THE JESUS PUZZLE
Was There No Historical Jesus?
Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case
(with contributions from Richard Carrier and others)
Romans 1:3 and Hebrews revisited; Galatians 4:4's "born of woman"
plus a bit of Josephus and "brother of the Lord"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The third and final part of my response to Bernard Muller revisits topics covered in previous parts and deals as well with several new areas. Muller's critique of The Jesus Puzzle can be found in two parts at: http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/djp1.html and http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/djp2.html
Muller digressed from his assault on The Jesus Puzzle to address Carrier's own review of my book. By now, the abysmal nature of Muller's critique should be evident to the reader. But it will get worse. As Carrier writes: "...Muller only makes himself look like he doesn't know what he is talking about. Probably because he doesn't." Of course, anyone has the right to publish whatever criticism of my work he or she sees fit, and most of those criticisms are by apologetic-minded individuals whose confessional (or professional) interests are threatened. But Muller is one of a minority of critics for whom confessional interest plays no part. To date I have ignored him, but it is surprising how much attention his critique of The Jesus Puzzle has gained, and how many have been drawn into thinking that he has dealt a severe or mortal blow to the mythicist case, mine in particular. They say that a little learning is a dangerous thing, and so is a lot of ignorance. With enough ignorance, as Muller has demonstrated, one can criticize with an unlimited degree of unperturbed self-confidence. (This makes him particularly frustrating to deal with on discussion forums, as myself and others can attest to.) The unfortunate side effect is that those who are equally ignorant can be taken in, especially when it serves their own interests to be so. The manhandling of Muller by myself and Carrier (who is anything but a committed mythicist) is not motivated by ad hominem impulses; but if there is ever going to be a serious and professional consideration of the mythicist option, we have to neutralize and rid ourselves of the truly amateur, uninformed—and often transparently apologetic—voices clamoring to beat down the heretical notion that no Jesus existed. Ignorance tends to be their hallmark, and that hallmark extends even into the realms of academia, as another article on this website has shown. As incompetent as Muller's critique is, it unfortunately has to be dealt with.
Again, I will be quoting much of Muller's and Carrier's texts, as well as from postings on IIDB. I will mark hiatuses, and the odd insertion of my own will be in italics in square brackets. (Muller's text, with color scheme preserved, will be indented, while quotes from Carrier and the others will be in red, also indented. A separate Addendum will link to a review reprinted here of Muller's critique originally posted on IIDB.)
Critiquing Richard Carrier's Review of The Jesus Puzzle
Because Carrier, in his review of The Jesus Puzzle, supported me in my picture of upper and lower worlds and the activity of gods in the heavenly realms, Muller felt obliged to try to discredit Carrier's own reading of ancient cosmology, particularly where gods like Osiris are concerned.
Richard Carrier commented that in Plutarch's Isis and Osiris
(written around 90-100), "it is there, in
"outermost areas" (the "outermost part of matter"), that
evil has particular dominion, and where Osiris
continually dismembered and reassembled (375a-b)."
Let's check about these outermost areas and where Osiris was dismembered:
- "[s.38] The outmost parts of the land beside the mountains and bordering on the sea the Egyptians call Nephthys. ... Whenever, then, the Nile overflows and with abounding waters spreads far away to those who dwell in the outermost regions ..."
It looks to me the outermost areas are regions around
Muller needs to actually read the whole book. Plutarch, first, gives several different schemes (historical, metaphysical, etc.) and explicitly distinguishes them as different, not the same thing—he even says the metaphysical is the correct one. Second, Plutarch clearly discusses the use of terms like Nephthys as allegorical. If Muller had actually read the text, he would know that Nephthys is not foremost a place—she is a goddess. She represents Finality and Victory (355f). Thus she can be attached allegorically to all sorts of things. The attachment of her name to the Outlands is one allegory—hence also the earth is called Isis and the air Horus and aspects of the Nile Osiris...Thus, Plutarch is not talking here about the heavenly Osiris, where he says he and Isis are intermediary gods between heaven and earth. Again, Plutarch relates several *different* interpretations of the myth. Muller seems to think they are all the same one. Only someone who did not read the whole book would make that mistake....
a) Plutarch never used the expression "sublunar heaven", nor did he mention any world/heaven below the moon and above the earth:
"[s.63] that part of the world which undergoes reproduction and destruction is contained underneath the orb of the moon, and all things in it are subjected to motion and to change through the four elements: fire, earth, water, and air."
This part of the world is just like earth and the air above it!
The ancients (as Aristotle and Ptolemy) thought the moon was the most outward (in the earth direction) celestial body. The sun was understood in an orbit beyond the one of the moon, among the planets moving between the moon and the firmament. And the "fixed" stars were on the firmament in front (or part) of "the prime mover sphere". In any case, the firmament was considered behind the moon and therefore not sublunar.
Muller is really confused here. The sublunar heaven is the firmament, which is indeed a part of everything below the moon...At any rate, his criticism is completely irrelevant to my actual point: that Osiris dies and rises in the aer. That it happens "often" means it cannot be a historical person Plutarch is talking about....
Plutarch, the final resting place of Osiris
the polluted earth, and not into the heavens:
"[s.78] ... this god Osiris is the ruler and king of the dead, nor is he any other than the god that among the Greeks is called Hades and Pluto. But since it is not understood in with manner this is true, it greatly disturbs the majority of people who suspect that the holy and sacred Osiris truly dwells in the earth and beneath the earth, where are hidden away the bodies of those that are believed to have reached their end. But he himself is far removed from the earth [downward!], uncontaminated and unpolluted and pure from all matter that is subject to destruction and death ..."
Oh dear no! Plutarch is chastising the "majority of people" for believing the wrong thing! Go back and read the context. Thus, he is not saying that Osiris is really far below—but far above! He is saying that the people are *wrongly* disturbed by the idea he is below. Indeed, he could not say in one place that everything below the moon is subject to decay, and then say that below the earth everything is "uncontaminated and unpolluted and pure from all matter that is subject to destruction and death"! That would be a direct self-contradiction. *Only* the heavens ever qualify for the latter description (without exception in ancient literature). Further, the verb "far removed" means set apart from—so it cannot mean *in* the earth (and Plutarch certainly believed earth was a sphere, so anything below earth is literally *inside* earth).
The following discussion of bodies and souls also exactly matches that of the Axiochus and of Philo, and thus clearly repeats the Middle-Platonic view of two levels of the cosmos (which I will note again: ALL SCHOLARS OF ANCIENT COSMOLOGY AGREE IS A FACT)....
e) Plutarch is however very much confusing
different concepts & traditions, some of them mythical, and lacks
consistency through his rather incoherent narration.
I do admire Earl's rhetorical skills but I rely on the evidence first. And from ancient pagan writings before Julian's times (331-363), there is no testimony presented in 'the Jesus Puzzle' about the concept of an upper world between heaven & earth, where the fleshy meets demonic powers, a place where Jesus would have been crucified. After years of research, Doherty was unable to flesh out the evidence for it....Furthermore, all the texts cited by Doherty (and Carrier) were not written before Paul's times.Why would the early Christians imagine an upper world as more real & pungent than their earthly one?
these remarks, Muller demonstrates the full extent of his ignorance,
basic reliance on the argument from personal incredulity. He himself
imagine such a view of an upper world, and he is so uninformed about
Platonic philosophy—indeed, the
central philosophy of the entire
does not realize that this is precisely the way the ancients
spiritual versus the earthly parts of their universe. The upper world
indeed "more real and pungent" than the one they moved in, as
divorced from reality as that may have been. Incidentally, though the
is not the same (since cosmological views of the universe are now much
different and our scientific knowledge vastly superior), Muller
close parallel among modern believers. We might ask the question, how
religious believers generally—imagine an
(Heaven) more primary, important and eternal than the world they
their earthly lives, the only lives we can be certain of? There is no
concrete evidence today for the existence of Heaven than the ancients
their own view of a layered world of the spirit above the earth. In
it has been entirely the product of the mind. In ancient times,
had very little else to go on but their own intellects, and
brought too many unsubstantiated assumptions and cockeyed axioms to the
exercise of those intellects. Today, we ought to know better.
