God is Light III: The Situation

This is the third in a series of posts that will, at some point before Final Judgment, culminate in the exegesis of a selected section of 1 John. I will try to avoid the War and Peace effect this time but, my goodness, it is such fun to think about!

The bottom line is this: The community that had originally formed around the Beloved Disciple and the Fourth Gospel has now broken into at least two factions. The Elder writes to those who yet remain in his camp to confront and correct the errors of the schismatic group and to comfort them by assuring them that they have made the correct choice and are assured of eternal life. The cause of the break-up seems to be that while “both parties knew the proclamation of Christianity available to us through the Fourth Gospel…they interpreted it differently” (Brown, Community, 106).

HOW DO WE KNOW ANY OF THIS?

We know what we know about this conflict primarily from what 1 John tells us, so we have only the Elder’s word for the situation. There is no independent verification of the theological position taken by the Elder’s opponents, or of any of the ethical shortcomings that he attributes to them. It is quite likely that, if we had written evidence of their position, the Elder’s point of view would be declared just as profoundly inappropriate.

How, then, can we trust what he says? The best response to this question is to ask what might have been the consequences had the Elder misrepresented his opponents. It is clear enough that the breakup is quite recent, which implies that the Elder’s addressees knew from their own experience about his opponents. If his characterization were too far off, then his efforts to persuade and comfort would be rendered ineffective by this lack of authenticity. Personally, I think it more likely that we have an incomplete picture of the opponents rather than a very inaccurate one.

Finally, there is disagreement about whether or not the schism itself is the “main thrust” of the Elder’s remarks, or whether he has wider objectives including simply explaining what is an appropriate way to understand the Fourth Gospel. The folks who opt for the wider view are principally Pheme Perkins, Judith Lieu, and Ruth Edwards. My thought is that they have done us a service by calling attention back to the pastoral components of the text but I remain unconvinced of their larger position. You can get a synopsis of their thoughts and access to their works in any decent commentary. For my part, I will probably quote or allude to their thoughts at appropriate points rather than summarizing them now.

OK! HOW DOES THE ELDER DESCRIBE THE SITUATION?

Speaking to those who yet remain with him, the Elder describes the group that has “gone out” from his community with some pretty strong language (1 Jn 2:18-19):

18 Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.

Yep! He just called them “antichrists,” which is the strongest invective in the Christian lexicon. In contrast to a false Christ, an antichrist is someone who is against Christ. This suggests that the Elder believes that the errors of his opponents stem from theological shortcomings rather than mundane naughtiness, and that he does not anticipate any reconciliation. Finally, the Elder perceives his opponents as extremely dangerous to the welfare of his community because there is still some contact between the two groups. He invokes the dualism so fundamental to the Johannine world view to make it clear that although they were nominally once part of the community, the reality of the matter is that this was an appearance that is now shattered by their departure.

WHAT DID THE OPPONENTS BELIEVE?

There are two major facets to the Elder’s presentation of the opponents. First, he makes it quite clear that there are some significant ethical shortcomings. Second, he takes issue with their theology. In the end, it is their Christological deficiencies that lie behind their inappropriate behavior.

Ethical Issues

Rudolf Schnackenburg’s literary analysis of 1 John recognizes seven assertions that are the Elder’s presentation of the truth claims of his opponents. These are crafted into slogans introduced by quotation formulae:

1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;

1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:4 Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist

2:6 whoever says “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

2:9 Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.

4:20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

So apparently the opponents claimed that they (1) had fellowship with God; (2) have no sin; (3) had not sinned; (4) know God; (5) abide in God; (6) walk in the light; and (7) love God. Is this true? Did they, in fact, accomplish all this? Notice that six of the seven are within the section that we will eventually read in great detail. For the moment, I want to point out that the Elder responds to each of these truth claims. Two he opposes outright:

1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

and the rest he qualifies in some fashion in the ensuing verses or provides a test whereby his readers can see what validates or falsifies the claim, as in 2:9:

2:9 Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.

