Sunday, 25 March 2012

Biblical Authorship: Challenging Anti-Conservative Presuppositions (Part 3 of 4)

Valentin de Boulogne's St. Paul and His Writings
Assumption # 3: "An author’s entire vocabulary is limited to a select handful of his writings."

     This seems to be the underlying assumption when the authenticity of a particular document is challenged due to its message containing a number of words or phrases that are absent from other writings attributed to the same author. Critical scholars tend to place a great deal of emphasis on hapax legomena, i.e., words occurring only once in a text or a literary collection. Ephesians, for example, is among the most disputed documents in the Pauline corpus because it employs over ninety words not found in the rest of the letters bearing Paul’s name. However, this is a tremendously subjective criterion. Consider the fact that Ephesians is the only extant Pauline epistle wherein the term "water" appears. Is it logical to assume that this basic word was not in the apostle’s vocabulary and that he did not and could not have ever used it?!
     Each book of the Bible has a distinctive thrust that necessarily calls for specific terminology. Some teachings naturally overlap and share the same or similar wording, whereas others do not. An effective communicator is aware of his intended audience and their particular needs, and his word-choice is influenced accordingly. It is not realistic to expect any writer to say the exact same things in precisely the same manner with the very same words, irrespective of his audience, his topic, his purpose, or his circumstances. Further, when attempting to evaluate the perceived vocabulary of a given author, his utilization of quotations and other borrowed materials must be factored in. And of even greater significance is the prospect of co-authors, collaborators, and secretaries. If multiple works were produced by an author with the assistance of different colleagues, who’s to say which words belong to which contributor and which ones do not? The issue of vocabulary is a notoriously weak determinant for questions of authorship.

Assumption # 4: "An author’s writing style is static, irrespective of when, where, why, and how his respective writings are composed."

     In almost every discussion about the Bible’s disputed books, literary features, particularly language and style, are involved. If an author’s characteristic writing style can be quantified, any document that exhibits variations, even if it bears his name, is removed from the list of authentic writings. Why are 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastorals considered by so many New Testament scholars as having been authored by persons other than the apostle Paul? One of the main reasons, according to current critical analysis, is that the writing styles of these epistles differ from the "genuine Paulines" and thus "do not sound like Paul."
     The most obvious question is: how does one determine which of the Pauline letters are genuine to begin with, thereby providing a standard of comparison? Since, for example, Colossians claims to be from "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1), why not start with Colossians and then systematically dismiss the other Pauline letters that do not conform to its manner of presentation? The truth is, consistency of vocabulary and rigidity of writing style are unrealistic expectations. This is especially true when one’s writings span a number of years, involve a variety of circumstances and topics, and address different audiences and issues. Furthermore, the limited size of the writings in question (a single chapter in some instances!) makes any attempt to assess specific authorial characteristics impracticable.
     In order for these arguments to seem plausible, a key factor that must be completely ignored is the potentiality of literary collaboration. If an author has dictated his message to a capable amanuensis, or has discussed the contents of the composition with influential colleagues, or has partnered with one or more co-authors, the language and style with which the final product is conveyed would likely betray the collaborative influences of more than one person. Of all the reasons offered by hostile critics for questioning the authorial integrity of a biblical text, the hypothetical "writing-style" premise most noticeably represents the friction between theory and reality.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Biblical Authorship Part 1, Biblical Authorship Part 2, Biblical Authorship Part 4, Authorship of Ephesians

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Biblical Authorship: Challenging Anti-Conservative Presuppositions (Part 2 of 4)

Duccio di Buon insegna, Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles
Assumption # 2: "The earliest stages of the Christian movement were necessarily simplistic and unsophisticated, requiring several decades for Christian theology and church organization to gradually develop."