Muller's remarks do not deserve the polite explanation Carrier provides, as though anyone who purports to study the rise of Christianity and its philosophical context in contemporary culture should need to have such an answer provided. At this particular point, we are first and foremost concerned not with whether Paul or any other early Christian placed Jesus' death in the upper world, but rather with the most basic outlook on reality that had been developing for centuries before Paul came along. Without knowledge of the latter, we can never arrive at an accurate judgment of the former. As Carrier puts it:
explained by Middle Platonic (and Jewish) writers: this world was
change, decay, chaos, and seemed to cause all manner of evil: God is
created everything; therefore there must be a superior, perfect world
subject to change, decay, chaos, and evil; and that must be the heavens
only thing left, and the only thing that seems not subject to change,
chaos or evil—besides, elevation
is a universal human notion of
no culture has ever imagined a "better" world below the earth, all
have imagined it *above*).
One can see how unsubstantiated axioms so misled the ancient intellect. Change, decay (which is really a step in the ongoing course of evolution and 'rebirth') was axiomatically judged as inferior and undesirable. If an all-high God existed (and few could conceive otherwise) he must be impervious to such things and transcendent from them. Then the universe had to be structured to give him a place to live, intermediaries between himself and the world had to be established, explanations for the world's evil and its separation from the imagined perfection of the spiritual realm invented, until a vast and unwieldy superstructure was erected which few philosophers could free themselves from, none of which bore any relation to reality. Out of that milieu grew Christianity, and it is only with a knowledge of that cosmology that Christianity can be understood (as well as evaluated). Muller asks:
Why did Paul
Jesus' death in an upper world/lower heaven?
Why did he never specify the crucifixion was not on earth, more so when many were crucified there?
Actually, Paul did state it, in an indirect
way. If the crucifixion had
on earth, if the event was remembered by people still alive, some of
been Jesus' followers with whom Paul was still in contact, why would
that Jesus' death was a matter of faith?
In 1 Thessalonians 4:14, he
"We believe that Jesus died and rose again..." The place of
crucifixion in Colossians 2:15 looks like demon territory. In Romans
says: "If you believe that God raised (Jesus) from the dead..." Why
is there an appeal to faith here? Couldn't Paul draw on the witness of
that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead? In 1 Corinthians 15:12-15, he
rhetorically allows for the possibility that Jesus was not raised if
dead are not raised, and that they have all been deceived by God. This
like a gospel message dependent solely on revelation from God himself.
"appearances" in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 look like visions, both in
their language and because of Paul's inclusion of his own vision in the
differentiation (he does the same in 9:1). Paul never points to
traditions to justify faith in Jesus' dying and rising, nor for
anything else about his divine Son of God, including the manner and
crucifixion (the "rulers of this age" of 1 Corinthians 2:8). If there
is such a void on historical time,
and agents in regard to Jesus' redeeming act, where else can he place
'event' except outside earth and history?
Carrier presents a little different twist on Paul's silence:
If his audience already knew, why would he say? After all, he only ever writes to people who had already been orally evangelized. Thus, most of the fundamentals of doctrine were already in place.
But those "fundamentals" were in place on a
much broader scale than
any earlier evangelizing by Paul. They were virtually a given in the
philosophical and religious atmosphere of the time. The deaths of the
Hellenistic savior gods took place not on earth or in history; they
settings. Philosophers had already created the upper dimension where
intermediaries revealed and rescued. Paul did not need to explain to
prospective converts that Jesus had died in the spiritual world. Nor
anyone likely have questioned it. It was part of the natural order of
and no more needed or invited explanation than did the concept of
to God and the gods as practiced in Jewish and pagan religion. Nowhere
Old or New Testament does anyone explain how blood sacrifice operates
what it supposedly did, not even in the epistle to the Hebrews where
processes are stated but not justified or elucidated. Today, do
preachers explain the "soul" to their audiences, despite referring to
it ad nauseum?
As Carrier points out, Paul, when faced with the Corinthians' doubt about human resurrection, does engage (1 Corinthians -54) "in an elaborate explanation of how there are two worlds, one of decay one of indecay, the former was earth and the latter heaven, and the resurrected get bodies in the latter." This, however, is not to explain the principle of upper and lower worlds or the place of Jesus' activity, but to convince the Corinthians that the process is feasible, no doubt because they could not envision their own rotted and disintegrated corpses rematerializing to new life. Paul addresses their doubt by conceding that flesh and blood are indeed incapable of entering the
Carrier goes on to say:
Since no one ever seems to have doubted the death of Jesus (even the Corinthian faction did not deny that *Jesus* had been resurrected, only that we would be), there was never an occasion for Paul to elaborate on where Jesus died (as we can suppose Paul would have if he had to prove Jesus had died—as it is, he simply says it is proven by scripture, as if his audience already agrees).
I must disagree with most of this. As I
have pointed out, more than one
indicates that "faith" is required to accept both the death and
resurrection of Jesus, and there is evidence in 1 Corinthians that
Corinthians denied that (the spiritual) Jesus had even been crucified.
Carrier is somewhat contradictory in his final statement above. If there was no necessity to demonstrate that Jesus had died, presumably because everyone knew and accepted it, why would Paul even bother to "prove it by scripture"? What is the significance of his "kata tas graphas" in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and 4? The standard interpretation is that he is saying Jesus' death and rising fulfilled scripture, but this is an idea he develops nowhere else, despite his fixation on the sacred writings. I have suggested that the phrase means "according to the scriptures" in the sense of scripture telling us these 'facts'. Thus, scripture is the source of Paul's information about the Christ, not historical tradition. In fact, Paul declares in Galatians 1:11-12 that he got his gospel solely through revelation. That is why faith is needed for believers to accept both the death and the rising.
And because of the flimsy substantiation of "Doherty's world" in all of the ancient literature (four centuries of it!), wouldn't that raise a major (controversial!) issue after being learned from Paul (or others) as where Jesus suffered the cross & died (and out of sight from humans!)? Of course it would! Then why don't we observe the apostle dealing with it in his epistles, where he just did that with many others?
Both Carrier and myself have
demonstrated that the substantiation
"Doherty's world" is anything but flimsy in ancient literature. If it
was a given in the background of most religious thought of the time,
to provide some statement or explanation of it would have been
that in mind, we might consider the significance of Ignatius' repeated
insistence on the 'fact' that Jesus had been born of Mary and crucified
Pontius Pilate. If these were well-known facts in the background (and
they not be?), what reason would Ignatius have had for insisting on
them? How could some Christian missionaries be going about not preaching such a Christ, as he
answer is that Ignatius was not
stating long-known historical details but
developments in the evolution of the mythical Christ into the
and not everyone agreed with it. (I have argued elsewhere that Ignatius
cannot simply be countering docetic doctrines about an historical
theory crashes to the ground right there, because of lack of external
testimonies about the mythical lower heaven and the silences of Paul
'Hebrews') about it. Actually, and looking only at Paul's (seven)
epistles (both Earl & myself agree on those) and 'Hebrews', the
much stronger towards earth and
Competent historians read documents in context: that means, understanding what Paul and his readers would have taken for granted. The fact that demons resided in the aer is one of those facts—as again: ALL SCHOLARS WHO STUDY THIS SUBJECT AGREE.