Recall that the section of 1 John that we are going to read in detail opens with the assertion that God is light. This verse, then, qualifies the claim for an intimate relationship with God by pointing out that such a relationship is impossible if your relationship with other folks is inappropriate.

Now you might look at all this and say “Geez, Mogget, the Synoptic Gospels are chock full of useful bits banning bonehead behavior among believers. Why doesn’t he just quote from the Sermon on the Mount and get it over with? ‘Do unto others’ and all that!” And you would be right about what is in the Synoptic Gospels. But it appears that the Johannine community has either never heard of the Synoptic Gospels or that these works are not authoritative for them. (I think the latter…)

This, then, is where sensitivity to the relationship between the Fourth Gospel and 1 John becomes critical to successfully reading 1 John. The Elder must teach and reassure his “little children” from within the theological world that he and they share with the opponents. This is also where you might begin to understand another of the reasons behind the Elder’s apparently weak responses. Because he must work within the shared tradition, he is not free to approach matters in ways that might reflect poorly on the Fourth Gospel. This situation becomes rather acute when the Elder must deal with the Christological claims of his opponents.

Christological Issues

Unfortunately, there is no summation of the Christological views of the opponents as there were for their ethical claims. Instead of knowing what they claimed, we know only that they denied what the Elder claimed. Here is an extra-spicy nugget from 2:22

22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.

It looks much like the Fourth Gospel, as in, for example, John 20:31:

31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Although both claim that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ, there is a difference that comes through when you read each work in context. As Raymond Brown puts it, “The Gospel stressed that Jesus is the Son of God; the Epistle stresses that Jesus is the Son of God” (Brown, Community 111).

Why did the Elder have to do this? Perhaps because his opponents denied “Jesus Christ come in the flesh” as he writes in 1 John 4:2-3:

2 This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, 3 and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God.

To deny that “Jesus Christ come in the flesh” is to deny that the activities and behaviors of the human Jesus were a revelation of the divine life and love (Painter, John, 91-92). The opponents seem to have been reading passages from the Fourth Gospel such as 17:3 in a fashion that led them to conclude that eternal life came by means of Jesus’ revelation of God in a rather neutral fashion and particularly without recourse to his death:

17:3 Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.

The Elder makes it clear that God is revealed precisely in the high moral character of Jesus’ life and in his loving acceptance of his death. Hence, Jesus cannot be separated from the Christ and believers are obliged to respond to God’s love with love of their own (3:16):

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

The point of all this, then, is that the ethical shortcomings of the opponents, and in particular their disregard for their brothers, is grounded in their inadequate understanding of the revelation of God provided by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. The departure of the schismatic brothers demonstrated that they never really had the promised fellowship with God because they never really understood the revelation of God in Jesus as the Beloved Disciple presented it.

Much more could be said about this but what I have written will suffice. In major commentaries the explanations of this situation can go on for fifty or more pages. I think that when we read John’s Gospel now, some 1,900 years after the disintegration of the Johannine community, it is almost impossible for us to read it in any other fashion than that made normative by the Elder. But if you read the Fourth Gospel closely, you will find that there are, in fact, some very “neutral” areas when it comes to the human life of Jesus. No author can ever control the reception of his or her work and here we see just how serious the consequences can be when the work in question is a Gospel.

NEXT UP: the translation and some text-critical work.

  • http://www.smallsimple.wordpress.com Eric Nielson

    Wow. I have so much to learn. Go Mogget, go.

  • Kevin Barney

    Quite fun, as always, Mogget. Thanks for this.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    Mogget,

    You mentioned that a summation of the opposing view doesn’t exist. But, do we have any peripheral evidence of the opposition in any other respects? Is the Elder’s commentary our only clue that there was a rift at all?

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Hiya Jacob,

    As far as I know we have no info on this conflict other than what has come down to us in the Johannine Epistles. As you can see, a careful reading of 1 John can yield some cautious conclusions about what the opponents believed, at least as the Elder understood their position.

