Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Plural Authorship of Hebrews (Part 2)

NT Examples of Plural Authorship:
     Both letters to the Thessalonians begin by naming three co-senders – Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy (1:1) – and both are written almost entirely in the first person plural (“we”) form of address. Over 96% of the first person terms in 1 Thessalonians are plural, with 92% in 2 Thessalonians, the majority of which are contrasted with “you” (the readers). First person singulars are only occasionally interjected (1 Thess. 2:18; 3:5; 5:27; 2 Thess. 2:5; 3:17), twice with Paul’s name emphatically appended, showing that he was the leading correspondent.
     Since Paul draws attention to the fact that he is writing the postscript with his own hand (2 Thess. 3:17), the implication is that someone other than the apostle did the actual writing of the preceding material. Like Paul, both Silvanus and Timothy were inspired men (Acts 15:32; 2 Tim. 1:6) and acknowledged writers (Acts 15:22-23; 1 Pet. 5:12; 2 Cor. 1:1, 13). Similar features are also found in 2 Corinthians (particularly chaps. 1–9) and Colossians.
The Plural Authorship of Hebrews:
     Since Hebrews displays a literary affinity with Luke-Acts, 1 Peter, and the writings of Paul (see Part 1), it is possible that it is the product of compositional collaboration (as 1-2 Thessalonians appear to be), perhaps involving the cooperative efforts of Luke, Silvanus, Paul, and/or others. Such a possibility renders many of the objections to any one of these potential writers practically insubstantial. 
     When scripture quotations are eliminated,1 Hebrews consists of only eight first person singulars (“I” references) in four verses. The first of these does not occur until nearly eleven chapters have been written (11:32), and the rest are confined to the final chapter (13:19, 22, 23). This is quite uncharacteristic of a single-authored document and supports the hypothesis that Hebrews may have been co-authored, albeit with the infrequent interjection by the dominant member.2
     Hebrews contains 107 plurals in the first person (“we” references), ninety-eight of which are inclusive of the general audience. The remaining nine appear to be references to persons not included among the recipients. 
o   The writer(s) make reference in 2:5 to the coming world, “concerning which we are speaking.”3 This appears to be an allusion to either multiple authors or a lone author and his immediate companions. Since Hebrews is written like a homily or a series of sermons, multiple “speakers” are implied in this passage.
o   In 5:11 the statement is made: “Concerning him we have much … to say.”  Here a clear distinction is seen between “we” and the reading audience (vv. 11b-12). 
o   “We” in contrast to “you” is also evident at 6:9 and 11: “but we have been convinced concerning you, beloved … though we are speaking in this manner …. but we desire each one of you …”
o   The request is made in 13:18, “Pray for us,” followed by three more “we” references and contrasted with “you” in vv. 18b-19. 
A Reasonable Proposal:
     While the documentary evidence (see Part 1 ) seems to point to different individuals (e.g. Paul, Luke, Silvanus), rather than using it to advocate one and discount another, would it be so unreasonable to conclude that they all may have had a hand in the composition? Paul, Luke, and Silvanus were each associated with Timothy (13:23) and had connections with Rome (13:24). Collectively they also had ties with Jerusalem, were familiar with the rituals of Judaism, were steeped in the LXX, and shared an amicable history of ministerial camaraderie and literary collaboration. And all of these men were inspired writers of the NT, including Silvanus (cf. Acts 15:22-23, 32; 1 Thess. 1:1-2; 2 Thess. 1:1-3; 3:17; 1 Pet. 5:12).
     If external evidence supports Pauline authorship and internal evidence raises doubts, it does not have to be an “either-or” situation when the variable of joint-authorship is allowed a hearing. A modern-day demonstration of this proposal is inadvertently provided by D. A. Carson, D. J. Moo, and L. Morris’s collective work, An Introduction to the NT. This co-authored textbook is not neatly divided into designated sections ascribed to the respective writers. Rather, as the authors themselves explain: “Each of us has written about a third of this volume and offered written critiques of the work of the other two. One of us has tried to reduce stylistic and other differences to a minimum. In two or three instances, references in the text betray the individual author. Elsewhere, readers are warmly invited to identify the redactor and the individual sources” (10).
     An apparent weakness of the joint-authorship hypothesis is the statement in Heb. 13:22, “through a few [words] I have written to you.” However, this is similar to the endings in Paul’s letters where he seems to have taken the pen from the amanuensis and written the postscript in his own hand (e.g. Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17; Philm. 19). Accordingly, Heb. 13:22 would apply merely to the postscript and not to the entire document.