     This assumption is rooted in modern evolutionary thinking that arbitrarily identifies teachings and practices that seem more "developed" as later, and equates "simpler" with earlier. Since, for example, the epistles of 1 Timothy and Titus describe the established position of overseers (elders) and thus exhibit a refined form of church organization, the authorship references cannot be taken at face value if the documents are seen as having been composed during a later period in the development of the church, after the lifetime of Paul.
     Long before the Christian era, the intellectual and technological genius of the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and many other ancient civilizations is demonstrated in their remarkable advances in engineering, mathematics, physics, astronomy, agriculture, metalworking, architecture, navigation, and a host of other complex disciplines. But when the multinational Christian movement appeared on the scene in the first-century Greco-Roman world, we are expected to believe that it consisted of a bunch of ragtag imbeciles void of intellect and competence. In reality, the ancient church across the Roman empire included highly educated people, skilled writers, government officials, military leaders, theologians, doctors, businesspeople, and those among society’s elite (cf., e.g., Pliny the Younger, Ep. 10.96). Is it realistic to conclude that these early believers were incapable of resourcefulness and proficiency, at least until a greatly extended period of time had elapsed?
     The bottom line is that Christianity professes to be a divinely revealed religion. Granted, the complete revelation did not come all at once and special gifts and duties were necessary in the formative years to grow the church from infancy to maturity (cf. Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Ephesians 4:11-16). Nevertheless, within the first three decades of the Christian movement, during the lifetimes of all the conventional New Testament authors, "advanced" theological insights and organizational structure were already evident in the undisputed writings of Paul (Romans 1:16–11:36; Philippians 1:1; 2:5-11; et al.). Thus, on the basis of doctrinal matters, with the probable exception of the Johannine writings, there is no convincing reason to insist that other New Testament documents, whose authorship is challenged, must have been written considerably later.
     The book of Acts clearly demonstrates that early on in the history of the church a developed organizational structure was in place (11:30; 14:23; 15:6; 20:17). If the historical integrity of Acts is then called into question or the book is dated much later to accommodate this information, biased assumptions have given place to circular reasoning.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related PostsBiblical Authorship Part 1Biblical Authorship Part 3Biblical Authorship Part 4, Authorship of NT GospelsAuthorship of Luke-Acts

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Biblical Authorship: Challenging Anti-Conservative Presuppositions (Part 1 of 4)

     Who wrote the books of the Bible? Whether divine guidance is conceded or not, all agree that human beings were involved in the production and transmission of the sacred writings. On the "fundamentalist" end of the spectrum, as long as God is recognized as the primary author, human instrumentality is of little consequence. On the opposite end, the legitimacy of the biblical record can be more easily challenged if orthodox attributions are discredited.
      In many scholastic circles there appears to be a general aversion to accepting or even considering conventional authorial appellations, including the self-claims of the texts. But alternative judgments based on conjectural argumentation, unwarranted assumptions, circular reasoning, and excessively complicated redaction and compilation theories manifest a strong appearance of grasping at straws. A number of significant variables must be ignored or trivialized in order for the opposing position to seem credible (to be discussed).
     When a biblical text does not fit into the restrictive mould of a critic’s rigid presuppositions, it is immediately called into question. Even though a circumstantial case may be articulated in such a way that seems reasonable and persuasive, how does it measure up to the scrutiny of hard evidence and basic common sense?

Assumption # 1: "Because pseudepigraphy (literary forgery) was widespread in the Greco-Roman world, pseudonymity (false attribution) must have been an acceptable literary practice and thus common among early Christians."

     It is an enormous leap to conclude that the prevalence of pseudonymous writings in antiquity implies that the practice was morally accepted. In fact, the ancients were just as concerned about literary integrity as modern man with his "copyright mentality." When spurious works were detected, they were denounced and rejected as forgeries. While anonymity was fairly common in Jewish and early Christian writings, it is nothing short of deceptive for a writer to have appended another’s name to his work without authorization, purporting that the ideas, personal details, and authoritative directives were from a well-known historical figure rather than himself. Since the Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews were extremely careful to maintain the authenticity of their literary collections (spurning all pseudepigraphical documents), why would anyone suppose that the followers of Christ were any less scrupulous? The fact of the matter is, no Christian writings that were known to be spurious were ever accepted as genuine in the early church (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.12.3). This is especially true of apostolic letters, as the deceitful practice of epistolary pseudepigrapha was decisively condemned. Therefore, to casually label certain biblical documents as literary forgeries is out of place, prejudicial, and without solid justification.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related PostsBiblical Authorship Part 2Biblical Authorship Part 3Biblical Authorship Part 4, Authorship of NT Gospels

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Dating of Luke-Acts and Why it Matters