    Using these results, there have been efforts to match the beliefs of the opponents with known heterodox groups such as Gnostics or the doceticism of Cerinthus. The intersection with Cerinthus is particularly interesting because there are second century traditions (Polycarp via Irenaeus)to the effect that Cerinthus was an enemy of John of Zebedee.

    The problem with actually making these connections is that when you get into the details there is simply not much of a fit. It is very hard to make a case for docetism when the whole point of the Thomas story in 20:24-29 is to grind home the reality of Jesus’ resurrected body. Similarly, Gnostic thought makes it clear that God is unknowable, while the opponents claimed to know God.

    Raymond Brown makes two interesting points that may also contribute to this discussion:

    1)The opponents of Ignatius of Antioch (d. 110 C.E.) look closer to the Elder’s opponents than do either the Gnostics or Cerinthus.

    2) Perhaps Cerinthus and even Christan Gnosticism represent the further development of the opponent’s thought.

    In any case, we really don’t know what happened to the community founded by the Beloved Disciple, or what happened to those who left. Perhaps those who left did become Gnostics, while those who remained were “folded” into the larger Pauline churches.

    Mogs

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    Awesome, thanks.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Personally, I think it more likely that we have an incomplete picture of the opponents rather than a very inaccurate one.

    I don’t know. I am less confident. I think that an incomplete picture is always inaccurate. Rather than try to reconstruct the opponents, I am content to just understand how the Elder constructs them.
    For instance, I think that accusations of ethical failures are rarely “accurate” representations of one’s opponents.

    If I were forced, however, to identify the ideological position of the opponents, I would have to say that they hold a docetic Christology. In this sense, I think that the claim that “Jesus did not come in the flesh” is an ontological argument, and has nothing to do with the moral or revelatory value of Jesus’s mission.

    I do not think that they are “Gnostics” because I find this category too muddled. As such, I see the Christological dispute at the center of the controversy, and the “ethical” issues as stemming from that ontological disagreement.

    In my view, I put the letters of Ignatius of Antioch within a decade of the Johannine epistles, and in the exact same geographical location. I think that they provide further evidence for the docetic split in that community, as well as the tendency to assert that one’s opponents are ethically inferior.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    I think that an incomplete picture is always inaccurate

    Of course. But that’s not quite the point. There are two questions:

    1. Is what we do know accurate?
    2. Is there more that could have been said?

    My point is that the little we do know is probably fairly accurate because it would serve no purpose for the Elder to intentionally deceive, but there is likely a great deal more that we do not know because he simply chose not to present it, didn’t know it, or whatever. As I said, we have only his word.

    Rather than try to reconstruct the opponents…just understand how the Elder contructs them

    Lacking other sources, how would we reconstruct them other than by understanding how the Elder constructs them?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    While I think that I am largely persuaded by Brown’s thesis that there is an interpretive dispute among this community, I am less convinced that the Gospel of John is necessarily at the center of this dispute. For instance, why does the author not appeal directly to the text of the Gospel in making his case? I think that Brown assumes a model of canonical authority which is anachronistic for this period of ecclesiastic development.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mogget 7,
    I edited my comment before I noticed that you had already responded! Sorry!

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mogget 7,
    Being intentionally deceptive is not necessarily the same thing as being “inaccurate.” Rhetoric and paranetic writing are about persuasion, not “accuracy.” If I were to say that BRM is an “anti-Mormon” because he teaches false doctrine about the nature of God, and who has some clear moral defects as a consequence of his flawed theology, I doubt anyone would say that I am providing an “accurate” account of BRM, even though some may be persuaded by this assessment of his work. I am not being “intentionally deceptive,” but I am not giving a fair portrayal either.

    Lacking other sources, how would we reconstruct them other than by understanding how the Elder constructs them?

    We wouldn’t try to “reconstruct” them at all! We would try to explain the Elder’s view and leave it at that.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Why does the author not appeal directly to the xt of the Gospel in making his case?