Now, it is correct that this does not prove Doherty's case. Even though Paul surely believed in a firmament and aer that resides between earth and the moon (the border of the 1st heaven), and surely believed demons lived there, it does not follow that this is where he imagined the passion as taking place...
No, but it sure helps. Without that knowledge of Paul's "sure" beliefs, we haven't a chance of properly interpreting passages like 1 Corinthians 2:8.
...That is only *consistent* with what Paul says—which Doherty is right to note is a bit curious: you would think Paul would have said something more concrete about the life and times of Jesus. Surely, his congregations would be asking him things about the real Jesus all the time, so there is indeed a problem for historicists to explain why none of his letters ever answer any such questions or even hint at their existence. Now, one might come up with theories to explain this. But those theories will all be at least as ad hoc as anything in Doherty's thesis. Two ad hoc theories? I see no way to decide between them.
What makes an "ad hoc theory"? Technically, what makes something "ad hoc" is a specific relationship to the purpose for which the 'ad hoc' thing has been formulated, and it is sometimes given the derogatory implication of being slanted to serve that purpose, that it only has application in regard to the specific end in mind. When we use it in this field, it is often implied that each 'ad hoc' explanation is isolated, a kind of desperate measure to come up with some explanation, that each one doesn't form a good fit or a good combination with other ad hoc explanations on other points. I don't know if Carrier has all this negative implication in mind here, but let's assume he does (it certainly fits his stated situation regarding historicist explanations of Paul's silence). Is my theory ad hoc? Are its elements lacking consistency and good fit between themselves? Carrier constantly emphasizes the fact that my evidence is *consistent* with my theory but doesn't thereby prove it, and I'll of course agree to that. But this very consistency speaks volumes. When each explanation of a passage or problem inherent in the record enjoys consistency and agreement with all the others, when each makes good sense while those of the other side make less so (as Carrier implies by his use of descriptives like "strange" and "bizarre"), when together they form a logical paradigm that covers every aspect of the evidence, whereas the other side's picture does not (giving me the "win" in the Argument to the Best Explanation, as Carrier has admitted), then we are definitely not dealing with two equally weak "ad hoc" theories, between which there is no basis on which to make any kind of choice. And in fact, Carrier goes on to offer a limited acknowledgement:
And Doherty is right that his theory is less ad hoc here. Unlike the "heavenly scheme" Doherty theorizes, which would be a *foundational* doctrine and thus *certainly* already explained to Paul's congregations from day one [much earlier than that if it was a part of their religious and philosophical culture] and thus have no cause to appear in his letters, debates and natural human curiosity about a *historical* Jesus would not be foundational at all, but would constantly arise out of the blue and have to be dealt with....What Doherty finds curious is that if Jesus died on earth, this would entail that all sorts of biographical and verbal facts about him would *certainly* come up in debates over Church doctrine *and* in natural human curiosity about the greatest man that ever lived. So it is indeed bizarre that neither ever came up, in a way that it is not bizarre that the location of Jesus' death never came up, if it took place in heaven—since that would already be a settled matter of foundational doctrine.
this kind of admission, one wonders why Carrier is so reticent and
in his evaluation of the relative strength of the respective cases, or
is so insistent on agnostic neutrality.
But on to Muller's Part Two.
Jesus and David: Romans 1:3
Earl writes: "Is
it a piece of historical information? If so, it is the only one Paul
us, for no other feature of Jesus' human incarnation appears in his
Shock!!! I'll answer that later ...
Doherty actually does not
issue of a human Jesus straight on, but drifts away from it by
meaning of "God's gospel" --not one
from Jesus-- (I agree with that), the historicity of 'Son of David',
of 'Son of God' and finally by introducing his concept of the fleshy
heaven. Nothing much is related to the "incarnation"; only some
"explanation" is thrown against it, such as:
"... for scripture was full of predictions that the Messiah would be descended from David. In reading these, Paul would have applied them to his own version of the Christ, the Christ who is a spiritual entity, not a human one."
So now human ancestry was assigned to Jesus by Paul, even if the later (allegedly) thought Christ was never an earthly man! Does that make sense? Of course not. If angel Gabriel is thought to be a spiritual entity, you do not make him a descendant of Moses!
Furthermore, Earl's argumentation is dependant on Paul being the first one to claim Christ's ancestry from David. Is is realistic?
According to the Pauline letters, there were many other apostles/preachers (1Co1:12,9:2-5; 2Co11:5,13,23a,12:11; Php1:14-17; Gal1:6-7), some "in Christ" before Paul (Ro16:7), some preaching different 'Jesus' (2Co11:4), and all of them Jew (2Co11:22-23a): in this context, what are the odds on Paul making this "discovery"?
This is so disjointedly presented, full of confusion and misreadings, it is very difficult to respond. So I'll match Muller's approach and make several points haphazardly. No one would claim that the angel Gabriel is descended from Moses, not because the idea is supposedly ludicrous, but because nowhere in scripture is this suggested. And who said Paul was the first to draw the conclusion that Jesus was descended from David? How is my argument dependent upon this? There are some scholars who think Paul may even be quoting a piece of hymnic liturgy here. It matters not whether this idea was original to Paul (though it may be), just that he believed scripture indicated that his Christ bore some relationship to David. Since scripture does indeed make such a connection, and since prevailing philosophy regarded the upper world as containing parallels to all things earthly, this is hardly "throwing an explanation at it." Muller also misapplies the idea of parallels in the heavenly world. No one is saying that Paul regarded the spiritual Christ as a descendant of the earthly David, or that this descendancy was literal in the earthly sense, only that in some way, in the workings of the higher, "real" and "primary" world, some relationship existed which scripture revealed. Carrier calls for some explication on my part of the meaning of Davidic descent in Paul's mind, but I don't know how he thought about it. When I read something like the 5th Oration by Julian, I understand the words and the philosophic principles involved, but the ideas are so alien to my own outlook on the universe, it is difficult to comprehend how Julian's own mind could accept and understand them. Thus, I am not in a position to say (and I suspect none of us are) how Paul specifically understood his scripture-based idea that the divine Christ he believed in was related to David. (I have also pointed out previously that since such an idea was based on the Jewish scriptures, we cannot expect to find a similar idea reflected in pagan writings about their savior gods, even if we did possess more of such writings.)
Michael Turton on the Internet Infidels discussion forum "Biblical History and Criticism" had this to say about Muller's above paragraph:
The opening paragraph of Bernard's analysis contains not a single argument against Doherty, it is merely a heap of rhetoric, using words like "drifts" and "obsessively" to evoke emotional rather than rational responses in the reader, or conclusory rhetoric "Does that make sense? Of course not!" as if this were an argument. Unfortunately, Bernard does not tell us here why this does not make sense.
Turton goes on in regard to:
nothing else about a human Jesus in 'Romans'? Of course not, but all of
the ensuing verses from 'Romans'
are ignored in Doherty's book:
A) Ro15:12 Darby "And again, Esaias says, There shall be the root of Jesse [David's father], and one [Christ, according to Paul] that arises, to rule over [the] nations: in him shall [the] nations hopes."
Here Jesus' alleged descendance from David is reiterated.