     Perhaps Paul was responsible for the “I” statements (as in 1-2 Thessalonians), which resulted in the entire document being ascribed to him in subsequent generations. Interestingly, every letter attributed to Paul in the NT concludes with a charis (“grace”) benediction.4 This unique feature is also found in Heb. 13:25 but not in any other NT epistle.
Conclusion:
     The original recipients knew the author(s), and the document was quoted, recognized as divinely inspired and authoritative, very early (cf. Clement of Rome, ca. 95-96). Its canonical status is not in question, neither is its value diminished, by ongoing debates about authorship. Nevertheless, this brief study grounds the epistle in the history of the early church and demonstrates that it not only teaches the fundamental importance of unity and cooperation among God’s people (3:13-14; 10:23-25; 12:12-14; 13:1) but appears to be the result of it.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 In Hebrews 74 of the 82 first person singulars are found in scripture quotations.
     2 T. Weis comments: “If one is not predisposed to thinking Hebrews is the work of one person, it is very possible to take the plurals in question as representing co-authorship. Viewing the plurals in this way explains the presence of the singulars; the leader of the letter writing team takes the liberty of making personal comments. This is certainly evident in Paul’s work and also in the papyri. Considering that this epistle is a magnum apologetic of Jesus Christ, it is conceivable that more than one person wrote it” (“Literary Plural” 94). See also D. B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics 396-97.
     3 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     4 Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 6:18; Eph. 6:24; Phil. 4:23; Col. 4:18; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 3:18; 1 Tim. 6:21; 2 Tim. 4:22; Tit. 3:15; Philm. 25.


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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Plural Authorship of Hebrews (Part 1)

     The NT book of Hebrews was written anonymously only in the sense that the author’s name does not appear in the text, although he would have been known to the original audience. Here is what can be inferred about the author from the document itself:
o   He was familiar with his readers (5:12; 6:9-10; 10:34; 13:7, 18-25).
o   He and his readers were acquainted with Timothy (13:23).
o   He was not a personal disciple of Jesus (2:3).
o   He was familiar with the Levitical ritual of the Jewish temple (5:1-4; 7:5, 27-28; etc.).
o   He was well versed in the Jewish scriptures, particularly the LXX Greek version (1:5-13; 2:6-8; etc.).
o   He wrote with a high quality of literary Greek.
     One of the most often-cited statements about this enigmatic writer is from the 3rd-century theologian Origen: “But who it was that really wrote the epistle, God only knows” (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.25.14). While this sentiment is no doubt true, the entirety of Origen’s statement, along with his other writings (e.g. De Principiis 1.2.5; 3.1.10; 4.1.13), attribute authorship to the apostle Paul. Origen’s uncertainty is not necessarily in reference to authorship but rather to the identity of the author’s scribe – the one who actually put reed pen to papyrus on his behalf.
Who Wrote the Book of Hebrews?
     Paul the apostle is a strong possibility. The oldest extant evidence on the authorship of Hebrews comes from Clement of Alexandria near the close of the 2nd century, attributing it to Paul. The identification goes back even earlier to Clement’s teacher, Pantaenus (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6.14; cf. 5.11; 6.13, 25). The most primitive surviving text of Hebrews is part of the early 3rd-century Chester Beatty papyrus (P46), wherein Hebrews is placed in the Pauline corpus between Romans and 1 Corinthians.1 Not only is it treated as Pauline in the oldest surviving manuscripts, its inclusion among Paul’s letters has extensive attestation.2 In fact, Hebrews was commonly attributed to Paul between the 3rd and 19th centuries, and the translators of the KJV labeled it: “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews.”3 The vast majority of modern scholars, however, dogmatically reject Hebrews as a document written by Paul because of its anonymity, differences in language and style, absences of key Paulinisms, theological variations, and historical positioning.4
     Luke the physician is another authorial candidate. Clement of Alexandria and Origen attest to Luke’s involvement in composing Hebrews.5 Its purer Greek resembles Luke’s writing, and there are verbal and stylistic similarities to Luke-Acts.6 It was customary for Luke to write anonymously, and he was well acquainted with Timothy (cf. Acts 16:1-17; 20:4-6). Being Greek, he would have been more familiar with the LXX version than with the Hebrew. But the strongest objection is that the author of Hebrews seems to write from a Jewish perspective, whereas Luke appears to have been non-Jewish.