    I think Brown’s answer to this question, which was raised quite early in his writing on 1 John, was that the Gospel was possibly still something of a work in progress. It is to the core traditions behind it that the author of 1 John may have been appealing. I can’t remember, though, if he’s the guy who proposed that the Elder may have been among those behind chap.21 of the Gospel.

    Another interesting question when it comes to issues of canon, is why there’s no appeal to anything that looks more like the Synoptic Gospels or Paul. As I was driving home last night I was thinking that somewhere like Ephesus may have had members of the Johannine community, churches associated with Paul, followers of Cerinthus, and those associated with John of Patmos. And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever run on to anyone who can show much overlap. Have you?

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    rhetoric and paranetic writing are about persuasion, not “accuracy”

    Yup. My point is that an attempt to persuade that is too far from what the reader’s perceive as accurate will fail in its attempt to persuade.

    wouldn’t try to reconstruct them at all

    Or to put it another way, any reconstruction will be someone’s construction, I guess!

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever run on to anyone who can show much overlap. Have you?

    Nope. The closest thing to this overlap is in Ignatius, who alludes to saying of Jesus and some Pauline phraseology, but I don’t think that he is working with an idea like “canon” either. I think we have the same problem of apparently “autonomous” communities in Rome as well. In my view, this calls into question the idea of “communities” associated with particular luminaries like John, Thomas, or Paul. I am more inclined to see these as relatively small “schools of thought” rather than full blown communities that are ideologically pure. Instead, the groups are probably more like our wards, with a great deal of ideological diversity.

    What happened to the community in 1 John of there being a ideological division between two different schools causing a split is probably more the exception than the rule. I also think that 1 and 2 John are paranetic, that is, trying to persuade the rest of the “community” (against the opponents’ missionaries in 3 John?) to follow their school.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mogget 12,
    How do we know that it didn’t fail to persuade? That we are persuaded by the Elder’s rhetoric does not constitute evidence that it persuaded all or even some of its intended audience.

    Scholars used to be persuaded that Irenaeus’s description of the “heretics” was “accurate.” Then, we actually found some of those texts and realized that Irenaeus was engaged in polemic, not description. Another good example of this is when Epiphanius describes Gnostics as drinking semen and eating aborted fetuses. This has honestly persuaded generations of Christians that it is an accurate description.

    If we had only “pagan” accounts of Christians from antiquity, would we as historians believe that they were a group that committed incest and cannibalism? The disparity between persuasive speech and accuracy in description is quite wide, I think.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    ideologically pure communities

    Yeah, probably a good deal of imagination in the idea. Reminds me of one of John Barton’s ideas, to the effect that because many NT exegetes are “believers,” we’re still too tightly tied to anachronistic ideas about the early church and we don’t really grasp just how different it really was.

    (Er…or something like that…I probably should go look it up and get it right…)

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    What an excellent quote. I definitely agree. I think that the kind of work done by Antionette Clark Wire to read against Paul and to imagine that he wasn’t persuasive is an interesting expiriment with this kind of approach. 2 Cor definitely serves as evidence that Paul was not always persuasive!

    IIRC, there was an article in JBL(?) recently suggesting that Paul actually “lost” the Galatians which explains why he never returned after he sent his letter. We definitely tend to ascribe way to much authority to the authors of biblical texts that we wouldn’t normally do.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    How do we know that it didn’t fail to persuade?

    We don’t know. But I think that we can accept that he intended to be persuasive. And if his audience had some experience with his opponents, then it would not be good rhetorical strategy to get too far from the mark.

    Epiphanius

    Yes, it did persuade until there was evidence to the contrary. Then, it did rather the opposite.