B) Ro8:3 Darby "... God, having sent his own Son, in likeness of flesh of sin ..."
Don't we have a clear expression for incarnation? See here for an explanation on "likeness".
C) Ro9:4-5a YLT "Israelites, ... whose [are] the fathers, and of whom [is] the Christ, according to the flesh ..."
Here Jesus is from Israelites, "according to the flesh". Who else are Israelites? Paul, according to Ro11:1, quoted later, and also many of his contemporaries, by flesh:
Ro9:3b-4a NASB "... my brethren, my kinsmen [Paul's] according to the flesh, who are Israelites ..." Did Paul think himself and his brethren/kinsmen lived "in the sphere of the flesh", some upper world above earth? NO!
Bernard's arguments here contain only misunderstandings and misinterpretations. First, he claims "....all of the ensuing verses from 'Romans' are ignored in Doherty's book." Bernard clearly does not understand Doherty's point. If the first reference to Jesus being of David's stock (in Romans 1) can be shown to be symbolic, then all subsequent references to it are similarly symbolic. Thus, simply piling on more quotes, as Bernard does here, will not make Doherty's arguments disappear. Bernard must come up with compelling reasons to reject them, either on linguistic or content grounds. In any case, Doherty spends several pages in several places discussing the problem of Jesus' alleged Davidic ancestry (82-85, for example). Finally, there is a telling Doherty-style silence here. If Jesus had really been born of David, Paul, after all, knew his brother, James. All Paul had to do was cite his personal knowledge of the family of Jesus and firmly link Jesus to the mortal sphere. But no, Paul's ideas come from divine revelation. Doherty has a very strong argument here, and Bernard's rhetoric cannot dismantle it.
then goes on to say: "B) Ro8:3 Darby '... God, having
sent his own Son, in likeness of flesh of sin ...' Don't we have a
expression of incarnation here?" Merely asking this question does not
refute Doherty's point. Bernard would have to demonstrate that the word
here means something other than what it very plainly says. All Bernard
here is use an emotional appeal to invite the reader to fall back on
built in by 2000 years of historicist exegesis. He does not make an
based on logic, content, linguistics, or history anywhere in these
More often than not, Muller
simply settles for drawing the most
ludicrous parallel he can come up with and then by ridiculing it,
thinks he has
discredited my position. First of all, kata sarka is one of the
most recurring phrases in the Pauline corpus, with all manner of
meaning. (Muller has
called to task for assigning the same meaning in all circumstances to
particular word or phrase with variant application.) No one would claim
that its usage
Romans 9:3 in regard to Paul's own kinfolk signifies "in the sphere of
flesh" or is identical to its usage in Romans 1:3, no matter what the
latter's meaning. In fact, if Muller had bothered to think a little
about this particular verse and consult a number of translations, he
concluded why Paul inserted it here. If all Paul was concerned with was
making a reference to his fellow Jews, he would have had no need to
sarka at all. Why did he do so? Probably for clarification. Once he
"brothers" to refer to those of his own race, perhaps he felt the
need to make it clear he was not referring to Christian "brothers"
in the sense of fellow believers, and so he added "my kinsmen according
the flesh." If Muller had consulted the NEB, or the NIV, or the RSV, or
the (often useful) Translator's New Testament, he would have
"my natural kinsfolk," "those of my own race," "my
kinsmen by race," and "my own flesh and blood," all translations
which reflect their recognition of what Paul meant by kata sarka
If one looks carefully at the following verses here (9:4-5), which Muller and others regularly appeal to, one finds that the words actually fall far short of saying that Christ is of "human descent" in regard to his "human ancestry," the sort of phrases which regularly appear in translations. In fact, Christ is simply tacked on at the end of a long list of things that are the 'property' of the people of
In the crucial matter of the meaning of Romans 1:1-4, Muller has the following to say, and Carrier responds:
seed of David" is
from the scriptures by Paul, as
Earl contends). This seems to be largely due to his (inaccurate)
"the gospel concerning his Son who arose from the seed of David ..." (Ro1:3)
That's partly from the RSV, but the Greek does NOT have "the gospel" and "who "(&"arose" is Earl's own translation)!
The Greek most
definitely *does* have those words. The subject of the clause in 1:3 is
"Gospel" of 1:1. Anyone who reads Greek would know that. Likewise,
the Greek says "tou huious autou tou genomenou," literally,
"the son, his, the one (i.e. son) who came to be." It is perfectly
legitimate to translate "his son, the one who" as "his son,
who"—this is called the
definite article in the attributive position,
the meaning is identical.
As for "arose," that is a valid translation of genomenos, which is a very ambiguous word with wide scope in its possible meanings. It literally means "become" but connotes any of the following with equal frequency: "be / is" or "happen / take place" or "arise / come about" or "be born / be created / come into being" or "show up / be present." Doherty's choice is not contentious.
However [quoting Muller]: "The digression starting by 'come of David's seed...' is linked to 'his Son' and not likely to 'God's glad tidings'." That is certainly correct. But I am not aware of Doherty saying such a thing. Doherty is saying that the whole unit "his son come from David's seed" is part of the content of the Gospel. That is certainly correct on the Greek. So I don't fathom Muller's point here.
To conclude, it is highly improbable Paul meant he just found "come of David's seed" from the scriptures (and had to divulge it!), as Doherty contends.
I couldn't disagree more. The Greek is unmistakable: the Gospel (1:1) is what was presaged in the OT (1:2) and the content of that Gospel is described in the whole of 1:3-4 (and probably also as the basis for 1:5-6). That's what the Greek says. Period. This also has strong support elsewhere (cf. Rom. -26; Eph. 3; one sees a hint in 2 Cor. -18 to 4:4; etc.)...It is in fact *probable* that Paul meant he found the content of the Gospel in the OT. Of course, historicists don't dispute that—they all agree that the entire content of the Gospel was presaged in the OT.
I've reproduced the Muller-Carrier exchange here at some length because it should help clarify things for many who make claims similar to Muller's, that Paul simply doesn't mean what he clearly seems to say, and which Carrier agrees he does say. But Carrier is nevertheless fuzzy on a couple of points. First of all, his statement about "historicists" is hardly accurate, and contains a contradiction. I'm certainly not aware of all historicists (which presumably includes New Testament scholars) agreeing that Paul found the content of his gospel in the Old Testament. In fact, they are usually at pains to claim that he "received" it from previous apostles, those who had known the historical Jesus. They hardly agree that the kata tas graphas of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 conforms to my own suggested meaning, that scripture was the source of Paul's doctrines about the Christ rather than a prophecy of them. Carrier reverts to the universal interpretation of things when he says that they agree the content of Paul's gospel was "presaged" in scripture, but this is not the same thing as deriving the gospel from it. Now, if all Carrier means by 'found the content in the OT' is that it was presaged there, this is hardly contentious and doesn't serve to support me against Muller. Carrier also misses the huge anomaly I have pointed out in regard to this passage, that if information about Paul's gospel of the Son were 'pre-announced' in scripture, this would be a pre-announcement of Jesus himself, his life and saving acts. But Paul makes no such connection. Scripture forecast the gospel, nothing else. He imposes no human man between the content or prophecy of scripture and his own derivation of the gospel from that scripture, leading to the conclusion that he knew of no historical Jesus. Of course, he does this sort of thing all through his letters, and so do the writers who came after him, forging epistles in his name. (The best example is in Titus 1:3.)
