This is the fifth installment of my response to Tony Burke’s article on the SBL Forum, “Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium.” In that article Burke had mentioned Ben Witherington’s description of saying 114 in the Gospel of Thomas as “misogynist” as an example of a conservative scholar misrepresenting the “Christian Apocrypha” (CA) by focusing on the supposed odd, absurd, or bizarre elements of those works taken out of context. In a follow-up post, Burke elaborates on his criticism of Witherington:
It is unfair, I think, to label Gos. Thom. 114 “misogynistic.” For one thing, such an assessment is anachronistic; for another, it is far too simplistic a way to interpret the saying. I won’t attempt to do so here as there are far too many other experts on the text who could do so, and have done so. Unfortunately, the apologists (like Witherington) do not consult these works; they simply draw attention to these sections of the texts that will alarm their readers. Read the rest of this entry »
Finding someone’s argument too tough to handle? Over your head in a matter of biblical exegesis, scientific evidence, or logical validity? Don’t despair. Now you can always respond to those smart-alecks and put them in their place. These are field-tested methods for diverting attention from the lack of substance in your argument. Never be stuck again for a snappy comeback!
1. The Amateur-Status Violation: If your opponent is not a professional scholar in the relevant field, dismiss everything he says on the subject as the opinion of an amateur. (Your opinion as an amateur, of course, is exempt from this criticism.) On the other hand, if he is a professional scholar in the field, dismiss what he says on the grounds that he is in the field for the money, or that he is the product of a corrupt academic establishment, or both. Note that this strategy is viable in all situations. Read the rest of this entry »
According to Tony Burke, conservative scholars writing about the “Christian Apocrypha” (CA) unfairly focus on their allegedly “absurd” and “bizarre” elements and in doing so misrepresent them:
Of course, only those sections of the CA texts that are particularly odd are provided and commented upon. The favorite targets appear to be the resurrection account from the Gospel of Peter, the “absurd tales” of the various infancy gospels, and certain logia from the Gospel of Thomas (Witherington, for example, considers 31 “pantheistic,” 114 “misogynist,” and 18 “is just being obscure for obscurity’s sake!”). Such focus on the “bizarre” elements of the texts misrepresents their contents…. Large parts of the CA are quite “orthodox” but these sections are not discussed…. The refutation by exposure is assisted, as with the ancient heresiologists, by explicit ridicule of the texts’ contents.
Let us stipulate that the conservative scholars whose works Burke is criticizing do have a specific agenda or polemical purpose that involves, at least in part, discrediting the noncanonical gospels in some way. Read the rest of this entry »
Anti-Trinitarians often argue that the Holy Spirit is “missing” in many biblical passages where one might expect him to be mentioned, if the doctrine of the Trinity is true. For example, they notice that Paul’s salutations usually mention both the Father and the Son but never mention the Holy Spirit (e.g., “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” Rom. 1:7). Jesus once said, “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). Why didn’t Jesus mention that the Holy Spirit knew the Father and the Son? When Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not the angels in heaven, nor even the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32), why didn’t Jesus say “but only the Father and the Holy Spirit”? New Testament visions of heaven often include visions of the Father and the Son, but not of the Holy Spirit (for example, Acts 7:55-56). Examples of arguments of this type could easily be multiplied; virtually any text in the Bible that mentions the Father and the Son but not the Holy Spirit could potentially be viewed as grist for this mill.
I addressed this question in a debate with Oneness Pentecostal pastor Robert Sabin back in the early 1990s (see video below). In the rest of this post, I will go into further detail dealing with the specific biblical passages cited by anti-Trinitarians.
On October 9, four evangelical scholars met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to debate a question pertaining to the doctrine of the Trinity that has become a focal point of some contention within evangelicalism. The question was posed as follows: “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the persons of the Godhead?” Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware argued for the affirmative, while Tom McCall and Keith Yandell argued for a negative answer. A video of the debate is supposed to become available soon here, but has not yet appeared. In the meantime, you can read a live blog of the debate, a summary in Christianity Today, and advance excerpts from the speakers’ opening statements. The blogosphere has already seen some follow-up debates on the subject. Phil Gons has written in support of Grudem and Ware’s position, while James Gordon and Tim Baylor have sided with McCall and Yandell. Frankly, the issue is complicated by the fact that the Bible tells us very little about the inner-Trinitarian relations of the divine persons prior to the Incarnation, which is really where the issue would have to be decided. The issue is further complicated, and heated, by the correlation that many (not all) of the disputants draw between their views on this subject and the questions pertaining to the subordination or submission of women to men. All of the scholars involved in this controversy about the Trinity, on both sides, draw inferences from a small number of texts that may bear indirectly on the question as well as theological deductions from the core essential elements of the doctrine of the Trinity that all of these scholars affirm. I am not saying the question is unanswerable, but that we ought to be cautious about treating alternative answers as even implicitly heretical.
I mentioned in my previous post Tony Burke’s reference to “anti-Semitism” in the Gospel of John as one of the “objectionable” elements in the canonical Gospels. (In context, he was arguing that we should not characterize the Christian Apocrypha on the basis of such objectionable elements any more than we should characterize the canonical writings on such a selective basis.) A thorough treatment of this question in a blog entry is out of the question, so I will offer some brief comments and then recommend some further reading on the subject. Read the rest of this entry »
This is the second installment of my response to Tony Burke’s article, “Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium.” Regarding the citation by conservative scholars of “bizarre” elements of the apocryphal writings, Burke offers the following objection:
“Such focus on the ‘bizarre’ elements of the texts misrepresents their contents. There is plenty of material in the canonical texts that is bizarre or objectionable but it would be unfair to characterize Acts simply on the basis of the cursing stories, or Luke on Jesus’ disappearing act (4:30) or the sweating of blood (22:43-44), or John on its anti-Semitism.” Read the rest of this entry »
The words “Defending Heresy” in the title of this blog are deliberately provocative. I am referring to a recent article published on the Society of Biblical Literature’s web site by Tony Burke entitled “Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium.” Burke (whose full name, according to his web site, is Tony Chartrand-Burke) teaches biblical studies at York University in Toronto, Canada, and specializes in the study of the Christian (or New Testament) apocrypha. His doctoral dissertation was on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. This post is the first installment (Lord willing) of a thorough reply to Burke’s article.
Burke’s SBL article is a critique of the way various conservative Christian apologetic works handle the Christian apocrypha (hereafter CA). The main authors he criticizes are Darrell Bock, Ben Witherington, N. T. Wright, J. Ed Komoszewski, Philip Jenkins, and Craig A. Evans. According to Burke, these authors’ works “often misrepresent the texts, their authors, and the scholars who study them. Proper research and sober argument take a back seat to the apologists’ goal of buttressing the faith.” Like the ancient orthodox apologists such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus, they sacrifice accuracy “to the needs of apologetics” and hurl demonizing invective against modern advocates of the CA. Read the rest of this entry »
Although the evidence from the New Testament for the deity of Christ is abundant, many people wonder why Jesus didn’t come out and say explicitly, “I am God.” Opponents of the doctrine of the Trinity often claim that Jesus’ failure to make such an explicit statement is proof that the Trinity is false. Some go further, insisting that the only statement that would satisfy them is if Jesus had said, “I am Almighty God, God the Son, second person of the Trinity.” Of course, since everyone knows there is no such statement by Jesus in the Bible, this objection is a simple way of dismissing the case for the Trinity.