    Perhaps we shall have to agree to disagree a bit on the matter. I didn’t (and don’t) wish to assert that we have the sort of information on the Elder’s opponents that we might wish for, but I’m not as pessimistic about it as, perhaps, you are.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Rats! Barton’s book is checked out and my copy is obviously at home. I will look for the precise quotation later this evening.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    “lost” Galatians

    Yeah, I would think it’s a possibility, anyway. When I read about the idea, I think it was sandwiched into a discussion of Romans and the way it sort of nuances some of the thoughts in Galatians,

    ascribe way too much authority to the authors of biblical texts

    Meaning that we think that the authors of NT texts didn’t really exercise the authority over the early church that we have been accustomed to according to them? Definately!!!

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mogget 17,
    I don’t agree to disagree because we actually don’t disagree! I concede pretty much everything you said in your characterization of the opponents, as long as you qualified it as “the Elder’s presentation.” Where we disagree, if at all, is about relative value of this characterization. For me, taking this letter as an “accurate” description of the opponent’s is a bit like reconstructing Mormonism from an anti-Mormon pamphlet. The quotations and doctrinal descriptions aren’t necessarily false, but I wouldn’t say that it provides an “accurate” picture in a historically reliable sense.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    And I guess I’m not so convinced that an anti-Mormon pamphlet is a good analogy.

    But, as you say, we do agree that it is the Elder’s characterization.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Why doesn’t he just quote from the Sermon on the Mount and get it over with? ‘Do unto others’ and all that!” And you would be right about what is in the Synoptic Gospels. But it appears that the Johannine community has either never heard of the Synoptic Gospels or that these works are not authoritative for them. (I think the latter…)

    I don’t quite understand this reasoning. Why can’t he just summarize a point rather than providing a quote. I mean I can understand no quotes from the Gospels due to lack of transmission but leaping to the conclusion that they weren’t had or were not authoritative seems quite the jump.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    What can’t he just summarize a point rather than providing a quote

    Mogs is having a bit of fun while making a point. To be more serious…

    If he wished to use the Synoptic Gospels, he could have done so. However, he has not done so and we think that the Synoptics were around earlier than the Gospel of John or 1 John. So then, the question is “why?” The possibilities are:

    1) The Synoptic Gospels were not available for some reason
    2) The Synoptic Gospels were not authoritative
    3) ???

    On edit: As TT alluded to earlier, he could also be using some source that we don’t have…

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Just to add to my (22) I think the analogous situation is a bunch of early Mormons with copies of the BoM and then rarely quoting from it. It would be silly to assert they don’t have access to them or they aren’t authoritative for them. Yet this is actually very common.

    Consider three significant letter by Joseph Smith – all longer than the Johannine epistles. The King Follet Discourse, the May 12th Sermon and the Jun 16th Sermon.

    Now if those were the only documents of the community you had but you had other writings (say from 15 years earlier and in the Kirtland area) would you by the reasoning you have consider them two separate communities with the latter not having a Book of Mormon?

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not slamming the methadology. I just think it is at best very weak evidence given the paucity of information we have of the communities.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Actually take out that last reference as there is a passing mention of the BoM. But I could easily find pretty significant talks that simply make no mention of the teachings of the Book of Mormon.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    a bunch of early Mormons with copies of the BoM and then rarely quoting from it

    I think the analogy is perhaps not so tight. Do the sermons of the 12 and 16th of June, as well as the KFD treat topics central to the BoM? And if they don’t, why would he cite the BoM?

    In the case I’m making, some of the material in the Synoptic Gospels would be very, very, useful for the Elder. Absolutely no doubt about it. Yet the Elder does not use them. Why?

    very weak evidence

    We do the best we can with what we have! Other thoughts are always welcome…

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    It would be silly to assert they don’t have access to them or they aren’t authoritative for them.