And Doherty keeps obsessively interpreting anything as concerning an entirely mythical Jesus: again for him, "according to the flesh" becomes "in the sphere of the flesh", with the "sphere" being "the lowest heavenly sphere, associated with the material world"! The translation as "in the sphere of the flesh" is according to Doherty "a suggestion put forward by C. K. Barrett." He adds "Such a translation is, in fact, quite useful and possibly accurate." No doubt! Doherty is treating that "possibly accurate" "suggestion" from "a translation" as if it were a piece of primary evidence.
says that he agrees, but both are getting a little carried
away. In all
discussions of the possible translation of kata sarka, I
Barrett's suggestion as simply making possible my interpretation, as an
"explanatory fit" with my theory. But that's all I need. I am hardly
claiming to prove my case by thinking to show that this is the only
translation. People like Muller lose sight of the fact that so much of
argument commonly made against me (and of course he does this himself)
on assorted claims that this-or-that cannot possibly mean
allow such-and-such an interpretation. (It's like the creationist
life could not possibly have evolved in the primeval soup without
direction.) All I have to do is demonstrate that it could (which in the
of evolution, scientists have), that such-and-such a meaning is possible,
either by demonstrating it technically (as Carrier has frequently done
or by appealing to a respected scholar who himself allows for such a
meaning, even if he doesn't draw my conclusions from that meaning.
I'm sure he could find
someone—and I wish he would....For myself,
Doherty's translation is
plausible on the Greek and is implied by Paul's discussion in 1 Cor.
15, which uses abstract nouns to refer to the realm of the spiritual
body as the realm of indecay, glory, immortality, etc., and he
distinguishes flesh vs. spirit as between earth and heaven. So Paul
would certainly have *understood* the idea of being in the realm of
spirit vs. the realm of flesh.
commenting, I'll reproduce what Muller says following shortly on
his previous remark:
But what did Barrett mean by
"sphere" in that context? Here it is:
"The preposition here rendered 'in the sphere of' could also be rendered 'according to,' and 'according to the flesh' is a common Pauline phrase; in this verse, however, Paul does not mean that on a fleshly (human) judgment Jesus was a descendant of David, but that in the realm denoted by the word flesh (humanity) he was truly a descendant of David." C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, page 78.
Barrett never meant a fleshy heaven, in any context. Not even close!
Of course Barrett didn't mean by
his translation that Christ was a descendant of David in a fleshly
heaven. I never claimed he did. I was simply making use of Barrett's
translation in my own context, and there's nothing illegitimate in
that. But it's curious that Muller makes a very selective quotation of
Barrett's text from his Romans commentary. Barrett provides his
translation of both passages
in question immediately preceding Muller's quote:
"in the sphere of the flesh, born
of the family of David;
in the sphere of the Holy Spirit, appointed Son of God."
I wonder that Muller overlooked
this preceding sentence (set apart and in bold print from the rest of
the text) when he claimed that I have used "in the sphere of the
spirit" with "NO suggestion from anyone else". (Incidentally, the
passage from Barrett's text is found on page 20, not page 78 as Muller
But let's not stop there.
Naturally, Barrett regards 1:3 as referring to Jesus'
descent-from-David status as a man, not as a heavenly being. And what
does he envision for verse 4? He says (p.20),
" 'In the sphere of the Holy Spirit
he was appointed Son of God.' This translation is not universally
accepted. For 'in the sphere of' see above [referring to the earlier
part of his text discussed above]. 'The Holy Spirit' is
'spirit of holiness', and this has been taken to refer not to the Holy
Spirit, but to Jesus' own (human) spirit, marked as it was by the
attribute of holiness."
Clearly, Barrett does not accept
this common understanding, since it would not be compatible with his
'in the sphere of' translation, and he goes on to discuss the point
abundance of clarity (p.20-21). In fact, what exactly is Barrett's
specific understanding of his "in the sphere of the Holy Spirit" is not
all that clear either. He has failed to see that the meaning, the
location, entailed in his phrase "in the sphere of the spirit" should
be determined by the actions attached to it: namely, Jesus being
declared Son of God in power (by/as a result of the resurrection of the
resurrection, although the actual words cryptically say "by
a resurrection of dead persons"). More importantly, that meaning should
also be determined by the overall implication in the passage (1-4),
that these actions by Christ are to be found in (derived from) scripture,
as Paul tells us.
Thus the assumption ought not to be that the ambiguous "spirit"
reference can somehow apply to an earthly Jesus or an earthly context,
but rather should be seen as located in heaven, in the realm/sphere of
the spirit. And scripture ought to be surveyed to find exactly what
passage may have produced this idea. As far as I know, no one before
myself (and certainly not Barrett, who gets bogged down in the question
of whether this couplet of verse 3-4 is pre-Pauline and whether it had
an anti-adoptionist agenda) has suggested that the whole of verse 4 has
simply been derived from Psalm 2:7-8:
"I will tell of the decree of the
He said to me, 'You are my son, today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession...' "
Here, surely, is Romans 1:4's
Son of God, plus the "in power," which is extended to having the Son
receive lordship over all in earth and heaven following his death and
resurrection, a common idea in the
epistles (e.g., Phil. 2:10-11). With this convenient and rather obvious
scriptural source for
verse 4, taken in conjunction with the statement in verse 2 that Paul's
gospel was to be found in scripture itself, there is no impediment, and
a lot of persuasive reason, to interpret verse 4 as a heavenly event,
which would make the "in the spirit" a reference to a location, a
"sphere," namely heaven, and not some attribute of Christ.
All of which makes it very likely that verse 3 conforms to the same scriptural context as everything else, namely that the Son's relationship to David is also something derived from scripture, and has no more historical import than verse 4.
I think enough has been said in
this area. Since Muller's text is so disorganized, any further attempt
at a response may well bring a case of fatigue upon both writer and
reader, so I will pass over the remainder of Muller's and Carrier's
discussion in regard to Romans, and move on to Galatians 4, with its
"born of woman."
Born of Woman
Muller's argument in this section
is particularly disjointed, shifting forward and back through chapters
and 4 of Galatians. I will try to rearrange it into some semblance of
By examining the whole of Galatians3:15-4:7,
can we figure out what kind of woman Paul
was thinking for Gal4:4?
Paul started by making a claim: "But to Abraham were the promises addressed, and to his seed: he does not say, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed; which is Christ."(3:16 Darby)
That seems to refer to Genesis17-22 but it is never specified here according to Paul's words. Anyway, the promise is about inheritance (3:18) for all (Gentiles and Jews --3:28-29,3:8,14) but the former is supplanted by the Law "until the seed [Christ] came ['erchomai', clear expression of the first coming!] to whom the promise was made" (3:16,19). Then everyone would be liberated from the Law by Christ (3:22-24,3:13) and "the promise, on the principle of faith of Jesus Christ, should be given to those that believe." (3:22), allowing Paul's Galatians to be God's sons & heirs and honorary seeds of Abraham (3:29,4:7,3:7).
Paul's reasoning, his exegesis of
scripture, in chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians probably reflects the most
convoluted thinking and argumentation in all of his letters. But his
purpose should be clear. He needs a way to assign God's "promise" to
Abraham to his gentile readers, his converts in Galatia. After all,
centuries of Jewish mythology clearly assigned that
promise to the Jews themselves, as descendants of Abraham. Paul's
Galatian converts were not Jews. How, then, to make them (and
gentile Christians in general) the genuine recipients of that promise?
this by reinterpreting the idea of Abraham's "seed" (sperma). Because the word in
scripture (passim, in Genesis) was singular, Paul claims it refers to a
singular individual (3:16). He identifies that individual as Christ.