St. Luke by Burne Jones
     Why do conservative scholars generally propose earlier dates for the writing of Luke-Acts, while later dates are preferred by the more liberal scholars? It depends, of course, on what assumptions are brought to the text and how the information is thus evaluated. By taking the internal textual evidence at face value rather than relying on subjective literary theory and philosophical presuppositions, what conclusions are to be drawn and how do they stand up against conflicting views from the other end of the spectrum?
     The Gospel according to Luke appears to have been completed around 59 from Jerusalem and/or Caesarea. 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), interviewing people like Jesus’ mother (for the unique material in chaps. 1-2), personal disciples, and other eyewitnesses. If this raises questions about the role of divine inspiration, see Biblical Inspiration in Perspective.
     Luke’s Gospel was clearly produced before the book of Acts (note "the former account" of Acts 1:1), and the historical record of Acts concludes at the end of Paul’s two-year Roman imprisonment, i.e., spring of 62. The Gospel was almost certainly not written after 62-64, since Paul quotes from Luke 10:7 in his first epistle to Timothy (5:18). The only options for those who insist on a later date are: (1) deny that Luke is the source of Paul’s quotation, or (2) date 1 Timothy much later, thereby rejecting Pauline authorship.
     The most obvious explanation for the abrupt ending of Acts is that the historical account had actually reached this point. There is no mention in Acts of the fall of Jerusalem (summer of 70), which is understandable if it had not yet occurred but is rather strange if Acts were written not long after the fact, especially considering the weighty attention given to the city of Jerusalem in Luke’s writings. There is no mention of the Neronian persecution (64-68), even though the story of Acts ends in Rome. While Luke tells of the martyrdoms of both Stephen and the apostle James (Acts 7:57-60; 12:2), there is no record of the death of the Lord’s brother James (who was killed in Jerusalem in the summer of 62), even though he is a prominent figure in Acts (cf. 1:14; 12:17; 15:13; 21:18). There is no information in Acts about the outcome of Paul’s trial in Rome or of his death. While none of these observations alone offers definitive proof, collectively they support the earlier date.
     To accommodate a later date, alternative suggestions for the ending of Acts include: (1) Luke intended to compose a third volume but never did or it has not survived (which, of course, cannot be confirmed); and (2) he fulfilled his purpose of the gospel message having reached Rome and had no reason to take the story any further. But consider this unusual feature of Luke’s writings. Despite his long-time relationship with the apostle Paul, he betrays no knowledge of the apostle’s letters or even mentions that Paul wrote letters. While this raises some intriguing questions, the further in history Luke-Acts is chronologized the more inexplicable this becomes. Colossians 4:16 is the earliest clear reference that Paul expected his letters to be circulated rather than kept in isolation in their respective localities. It is interesting that the closing of Acts and the writing of Colossians fit into a comparable time frame (early 62). By the mid-60s the Pauline writings were recognized (at least from Asia Minor to Rome) as a well-known collection and regarded as scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).
     Why do liberal scholars insist on dating Luke-Acts much later, postulating 75 to 110 as the compositional period? A major reason, it seems, is the detailed prophetic description of Jerusalem’s destruction (Luke 13:34-35; 19:41-44; 21:20-24), which, if recorded prior to mid-70, would require the divine element of predictive prophecy. If, therefore, the Lukan documents can be dated after the fact, supernatural intervention is not required.
     Another factor that influences the later-date proposals is the presumption of Luke’s dependence on the Gospel of Mark. The further along on the chronological scale Mark is believed to have appeared, the works of Luke would therefore be even later. However, the preface of Luke’s Gospel argues against this theory. Luke seems to have been dissatisfied with the previous attempts of others to narrate the life and teachings of Jesus, prompting him to draft his own "orderly account" (Luke1:1-4). Had he known of or had access to the narrative(s) of Mark and/or Matthew, this is hard to imagine (see Synoptic Problem Part 1 and Part 2).
     If, within reasonable approximation, the Gospel of Luke is understood to have been completed by autumn 59 in Jerusalem and/or Caesarea and the book of Acts in Rome by spring 62, all the historical pieces fit neatly together. I am not suggesting that everyone who disagrees with this assessment and these conclusions is a theological leftist. But how should significantly different alternatives be regarded when they are based on unnecessary and less-than-convincing rationale? When subjectivism is equated with critical thinking, and the historicity of Luke-Acts is indiscriminately challenged, and untenable compilation theories override the integrity of scripture, and the pseudonymity of New Testament documents is assumed, and biblical authors are essentially portrayed as mindless redactors, and the possibility of divine influence is categorically dismissed, does it matter?
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Authorship of Luke-Acts, Luke's Audience