    Well, yes and no. First, we do know that not every household had a Book of Mormon in early Mormonism, which may be one reason that it wasn’t quoted as often (even though we are sure that those who gave the sermons in early Mormonism did have it). However, the fact that it is rarely quoted does tell us something about in what way the BoM was authoritative. The question of whether something is authoritative is the wrong one. Rather, we should ask how and in what ways authoritative texts are used.
    I wouldn’t say that the Gospel of John wasn’t authoritative for 1 John, only that the kind of authority it wields is rather different from canonical or biblicist authority. There is no dogmatic slavishness to the text, but there are some shared themes and emphases.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    the question of whether something is authoritative is the wrong one

    Is the BoM an authoritative text for folks who are not somehow LDS ? I think that there is some kind of distinction between texts that are authoritative for a community and those that are not. For the BoM and the early Saints, the question you have posed about how authoritative texts are used is good. I’m just not sure that it applies universally.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Is the BoM an authoritative text for folks who are not somehow LDS ?

    Again, I would say yes and no. It certainly has no authority for someone who is not LDS who has never heard of it, but there are lots of ways that the BoM might be authoritative for non-Mormons. 1) It might not have any authority over their own lives, but it might be read as an authoritative text for what Mormons believe (though this would be a mistake too). This is probably the most common way that the BoM is “authoritative” for non-Mormons. 2) It is possible that someone reads and knows the BoM and chooses to live by it, but has either never heard of Mormons or chooses to belong to another church and somehow reconcile it with their own faith, such as the Catholic priest that posted on BCC about 4-5 years ago.

    I think that a good test case for my hypothesis that the way that a text is a authoritative, or more accurately, the interpretive strategies used for a text, tells us more about a community than whether or not a text is “authoritative” (which I maintain is a post-canonical category that doesn’t really apply to first-century groups in the same way as later groups) is the Eritrian prophet Embaye Melekin, who argues that the BoM is a African nationalist holy text. Yes, he accepts the BoM as “authoritative,” but that tells you essentially nothing about him or what he believes.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    OK, that makes good sense although it’s not precisely how I’m using the term.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Mogget (26), I confess that while I enjoy reading and often agree with a lot of higher criticism this is where I tend to part company. Certainly it is the best evidence we have but the paucity of texts suggests we shouldn’t trust it too much.

    I admit my analogy isn’t perfect, precisely because we have so much information about early Mormons. My point though was that on the basis of 4 texts, 3 of which are short, we can’t say much.

    But rather than make a claim and just say it’s the best we can do why not just say we don’t know? It’s that problem when I read a lot of Bible scholarship that gets to me. Consensus over strength of evidence entails conclusions that appear stronger than they are. I recognize you aren’t doing that. (You’re pretty forthright about things). Just that it is, as I see it, a common problem.

    I think higher criticism would get a better reception among believers if the strength of the arguments were made clear. (My own opinion – but there you have it) Of course this is good reason to praise these sorts of discussions since they do just that – pull the veil back on the conclusions that often pop up in scholarly texts oriented toward the average person.

    First, we do know that not every household had a Book of Mormon in early Mormonism, which may be one reason that it wasn’t quoted as often (even though we are sure that those who gave the sermons in early Mormonism did have it).

    How many in Palestine would have had copies of the Sermon on the Mount or the Gospels?

    Doesn’t this line of reasoning undercut the reasoning in 1st John even more?

    Do the sermons of the 12 and 16th of June, as well as the KFD treat topics central to the BoM? And if they don’t, why would he cite the BoM?

    Well there certainly are other sermons with themes central to the Book of Mormon where the Book of Mormon isn’t quoted. I found a few in passing but didn’t mention them since there was often some mention of the BoM – without mentioning its content.

    The fact is that the Book of Mormon was central to Mormonism yet as has been often noted it is rarely used in the 19th century.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    To add, my ultimate point with the Book of Mormon analogy is simply to suggest there are many reasons why a text wouldn’t be quoted. Assuming it was part of a different community or unknown just seems unwarranted.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Hiya Clark,

    But rather than make a claim and just say it’s the best we can do why not just say we don’t know?

    Because we are Bible dorks and that’s what we do!!!! ;)
    Edit: Because we are Bible dorks and that’s NOT what we do!!!!