Now, this is more than a bit absurd, in that the content of God's
promises to Abraham would hardly be applicable to Jesus Christ as one
human individual, let alone as the divine Son of God. And while
"seed" in Genesis is certainly in the singular, it is a collective
singular; indeed, "seeds" could never be used in the plural in such a
context, as it would make no sense. A person's descendants are
collectively referred to in the singular when using the "seed"
terminology. So Paul is blatantly reaching here, and no amount of
'spinning' by New Testament commentators can make it seem
The object of Paul's sleight of
hand becomes clear by the end of chapter 3. Through faith, his readers,
and all who have been baptized into Christ, have become "sons of God"
and have "put on Christ" (3:27). They are all "one in Christ Jesus"
(3:28). To drive the conclusion home, he says: "If you belong to
then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Christ interpreted as Abraham's (singular) "seed" has served the
purpose of providing a link between Abraham and those who Paul claims
are the true heirs of the promise to Abraham, namely Christians. This,
of course, is in keeping with the central claim of the Christian sect,
continuing to this day, that God rejected the Jews and transferred his
favor onto believers in Christ.
Thus Paul's sight is fixed upon
Christians. It is they who are the "seed" and they who have "come" and
inherited the promise made to Abraham. The "seed" as Christ is simply a
stepping-stone. Thus Muller's claim that we can tease out an historical
Jesus in Paul's mind from all of this is falling into the trap that
very self-serving exegesis has left behind. Let's see how we can avoid
the pieces of that trap. First of all, what is it that has "come" in
the present time, as Paul presents it? Follow this succession of verses
(using The Translator's New Testament):
Why then was the Law necessary
at all? It was introduced to show what transgressions are, but it was
to last only until the 'seed' should come to whom the promise had been
23. Before faith came we were held imprisoned under law until the faith which was to come should be revealed. 24. And so the Law has been like a guardian escorting us to Christ, that we might be made right with God through faith; 25. but now that faith has come we are no longer under a guardian.
In verses 23 and 25, what has "come" in the present time is faith, faith in Christ Jesus. It is not Jesus who has come. No historical figure is inserted between the centuries-old Law and the coming of faith. Verse 24 makes that sequence clear: the Law as a precursor leads not to Christ himself as an historical man, but to faith in Christ; Law is followed by—supplanted by—revelation, and faith in that revelation. This is the pattern constantly repeated throughout Paul's epistles, from Romans 1 on. If Paul still has "Christ" in mind in verse 19 as his definition of the "seed," it is only as a symbol, a link to those inheritors of the promise, the true seed he is so at pains to create, namely those who have been baptized into Christ (v.27). Paul has made it clear elsewhere that he regards the baptized believer as part of the body of Christ, and this mystical concept serves to join Christ and the body of believers into the collective "seed" he speaks of throughout this chapter. There is thus no way for us to separate those two wedded elements in Paul's mind and declare exactly what he has in mind as "coming" in verse 19. In any case, we can take any thought of Christ "coming" in the same way that it is presented throughout the New Testament epistles, namely as a spiritual figure that has been "revealed" in the present time, through scripture and the Holy Spirit.
Verse 22 says this: "But scripture
has established that everything is imprisoned by sin so that the
promise, based on faith in Jesus Christ, might be given only to those
who have faith." Here, Paul can no longer sustain the charade that the
object, the recipient, of the promise—as he manipulated it in 3:16—is
Christ himself. Rather, the promise falls on the Christian, through faith in Christ. The link to
Christ is symbolic and mystical. There is nothing to suggest that it
has anything to do with a recent human man who was himself the supposed
"seed" of Abraham and recipient of the promise. Throughout this entire
Paul spends not a word in describing or enlarging upon the recent
earthly activities of Christ as "seed" of Abraham, the one who had
played such a role in salvation history, thus making Muller's
declaration here simply a reading of the Gospel background into the
thought of the epistle:
What remains is for the Son/Christ to come as the seed of Abraham, that is as a Jew and earthly human (as other seeds of Abraham, like Paul, as previously discussed), in order to enable the promise.
In fact, Paul's silence is an
almost outright exclusion. If a Jesus on earth had been the principal
agent of transition between the Law and the new system of salvation,
Paul could hardly have failed to provide some hint of such an idea in
his elaborate exegesis in this chapter, some reflection of the earthly
career of Abraham's "seed." And note Paul's somewhat
cryptic contrast in verses 19 to 20:
...[the Law] was transmitted by
angels and by the hand of an intermediary. 20. Now where only one party
is acting there is no need for an intermediary. And God is one."
The elements of this passage have
most commentators scratching their heads, and interpretations have been
legion. But even though the reference in verse 20 seems to relate most
directly to the event of God making his promise to Abraham, it comes in
the larger context of the transition from the old to the new, from the
Law to salvation in Christ as fulfillment of that promise. How can Paul
leave this anomalous idea hanging in the air? Where is the intermediary
Son of God,
Jesus of Nazareth, preaching in his own person the new salvation,
himself as the channel to that salvation? If Paul highlights the giving
of the Law as something done by God through intermediaries, through
angels and (apparently) Moses, if he implies a contrast of quality
between the Law and the promise based on one using intermediaries and
the other not, how can he do this without taking into account the idea
of Jesus on earth being God's own intermediary in the giving of the
replacement and the fulfilling of the promise? Paul's contrast here
would certainly be compromised. Yet clearly, there is no problem for Paul. It is faith in Christ that has
supplanted the Law, and this faith has come not through any historical
intermediary but by revelation, directly from God; all of it is
in keeping with the contrast Paul has expressed between the Law and the
In regard to Muller's comments on
Christ as the "seed" of Abraham, and the "coming" of that seed
(3:16-19), Michael Turton on IIDB had this to say:
Bernard takes this passage to say the verb 'come' here implies a first coming on earth. Nowhere is that present in this passage. The whole discussion is an abstract discussion of the Law and Christ. "Came" here simply represents the appearance of Jesus in our reality, not necessarily on earth. If Paul had meant come on earth, he would have said it. Bernard is simply back-reading the story of the Gospels into Paul, invoking his and the reader's unconscious assumptions -- the ones Doherty wants you to give up -- in interpreting these passages. Pulling a whole history on earth out of a single verb is the ultimate in historicist desperation....
Now, this is actually a very interesting take on 3:16. While I'm not quite ready to commit to it, such an interpretation would get Paul out of an awkward exegetical jam. Grammatically, it could work, and since the close association in Paul's mind and argument between Christ and believers linked to him makes them both equally the personification of the "seed" of Abraham, we could so interpret Paul's thought behind the words. Paul has stressed the "coming of faith" and the appearance, if you will, of those who believe in Christ, an entity revealed only now by apostles like himself. In that sense, then, Christ has clearly "come" in the present time. We need see no thought of a coming by Christ in the flesh in recent history.
Bernard's argument further demands that we take the meaning of "sons" in Galatians 4 to be historical when it refers to Jesus, but allegorical when it refers to humans. In fact Gal 4 is one long allegory on Abraham, sonship, and the Law. Note that Paul uses "according to the flesh" here in a symbolic sense. Abraham has two sons, both by human women, and both born by sexual intercourse and a trip down the birth canal. But he distinguishes them by their relationship to the Law...
Note: the closest equivalent
of that title, as related in ancient writings, is one that Caius
attributed to himself:
Josephus' Ant., XIX, I, 1, "He also asserted his own divinity, and insisted on greater honors to be paid him by his subjects than are due to mankind. He also frequented that temple of Jupiter which they style the Capitol, which is with them the most holy of all their temples, and had boldness enough to call himself the brother of Jupiter."
