediction? Of course not. Why would writers and apostles like Paul not treat their correspondence as another natural and convenient way of relaying oral traditions about Jesus to their audiences and converts, to ensure that they would become familiar with them, especially in situations where it would be advantageous to refer to such things? Holding's analogy fails on just about every count.
He goes on to focus his analogy on the question of the "need" to mention Bethlehem, and perhaps he has indeed chosen an example of something for which there was never really a clear occasion in any piece of Christian writing outside the Gospels to mention Jesus' birth place. However, I include that element as part of a larger silence on any of the places of Jesus' life: birth, youth, ministry, death and resurrection. The place of Jesus' birth simply joins a long line of sites on which the early writers are totally silent: Bethlehem, Galilee and its towns and villages, Jerusalem itself in connection with Jesus, Calvary as the very hill of salvation, and the empty tomb nearby—none of which seem of the slightest interest to early Christians as holy places or sites of pilgrimage. There may have been "no need" to visit such locations, but does it make sense that no one would, that no one would betray any sign in their correspondence that such places existed?
Of course, Holding's argument, to have any validity, must apply equally to all the pieces of data about Jesus' life, not just his birthplace, and indeed he goes on to declare:
Similar arguments, adjusted for data type, could be made about every single instance of lacking information that Doherty proposes. He can repeat his arguments in different words and multiply examples until the end of time, but that will not alter one bit the fact that there was simply no NEED for any of these details to be mentioned...and unless he can explain why there was a need when we get to specific examples, his arguments remain a chimera.
I don't think I need to belabor the point that this is a vast overstatement, lacking logical foundation, and completely discredited by the 200 "specific examples" I have provided.
This applies not, however, to another type of data, quotations of or allusions to the words of Jesus -- which Doherty seems to mix together with the above data-type. In the very next sentence he writes:
"Moreover, such reasoning hardly applies in the context of argument. An argument is delivered more forcefully precisely by appealing to a point that does mean something to the reader or listener, something the audience is familiar with. Adding, for example, the simple phrase "as Jesus himself said" could not help but support many of the views these letter writers are urging, and there hardly seems any good reason, especially a blanket one, for why they would all consistently fail to do so."
I have already addressed this matter and Doherty provides absolutely no reply to it. If adding the superfluous words "as Jesus himself said" adds "support" to the views of the epistle writers, then why did they absolutely never offer an attribution for allusions from the OT, and only sometimes from direct quotes from the OT? Surely to have added words like, "as David said" (Israel's greatest king!) or "as Solomon said" (reputedly the wisest man ever to have lived!) would have added "support" to whatever point the epistle writers were making, or done "honor" to the person who said or wrote it! In fact Doherty has anachronistically assumed a 20th-century citation and authority structure upon a time and place where such did not exist. That authors like Josephus freely used material from other writers without regular citation, for example, strongly suggests that the authority was held not in the person that said the thing, but in the thing itself. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that most quotes were made from memory, so that citation was not an ingrained habit as it is in today's scholarly papers. But whatever the social reason, it is irrelevant: The data shows that allusions required no introductory formula, and that direct quotes required no name attached to make them authoritative. Unless Doherty can explain why there is a difference in the methods of citation, his argument here also remains a chimera.
Again, Mr. Holding appeals to rationalizations which do not stand up to closer scrutiny. The early writers, including those of the Gospels, are constantly making attribution for their allusions to scripture. They either call attention to the fact that they are from scripture, or use the formulaic phrase, "as it is written." Often they say such things as "according to the scriptures" or "as spoken by the prophets," etc. While they may not always name specific books or Old Testament figures (though they certainly do a few times), this still constitutes an attribution. It is precisely the appeal to venerable authority as embodied in the sacred writings which is missing in the quotation of teachings and predictions supposedly spoken by Jesus but lacking any identification as such.
Moreover, there is a significant difference in the case of Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth was supposedly the founder of the movement, he was supposedly the man for whom many believers surrendered their Jewish heritage, their sensibilities about monotheism, their prohibitions against associating humans and human images with God. This status for Jesus far outranks any need or desire to attribute an appeal in scripture to the specific figure of Isaiah or Solomon or David. On the other hand, Holding skims over the fact that Paul does appeal to the words of David, which he directly identifies as such: in Romans 4:6 and 11:9; as does Hebrews in 4:7. Hebrews, like 1 Clement, also appeals to 'words' of Christ, showing that such writers are interested in Jesus' voice, but where do they derive that voice? Not from the teachings of Jesus on earth, but from scripture, from passages found in the sacred writings which are interpreted as the heavenly Son himself speaking.