    More seriously, I think that your point about the certainty that exegetes sometimes project has some merit. Since I grew up a physicist, I can be surprised by the way we push evidence to the limits. But I think that there is a difference between no evidence and little evidence, so I find it acceptable to ask if a particular hypothesis will fit what evidence exists. The Bible is a [the most] heavily studied book, so it won’t go unscrutinized — consensus is very, very, rare!

    What would be unwise, and maybe this is where you’re headed, is to make serious and life-changing decisions on the basis of such slim evidence…

    Is there something about the two possibilities, that the Elder had no access to the Synoptic Gospels, or that they weren’t somehow authoritative, that bothers you? What makes “No idea” seem like a better answer? If “no idea” were a third alternative, would you be more comfortable?

    How many in Palestine would have had copies of the Sermon on the Mount or the Gospels?

    To pick a teeny nit, we’re probably not talking about Palestine. What evidence there is points to Asia Minor, and probably Ephesus or somewhere around there. But this is another one where the evidence is slim…

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Clark,
    We’ve been down this before, but I think that you underestimate what can be known and what can be assumed about early Christian communities. The fact is, we don’t have evidence of any one group knowing all four gospels until 150 CE. It would be a great anomaly to say that a group knew them before that, so it is safe to assume that this group fits into that pattern rather than assume that they are the one great exception. Further, there is no evidence that the Gospel of John is aware of the synoptic tradition either, so that the bearers of that tradition a decade later still didn’t know them (or care about them) doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch. It is not simply on the basis of this text alone that the argument is made that 1 John didn’t know or didn’t care about the Synoptic tradition, but the confluence of evidence seems to weigh in that direction.
    Methodologically we are bound to not assume things for which there is no positive evidence. It seems that you are asking for definitive proof that this community did NOT know the synoptics, but the fact is that there is no possible way to prove that. There is, however, a way to prove that they did know it, and it the absence of that evidence, we can assume that they did not.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    RE: #15, Barton’s thoughts, from The Nature of Biblical Criticism. Emphasis is in the original.

    Many people think that biblical scholars are alienated from the life the churches, but if that is so, it is a very recent development. In England, where there is a a markedly anti-intellectual attitude among many church people, the mere fact that biblical scholarship is a technical operation inclines many to think it must be useless for faith; but such is seldom the intention of its practitioners. Parish clergy something think biblical scholars–like all theologians–are useless; but scholars themselves do not in most cases see themselves as hostile to Christian faith; rather, they very often have a deep desire to support and uphold it. Whether or not this is a good thing, it makes them quite prone to being influenced in their exegetical judgments by questions about applicability and Ergiebigkeit. The possibility, for example, of judging that a biblical book simply has nothing to say to us today is almost never seriously envisaged. I do not necessarily say that it should be, though one might well maintain that actual relevance is possible only if irrelevance is also possible (questions to which one can only answer yes tend to be pseudoquestions); but I would suggest that the absence of the question gives the lie to the picture of the biblical scholar as a detached and untheological figure, and suggest that it is proreligious bias rather than indifference to the faith that we should most be on our guard against…

    …I think it much more likely that the field is skewed by religious commitment than by hostility or indifference to religion. How many biblical commentaries, for example, seriously countenance the possibility that the text they are commenting on may be mistaken, distorted, or just plain wrong? Wellhausen and others of his generation sometimes criticized (in the everyday sense of the word) the texts they studied; how many scholars ever do so today? Hardly any.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Methodologically we are bound to not assume things for which there is no positive evidence. It seems that you are asking for definitive proof that this community did NOT know the synoptics, but the fact is that there is no possible way to prove that. There is, however, a way to prove that they did know it, and it the absence of that evidence, we can assume that they did not.

    I think you are making me make a stronger claim than I am.

    All I’m saying is we should present how strong or weak the evidence is. The evidence from silence when one has few texts is very weak.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    To add, the question to your larger point is how many texts are we talking about in the pre-150 CE era?