Maybe a self-deified Roman emperor could claim being the brother of a god (and survive for a while!), but what about a regular Jew regarding God, in Jerusalem? Simply preposterous.
is "preposterous" is to claim that anyone, Jew or otherwise, would
think that a group calling itself "brothers of the Lord" meant that
they were calling themselves siblings
of God. Such a name would simply be interpreted as signifying
membership in a brotherhood devoted to
God. How Muller in all seriousness can come up with such bizarre
straw men and think that this constitutes scholarly rebuttal is a
Muller has inadvertently provided
the very reason why a later scribe could have felt impelled to insert
an identification for James in Galatians 1:19, namely because he
believed that there was
another James on the scene and he feared that the reader of Paul might
be confused as to which one was being referred to. I say "later"
because in the early epistles there is no evidence for a "James,
brother of John." In fact, Paul a number of times refers to a John, but
never to a brother of his by any name. The interpolation would have
been made at a time—probably in
the latter 2nd century—when the
original James had come to be regarded as the sibling of Jesus, and the
inserted phrase, meaning "sibling," was one that was currently applied
to him. It would have been very natural for a copyist to add "the
brother of the Lord" to the text or as a gloss in the margin (later
the text), in order to differentiate James the Just from James
brother of John.
For a fuller discussion of
Galatians 1:19, see my Reader Feedback 22, response to Gerry.
is something that Earl does not
address in his book, about a very human Jesus:
Heb2:14-18 Darby "Since therefore the children [Christians/"brethren", according to 2:12-13] partake [Greek perfect tense: should read "partook"] of blood and flesh, he [Jesus] also, in like manner [paraplēsiōs], took part in the same [Jesus was as much flesh & blood as the contemporary Christians. An unequivocal confirmation follows:], ... Wherefore it behoved him in all things to be made like to [his] brethren, ... , to make propitiation for the sins of the people; for, in that himself has suffered [Greek second perfect: the suffering is over with!], being tempted, he is able to help those that are being tempted [on earth!]."
Note: in 4:15 Darby "For we have not a high priest not able to sympathize with our infirmities, but tempted [Greek perfect tense] in all things in like manner ...", Jesus has already been tempted.
And where would this "testing" (the same as the one affecting earthlies!) have been? In the demonic fleshy mid-world (between heaven and earth) or the highest heaven? Or on earth, known for its "flesh and blood" "brethren", subjected to temptations (similar of the ones faced by a human Christ in the past)?
Again, the problem remains despite rhetorical questions. Where did the temptation take place? On earth? Then why is there no example or context for this "temptation"? The author of Hebrews is not averse to giving examples -- in the next chapter he talks about Moses, discusses "hardening of hearts" and then gives a historical example -- it happened in the wilderness! Similarly, in 8:5 Moses again appears, and again the time and context of the event are given. Hebrews 11 is one long list of concrete events in the Old Testament. "By faith....." he keeps repeating. This, of course, is yet another silence, for Hebrews does not refer to even a single event in the NT where faith is prominent -- for example, the woman with the menstrual problem who heals herself just by touching Jesus, the centurion of Matthew 8:10 -- a really potent case, for Jesus avers that this gentile beats all the jews in faith, the paralytic of Matthew 9, the next healing of the daughter in Matthew 11, the blind man in Mark 10...the list is long, and all are ignored by Hebrews. Why? The pattern is clear. Hebrews does not know this story.
Once again, Muller imposes a
universal definition and usage on a word. And what of Jesus as "High
Priest"? The entire discussion of this identification places Jesus as
High Priest in heaven. He
performs his duty as High Priest in
heaven. The sacrifice was one made in the heavenly sanctuary. Whatever the
author has in mind by calling Jesus an "Apostle," there is no
impediment to seeing this characterization as having a heavenly
application, just as the term "High Priest" does.
whom would he have preached?
To Jews, according to Paul:
Ro15:8 Darby "For I [Paul] say that Jesus Christ became a minister ['diakonos'] of [the] circumcision [Jews] for [the] truth of God, ..."
Note: "became" (root 'ginomai') can be translated as "came to pass" or "happened" (according to Strong). The verb is in the Greek perfect tense; therefore the action has been completed in the past.
Hello? Where does the passage in Hebrews say Jesus preached? Nowhere. Bernard has once again back-read the gospels into Hebrews. Calling Jesus an "apostle" does not mean that he actually preached. Further, 'Paul' -- or some early Christian -- tells us what an apostle is:
In other words, Jesus is an apostle because he provided us with signs, wonders, and miracles, not because he preached. Bernard's thrust has once more gone astray.I will let Turton continue to carry the ball in regard to Muller's subsequent remarks:
Heb7:14 Darby "For it is clear that
our Lord has sprung out of
Juda [as David], as to which tribe
nothing as to priests."
Doherty comments on that through note 44, on page 340.
Doherty writes: "there is no appeal to
facts, or apostolic traditions concerning Jesus of Nazareth, no
Joseph and Mary, no mention of his lineage ..."
This is typical of Earl, who presupposes every reference to a human-like Jesus should come with many details attached. But why would the author digress on that here? His purpose is to demonstrate Jesus was not from the tribe normally assigned the priesthood, the Levites, as Doherty points out: "The point is, Christ must be of a new line in order to create a new order of priesthood." And why should more details be supplied when 'Jesus from the tribe of Judah' is already "manifest"? More so if Jesus, as a descendant of David (and father Jesse), was already "known" by Christians (see Ro1:3 & Ro15:12)!
Let's note here the author "explained" many things in the epistle, such as Jesus was pre-existent, the Son of God and, above all, performed the ultimate Sacrifice for sins (all of that new for his audience, according to Heb6:1-3). But the "manifest" descendance from the tribe of Judah comes out of the blue and is never "demonstrated": in all likelihood, the writer knew it was already allowed by his audience.
Bernard at last makes
an argument in the last sentence of this passage:
"...it is very likely the writer knew that was already accepted by his
audience." This is simple speculation. Bernard also writes
"This is typical of Earl, who presupposes every reference to a
Jesus should come with many details attached." But why not? We see that
whenever Hebrews refers to other humans -- Moses -- it frequently
details and examples. Of Jesus we get nothing. Moreover, adding Paul in
of Hebrews cannot help Bernard, for if Jesus' ancestry is midrash in
it is midrash in Paul as well -- Doherty's entire point! Piling on
not an argument make. Bernard needs to show that some other route
OT proof-texting is the origin of this idea.
Muller misunderstands the perfect tense, stating an incomplete and
misleading definition. The perfect is not primarily concerned with
signifying a completed act
in the past, which by itself would normally be expressed with the
aorist. The essential reason for using the perfect is to
emphasize a continuing result in the present. ("My son has been made a
lieutenant" is concerned with his present status, not with the past
when where or how of that promotion.) To say that something has
been "completed" in the past is significantly erroneous, because it
ignores the "continuing-in-the-present" dimension. Thus, the use of the
perfect here is meant to elucidate a present state of affairs, with no
specific nature conferred on the time or place of its initiation. Also,
as Turton says:
Once again we detour
into a discussion of what the Greek means. Bernard manages
to write a whole paragraph on verb tenses without ever once considering
the verb "manifesting" means! How is it that Jesus is
"manifest?" Why not "walked on earth" or better yet
"born to Mary?" Why is such a vague verb used? Bernard's discussion
simply goes right by that point. Whether it happened in the past or not
irrelevant -- the issue is where Jesus was manifest, and on
Hebrews is silent indeed.