     Another possibility is Silvanus, seeing that Hebrews also has a literary correspondence to 1 Peter. Silvanus participated in the writing of 1 Peter (cf. 5:12), and the apostle Peter was not included among those for whom Christ’s testimony was confirmed by eyewitnesses (Heb. 2:3). Both Hebrews and 1 Peter are steeped in the LXX, and Silvanus (a.k.a. Silas) was associated with Timothy (Acts 16:1-17; 17:14; 18:5). Moreover, Silvanus’ connection with Jerusalem (Acts 15:22) would potentially have familiarized him with the temple rituals. Although Silvanus made a significant contribution to NT writings (Acts 15:22-32; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:12), his literary proficiency seems to be ignored or underappreciated by most scholars.
     Other suggestions include Apollos, Aristion (an elder mentioned by Papias), Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Epaphras, Mary the mother of Jesus, Philip, Priscilla and/or Aquila, Stephen, et al.7 A female author is ruled out by the statement in 11:32, “And what more shall I say? for the time will fail me for recounting …”8 The participle diÄ“goumenon (“recounting”) is masculine in gender, implicitly identifying the writer as male. As for the other proposals, in the absence of any extant writings from them to compare with Hebrews, the case for each is much more circumstantial and speculative.
Plurality of Authors?
     Almost all debates about the authorship of Hebrews proceed under the assumption that it was penned by a solitary writer. If, however, the document betrays the compositional influence of multiple persons, arguments pertaining to a lone author (e.g. structure, style, vocabulary, etc.) significantly diminish in persuasive value.
     Plural authorship was not uncommon in ancient times, and the two letters embedded in the book of Acts provide a simple model of comparison. The letter in Acts 15:23-29 is from multiple persons and is written entirely in the first person plural (“we”) form of address. The letter in Acts 23:25-30 is from an individual and is written entirely in the first person singular (“I”) form of address.
     In the vast majority of extant multi-sender papyrus letters from antiquity, first person terminology is entirely plural, demonstrating that the responsibility for the content rests equally with each correspondent.9 However, some of these ancient letters (e.g. P. Oxy. 1158, 3094, 3313, P. Mur. 42) alternate between “we” and “I,” indicating that one of the senders is the primary spokesman or leader of the group who at times refers only to himself.
     While the popular assumption is that Hebrews is the product of a solitary penman, is it plausible that multiple persons could have been involved? Divine inspiration notwithstanding, this is the focus of the next post.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Hebrews also follows Romans in a Syrian canon of around AD 400 and in six minuscule manuscripts (see B. M. Metzger and B. D. Ehrman, The Text of the NT [4th ed.] 55 n. 7).
     2 The most ancient manuscripts including Hebrews in the Pauline corpus are Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Vaticanus. For further documentary evidence, see B. M. Metzger, Textual Commentary 591-92; G. Zuntz, Text of the Epistles 15-16; and D. Trobisch, Paul’s Letter Collection 7-27.
     3 This can be traced back to the title in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate: Epistola Pauli ad Hebraeos. For a list of similarities between Hebrews and Paul’s writings, see D. Guthrie, NT Introduction 722-23; and N. R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today 20-22.
     4 For a summary of arguments for and against Paul’s authorial role, see D. Guthrie, NT Introduction 688-98; N. R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today 20-27; and G. W. Wade, NT History 304-307.
     5 Clement of Alexandria claimed that Paul wrote Hebrews in the Hebrew language and that Luke translated it into Greek (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14). Origen reported that some in his day maintained that Luke “wrote” Hebrews (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14), but it is uncertain whether this refers to authorship or to transcription.
     6 See C. M. P. Jones, “Hebrews and Lucan Writings,” in Studies in the Gospels 113-43. T. Rees observes: “He [the author of Hebrews] writes Gr[eek] with a purity of style and vocabulary to which the writings of L[uke] alone in the NT can be compared” (ISBE 2:1357).
     7 See D. A. Carson, D. J. Moo, and L. Morris, Introduction to the NT 396-97; also C. Holladay, Critical Introduction to the NT 639-42.
     8 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     9 See S. Byrskog, “Co-senders” 233-36; J. Murphy-O’Connor, Letter-Writer 18-19; M. Prior, Letter-Writer 38-39; A. von Roon, Authenticity 89-90.



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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Response to Gary

     Gary describes himself as a former “devout orthodox (fundamentalist) Christian,” who has rejected the Christian faith and appears to be on a quest to discredit the Christian religion. He recently entered my tiny speck of the blogosphere, insisting that I read his review of his former pastor’s defense of the Lord’s resurrection. He claims that belief in the resurrection lacks any good evidence and is “based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstition, and giant leaps of faith.” I read his review <Link>. Here is my response.