As for Josephus—an historian who might have had a personal interest in not making it look like he is dependent for his information on all and sundry—he would hardly have regarded his sources with the same veneration as Christians should be expected to have held for Jesus. Holding's attempted comparison with 20th century scholarly publication practices is also strained and hardly pertinent. Jesus' sayings are presumably circulated through oral tradition precisely because they are his product, not because they have some independent worth which makes their source superfluous. At the very least, Jesus' own name attached to critical doctrines and practices would have added a whole other dimension of authority, making a consistent non-attribution to him incomprehensible. The early Christians are not engaged in some scholarly pursuit; they are preaching—and suffering for—the teachings and actions of a man whom they believe to be divine and the agent of salvation. Citation and the appeal to Jesus' own authority would have been natural and highly motivated. We would expect to encounter such appeals at least some of the time. And whether quotes were made from memory or not, no one would have lost sight of the figure they had come from.
Finally, Holding attempts a parallel between what the early Christian correspondence tells us about Jesus and what it tells us about Paul:
His next point also misses the mark:
"If we were to rely entirely on the early Christian correspondence, we would know virtually nothing about the Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the Gospels. We would not know where he was born or when. We would not even know the era he lived in. We would be ignorant of the names of his parents, where he grew up, where he preached. Or even that he preached. We would not be able to identify a single one of his ethical teachings, for although the epistles often make moral pronouncements very close to the ones Jesus speaks in the Gospels, no writer ever attributes them to him."
This is very interesting. Now let's offer this parallel:
If we were to rely entirely on the early Christian correspondence, we would know virtually nothing about the Paul of Tarsus portrayed in Acts. We would not know where he was born or who his teacher was. We would not even know the city he lived in. We would be ignorant of the names of his parents, where he grew up, where he preached other than the churches he writes to.
Now of course this is not entirely true about Paul: We do know many things about him from his letters. But there are many things that only Acts tells us. And if Paul had not had to defend himself from charges leveled against him (as he did in Galatians and the Corinthian correspondence), how much would we know about him? It is only Luke who tells us about Tarsus and Gamaliel, and about Paul's work as a tentmaker and identity as a Roman citizen. We don't even get the names of Paul's parents, although in Judaism the father/son relationship was extremely important! We see that Paul's details about his own life are brought out under the rubric of two of our three conditions above -- and where does this relate to Jesus? It has no application.
Well, the distinction should be obvious. Jesus was the object—presumably—of universal Christian worship. He was God come to earth. The deeds he did in his life, the teachings and apocalyptic predictions he gave, the miracles he performed in support of those teachings, the events of his redemptive crucifixion on Calvary and resurrection from a nearby tomb, were the basis of the entire faith movement—supposedly. To find no mention of all these things within virtually the whole body of early Christian writings outside the Gospels is vastly more significant than finding few biographical details about an apostle of that figure, Paul of Tarsus. In the latter case, truly, there was little or no need for Paul himself or anyone else to give us those things. They bore no relevance to what Paul was doing, or to the Christian movement as a whole. No one was preaching the human Paul as a divinity, no one looked to him as the source of some innovative ethics, no one was worshiping or starting a religious movement around him. Indeed, most other Christian writers of the period show no knowledge of Paul whatsoever, indicating that his work and influence was far more limited and piecemeal than Acts portrays. One reference we do find to Paul, in 1 Clement 5, illustrates that when a writer has an occasion to speak of the human apostle's life and actions as an example of a point he is making, we do get such a reference. This is in sharp contrast to the void on all mention of the earthly Jesus in situations where those early writers would have had natural and often compelling occasion to do the same.
The early writers had absolutely no reason to mention where Jesus was born or when, what era he lived in, the names of his parents, where he grew up, where he preached, that he performed miracles or had it out with the Jewish leadership, and so on. It is all superfluous data, out of context for all that the early writers write, unless one of the three constraints above comes into play -- and there is not a scrap of evidence that any of them did!
Absolutely no reason . . . superfluous data . . . out of context. Mr. Holding is clearly in a state of denial, one which has led him and many others to make the most untenable claims and rationalizations about the great void on the Gospel Jesus in the early Christian record. Listening to the Sound of Silence has more than amply demonstrated that both reason and context abound in the epistles and non-canonical documents of the first century, and that the only thing superfluous is the Gospel story itself, when attempts are made to impose it on the very different and self-sufficient world of earliest Christianity.



http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/soundofsilence.html 

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