    I think you’ll acknowledge it isn’t a huge amount.

    Given the difficulties in textual transmission in this era (as compared to say 1840′s midwestern US) it certainly wouldn’t be surprising that disparate Christian communities didn’t have shared texts. But I think one still has to be very cautious in claiming “we know” when the level of justification is quite low.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Hiya Clark,

    Why are you so concerned about this point?

    I ask again because I see precisely this response in some of my Catholic and Protestant students. They have a “preferred vision” of early Christianity, usually some kind of anachronistic scenario where NT Christians are just Roman Catholics in togas, or the NT house churces are small Lutheran congregations. When presented with evidence that somehow precludes this preferred vision, they fall back on the “weakenss” of the evidence as a defense mechanism. They have no evidence to support their “preferred vision,” but they think they can logically maintain it by pulling back from what the evidence we do have does indicate.

    Are you doing the same thing, and trying to maintain the possibility that there were “ancient Mormons?”

    Mogs

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    how many texts are we talking about in the pre-150 CE era?

    I’d say probably about 50, including all of the NT texts.

    But I think one still has to be very cautious in claiming “we know” when the level of justification is quite low.

    Perhaps we are both overstating one another’s position. As I noted before, it is impossible to prove that someone does not know something. The claim is no more than what is most likely based on the available evidence.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    No. I am bringing it up because I think we’re largely ignorant of what the 1st century Christians were like. While I do think there were elements of Mormonism in early Christianity I don’t particularly expect to find much evidence of it. I personally think early Christianity and Nephite culture will end up being quite unlike we expect. But believe it or not I’m more sympathetic to the ‘received scholarly view’ than you seem to believe. However I just think we don’t know much. But I’m definitely not seeing them as something the typical Utahn would see as Mormon. (I don’t think that of even 19th century Mormonism)

    Regarding what is “most likely based on available evidence” I of course agree. I just think that what often gets communicated to people is the “most likely” part without a lot of focus on “available evidence.”

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Well, I am sooooo glad to hear that. Very relieved!! Now we can get back to having fun around here. It is soooo boring when we have to get all serious and stuff!!!!

    Nice, chaste Mogget-kisses all around!

    Mogs

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    I’d say probably about 50, including all of the NT texts.

    I’d actually say probably more than that, depending upon how you date pseudopigrapha and gnostic text and then various fragments. But most belong to fairly disparate communities or communities in conflict. However for basically 100 years covering Palestine, Asia Minor, and then arguably a few other areas that’s really a very, very small amount of information. Especially when many of those texts are quite short or are variations on one an other.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Clark,
    Well, I wasn’t really thinking of fragmentary texts like Gospel of the Egyptians because these wouldn’t really tell us much about whether or not these texts are working with a knowledge of the Synoptics. After looking at it a bit more, and depending on how generously one dates many of the Nag Hammadi texts, I’d say that we could probably double my original estimate (especially if we counted each of Ignatius’s letters separately, etc).
    That said, I think that these texts coming from disparate communities and being in conflict with one another actually tells us a great deal about what texts such groups might consider authoritative.
    I agree that 50-100 texts is not necessarily a huge amount for a 100 year time span, but it isn’t insignificant either, and it is certainly a large enough sample size for certain kinds of questions, especially the question about what other texts these groups might have considered authoritative. Depending on what questions one is asking, I am maintain that we can actually deduce quite a bit about early Christians.

    Just to mention a great resource for those who don’t know about it, http://earlychristianwritings.com/ is pretty comprehensive for pre-Origen resources for all Christian texts and references to Christians.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Clark…buddy…!

    You’re makin’ me re-think whether or not you were quite candid in denying that you’re working with a defensive reaction.

    Just let it go…

    Mogs

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Good point TT. As is the case with the synoptic gospels as the obvious case.

    Thanks for the link too.

    Mogget, huh?

  • lxxluthor

    Great stuff Mogs. Keep it coming.


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