Evaluating the Evidence
     Gary maintains that “the overwhelming majority” of skeptics accept the testimonies of early Christians as valid evidence, although the evidence must be scrutinized “with the caveat that there may well be bias present in their statements.” I agree with this approach and with Gary’s observation that “both sides have a bias, but biases do NOT necessarily invalidate the evidence.”1
     Gary then affirms that he and most other skeptics “view the Bible as a mixture of truths and fiction. The key to understanding the Bible is examining each biblical claim to determine which category it belongs to, and not assuming every claim is true or every claim is false.” The problem here is that no one approaches the biblical record with a completely blank tablet, and one’s deep-seated presuppositions inevitably affect how the scriptures are evaluated. The pendulum swings in both directions. If one has little or no respect for the Bible or has a predisposition against it and examines the text merely to find fault, then the final assessment will almost certainly be negative.2 Would Gary deny this about most, some, or any skeptics?
     It is commendable that he argues for an unbiased, objective analysis of the biblical evidence (I concur!), yet his own approach seems very one-sided. He repeatedly makes the very broad, anecdotal appeal to “the overwhelming majority” of skeptics and biblical scholars, but the only one he actually names is agnostic professor Bart Ehrman. How many scholarly critics are there (past and present), and where does each fit on the liberal-conservative theological spectrum, and who determines the percentage of the ones espousing a particular view? While I don’t know how many of these alleged experts Gary has read or listened to (presumably not all of them), it is apparent that his primary focus is pretty much limited to those who already agree with him. A clear example of this is his contention that “the Epistle of Second Peter is a known work of fraud! No scholar that I know of believes that Peter or any other eyewitness wrote that epistle.” There are numerous scholars that Gary evidently doesn’t “know of” who would disagree (e.g. D. A. Carson, E. M. B. Green, D. Guthrie, D. J. Moo, B. Reicke, etc.). Irrespective of which position one embraces, plethoric “scholars” can be cited for support.
The Biblical Evidence
     The main thrust of Gary’s argument is an attempt to discredit the veracity of the biblical record in general, and eyewitness testimony in particular. But all we have,” Gary assures his readers, “are four accounts written decades later, two of which and maybe three borrow heavily (plagiarize) from the first, by anonymous persons writing in far away lands, whom most scholars do NOT believe were eyewitnesses. Yes, dear Reader, you read that correctly: the majority of New Testament scholars living today do NOT believe that eyewitnesses wrote the four Gospels and the Book of Acts.”
     First of all, the four Gospel accounts are not “all we have.” Secondly, the assertion that “maybe three” of them plagiarize from the first is an allegation that no reputable scholar, to my knowledge, has ever made. That two of the Gospels borrowed from the first is a popular theory among non-conservatives, but this is not universally conceded nor is it proven. In fact, the striking differences among the synoptic accounts argue more readily for literary independence.3 Thirdly, the charge that most scholars deny “that eyewitnesses wrote the four Gospels and the Book of Acts” is not the earthshattering revelation that Gary seems to think it is. No one who is aware of the facts, even among extreme fundamentalists, believes that Luke-Acts and the Gospel of Mark were penned by eyewitnesses. The real issue is whether these two authors were acquainted with eyewitnesses and based their respective reports on eyewitness testimony, and whether the other two Gospel writers themselves were eyewitnesses (see Authorship of the NT Gospels, and Biblical Authorship Part 1).
     Gary has boarded the trendy anti-conservative bandwagon and asserts that the Gospel of Luke “wasn’t written until the 80s at the earliest, so the Book of Acts was probably not written until the last decades of the first century, if not the early second century!” Gary is trying to argue that it’s quite possible that NO ONE was alive at the time of the writing and subsequent distribution of the Book of Acts who had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus!” However, by taking the internal textual evidence at face value rather than relying on subjective literary theory and philosophical presuppositions, Luke’s Gospel would appear to have been completed as early as 59. Attention to the “we” sections in Acts reveals that the author arrived in Jerusalem with Paul in late spring 57 (Acts 20:6, 16; 21:17) and faded out of the picture for a couple of years until autumn 59 when he and Paul departed from Caesarea on the voyage to Rome (Acts 27:1-9). An extended period in Jerusalem would have afforded him the ideal opportunity to gather the necessary information for his “orderly account” (Luke 1:1-4). The historical record of Acts concludes at the end of Paul’s two-year Roman imprisonment, i.e., spring of 62. The most obvious explanation for the abrupt ending is that the historical account had actually reached this point.4 The textual/historical evidence does not support Gary’s unfounded assumption.