Heb8:4-5a Darby "If then indeed he were [Greek imperfect tense] upon earth, he would not even be [imperfect] a priest, there being [Greek present tense] those who offer [Greek present tense] the gifts according to the law, (who serve [present]...)"
In Appendix 5, pages 310-312, Doherty calls it a "startling verse" because the imperfect tense in "he were" "is strictly a past tense" (as rendered by "if he had been on earth"). But he admits "the meaning is probably present, or at least temporally ambiguous, much like the conditional sense in which most other translations render it [as quoted]". That does not prevent Doherty to go into his usual speculations, some founded on argument from silence, such as the author should have specified "now" (but did not!). That leads him to say: "making the statement at all seems to preclude the idea that Jesus had ever performed a sacrifice in the earthly realm." (back to where he started!). I'll counteract that:
A) According to the overall
context, Jesus "upon
earth" is a supposition of an
happening at the same time as for the priests officiating in the
the present (relative to when the epistle was written).
First of all,
this is not correct. To claim that the "if...would be"
comparison is thought of exclusively as meaning in the present is not at all
established by the context. This is the issue under debate, and to
simply declare it the way one would wish it to be is begging the
question. In fact, it is grammatically incorrect to imply that it must
have a present context. But don't take my
word for it. This is what Paul Ellingworth (Hebrews, p.405) has to say:
difficulty concerns the meaning of the two occurrences of ēn. The imperfect in unreal
conditions is temporally ambiguous, so that NEB [which is the translation I quote in The
Jesus Puzzle] "Now if he had been on earth, he would not even
have been a priest" (so Attridge) is grammatically possible. [So much for Muller's declaration. Then Ellingworth goes on, and note the
basis for his reasoning: the preconception that Jesus had been on
earth, which forces him to judge the situation according to that
preconception.] However, it goes against the context, in at
least apparently excluding Christ's present ministry, and it could also
be misunderstood as meaning that Jesus had never 'been on earth.' Most
versions accordingly render: 'If he were on earth, he would not be a
priest at all'."
The "context" for
Ellingworth is the Gospel story, as he admits. We
can see right here a prime example of how the Gospels are read into
the epistles, even when the language of the epistle fails to justify
it. In any case, Ellingworth has noted that the construction in 8:4
is temporally ambiguous and admits the grammatical possibility of the
translation, so Muller's subsequent exercise in offering several
examples of the "if...would" construction in an attempt to demonstrate
present meaning is an exercise in futility. What Muller needs to do is
to read more widely in New Testament scholarship, rather than
charging off in his own direction, driven by his conviction of
Now, this does
not mean that one could not
read the 8:4 phrase in the
present tense. In fact, I state right in the Appendix Muller is
addressing that "the meaning is probably present, or at least
temporally ambiguous." That's my starting point, and to be more
specific, I think the author had both
past and present in
argument does not rest on the phrase being meant solely in a
past sense, as though I am claiming that the author is specifically
declaring that Jesus was never on earth. Muller so often fixes on
some aspect of my discussion and tears at it like a pitbull,
while missing other elements and wider implications. This is the case
He has gone no further than the question of the literal translation of
two verbs, and then declares: "That should put to rest Doherty's
speculations on the matter." In fact, my Appendix has several
paragraphs analyzing the context of 8:4, arguing that the writer cannot
have a past historical Jesus in his mind, all of which Muller simply
ignores. The basics of that argument can be found in the Epilogue to my
Supplementary Article No. 9 on Hebrews and in
my Sound of Silence feature: Hebrews
8:4. To these I will add here some further comments I made in response to Richard Carrier's review of The Jesus Puzzle:
"I am not sure (nor are some scholars—see below) about the certainty with which Carrier makes his statement about the “ei…an” clause in Hebrews 8:4. Most cases would bear out the general principle that with an imperfect in both parts of the statement, the sense is of a present (contrafactual) condition; and that in conveying a past condition, the aorist would be used. But what of a continuing condition that extends from the past into the present? None of the aorist examples I can find convey that sense, only the sense of a specific condition limited to the past. What formula would be used to convey an ongoing condition, one existing for some time and still existing? I suggest it would be the one using the imperfect, which is a tense in itself that entails an ongoing quality. Thus an “ei…an” statement using the imperfect tense could in certain cases be ambiguous....
This ambiguity, entailing a condition extending back into the past, also makes sense in the context. I have asked why the writer would trouble to make a statement confined only to the present when in fact one part of the statement was supposedly contradicted by a recent past situation, and the reason now used to justify the statement itself also existed in that past situation. In other words, the “if he were on earth” clause is contrafactual, not true; yet it was supposedly very true in the recent past. No cognizance of this conflict is hinted at; the writer does not say something like “if he were now on earth.” Then, the reason for the conditional statement itself, that “if he were on earth he would not be a priest,” is implied as being because there are already priests here to do the job. But there were earthly priests in the past to do the job, including at the time when Jesus was supposedly on earth conducting his role as High Priest, which is Hebrews’ central characterization of him. If he wouldn’t be a priest “now” because there are human priests present on the scene, making him redundant or creating a conflict, why is it that he wasn’t rendered redundant or in conflict in the recent past, when those same priests should have rendered him so? Why would the writer of Hebrews choose to make such a trivial statement applying to the present, when its very opposite was true in the much more important situation of the recent past?
Ellingworth goes on to state: “The argument
rather than states, that God cannot establish two priestly institutions
in competition [that is, the earthly priests and Jesus as High
In fact, the passage as a whole stipulates that those earthly priests
earthly duties and sacrifices, while Jesus the High Priest has his own
duties and sacrifices, which chapters 8 and 9 place in a heavenly
and category. Yet Ellingworth fails to perceive the contradiction
that the same conflict (between heavenly and earthly priests) would
existed in the recent past, something the writer of Hebrews should have
been aware of and at the very least should have felt constrained to
Muller wraps up his critique with an overblown
presentation of all the tired old explanations for why Paul and the
other early writers are so silent on the historical Jesus: that he
didn't care about the earthly man, that the epistles were "occasional"
and anyway everyone already knew everything there was to know about the
human Jesus (and of course there was no controversy among Christians
anywhere on matters of faith and morality which would have necessitated
appealing to what Jesus had said or done in his ministry). For Muller,
there would have "no incentive for (Paul) to digress on a rather
unsignificant lower class Jew with a short public life in a small rural
area," making one wonder how such an insignificant non-entity could
have been turned into the transcendent Son Christ Jesus of the
epistles, a point Muller does not address. Finally, Muller once again
out his pièce de
absurdity of the whole idea of a "celestial fleshy realm" which no
scholar today has ever heard of let alone accepts, a fantasy which
apparently is my own
invention entirely, a "lower heaven (which) would have generated storms
controversy" in ancient times. He concludes:
On these matters, Doherty either ignores, overlooks, doubts or harasses the primary evidence. He is prone to use inaccurate translations and biased "mythicist" interpretations, many on dubious latter texts, in order to claim his points. He cannot find half-decent attestations about belief in antiquity of a "lower fleshy heaven" (far from that!), so crucial for his position. To substitute for the lacks, Earl relies on rhetoric, agenda-driven dating, arguments from silence, assumptions and convoluted & largely unsubstantiated theories (with hypotheses stacked on each other!). Through such a horrific "methodology", the chances of him being right are insignificant.
So much confidence based on so much ignorance!
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Jacob Aliet's review of Bernard Muller's critique of The Jesus Puzzle for the IIDB
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