Eyewitness Testimony
     Gary reduces the eyewitness testimony to “Paul and a few Galilean peasants,” who allegedly believed a couple of appearance stories “based solely on vivid dreams, trances, and visions.” Is this a fair representation of the facts? Gary provides NO historical evidence for his explanation. 
     Despite the popularity of the Markan priority theory, the Gospels of Mark and John are clearly independent of one another, while Matthew and Luke differ enough from Mark to establish them as independent sources. The book of Acts is replete with recorded testimonies (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:18-20; 5:30-32; 10:39-40). Luke and the Hebrews epistle explicitly claim eyewitness corroboration (Luke 1:1-4; Heb. 2:3-4), while there are first-hand statements in the writings of John (John 19:33-35; 1 John 1:1-3) and the Petrine documents (1 Pet. 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:16). And then there’s Paul. 
     In 1 Cor. 15:3-8 (an undisputed Pauline document by the way), the apostle mentions over 500 eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ, most of whom were still alive at the time, and no less than fourteen of the names were known (with additional names in the other accounts) and could be verified. It’s as though he’s challenging his readers to check him out (cf. Acts 26:26). Remember that the New Testament is not merely a single record; it is the compilation of twenty-seven separate documents spanning multiple geographical locations and time periods, representing numerous independent sources that remarkably harmonize.
     While an individual might have “vivid dreams, trances, and visions,” we’re talking about hundreds of people on dozens of occasions over an extended period of time! Jesus was not only seen alive after his crucifixion, he was also communicated with and touched. And then there’s the empty tomb. If the ardent claims of these professed eyewitnesses are false, why didn’t the Roman or Jewish authorities produce the corpse to dispel the crazy rumors and stop the Christian movement in its tracks?
     Gary asks, “Did Paul claim that there was an Empty Tomb?” and concludes that the empty tomb is “a fact NEVER mentioned in any of the writings of Paul! …. Paul never mentions this detail ONCE!” Gary is right if we’re limiting our discussion to these specific words. However, the apostle makes numerous implicit references to the empty tomb with his repeated and adamant allusions to the resurrected Lord (Rom. 1:4; 4:24-25; 6:4-9; 7:4; 8:11, 34; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:1-8, 12-21; 2 Cor. 4:14; 5:15; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Phil. 3:10; Col. 2:12; 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:14; 2 Tim. 2:8; cf. Acts 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:3, 18, 31, 32; 24:21; 25:19).
How Much Evidence is Needed?
     Gary says that “if scholars could point to the confirmed testimony of even ONE of the original eleven disciples, most skeptics would consider this fantastic, very relevant evidence. But unfortunately we do not have such evidence.” He also cynically requests: “Please provide ONE verified statement by just ONE eyewitness who claims to have seen and touched the walking/talking dead body of Jesus.” 
     The problem with these demands is that no amount of evidence, especially from the Bible, is going to satisfy those who are predisposed to dismissing biblical (supernatural) claims. If secular authors were held to the same critical scrutiny as biblical authors, no one could be certain that anyone in particular wrote or said anything. If the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection, including abundant eyewitness corroboration, is not enough to convince someone, how can he/she be sure about any historical event?
     The bottom line is this: what is one’s standard of proof, and what presuppositions influence the evaluative process? If a person is limited to a strictly naturalistic worldview, then the possibility of God and supernatural occurrences is automatically ruled out from the start. But what if the evidence points beyond the natural world?
Here are the indisputable facts:
o   Jesus of Nazareth was a real person in history.
o   He died in 1st-century Palestine by crucifixion.
o   Numerous individuals and groups adamantly believed that he appeared to them alive.
o   The tomb was empty.
o   The movement quickly spread, and thousands of these early Christians suffered brutal persecution, even tortuous deaths, for their testimony and unrelenting faith.
o   Paul of Tarsus, a violent persecutor of the Jesus followers, became a steadfast believer and proclaimer of the resurrected Jesus.
     The Bible consistently makes historical claims about real people and events in actual places and times, presenting its case for either confirmation or falsification. If Jesus didn’t walk out of the tomb, the biblical record is a lie and “we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19). If, however, he did conquer death, it is the most significant event in all of human history and it would be foolish to ignore it. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has radically shaped the course of history and countless lives and is as certain as any fact of history can be.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     2 See The Bible in Perspective.


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