Santa Claus is coming to slap

Paul McCain posted that old chestnut I wrote for World about St. Nicholas, so I might as well do the same. Here is Slappy Holiday: Why not take the Santa Claus tradition a little further?:

Known for his generosity and his love of children, Nicholas is said to have saved a poor family’s daughters from slavery by tossing into their window enough gold for a rich dowry, a present that landed in some shoes or, in some accounts, stockings that were hung up to dry. Thus arose the custom of hanging up stockings for St. Nicholas to fill. And somehow he transmogrified into Santa Claus, who has become for many people the secular Christmas alternative to Jesus Christ.

But there is more to the story of Nicholas of Myra. He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. He was thus one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. And unlike his later manifestation, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ. During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.

The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ. Perhaps we can battle our culture’s increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting Santa in his original cause. The poor girls’ stockings have become part of our Christmas imagery. So should the St. Nicholas slap. Not a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a gentle, admonitory tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not for out-and-out nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas. This will take a little tweaking of the mythology. Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean.

On Christmas Eve, flying reindeer pull his sleigh full of gifts. And after he comes down the chimney, he will steal into the rooms of people dreaming of sugarplums who think they can do without Christ and slap them awake. And we’ll need new songs and TV specials (“Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,” “Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,” “Frosty the Gnostic,” “How the Arian Stole Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus”). Department store Santas should ask the children on their laps if they have been good, what they want for Christmas, and whether they understand the Two Natures of Christ. The Santas should also roam the shopping aisles, and if they hear any clerks wish their customers a mere “Happy Holiday,” give them a slap. This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP! Perhaps Santa Claus in his original role as a theological enforcer may not go over very well in our contemporary culture. People may then try to take both Christ and Santa Claus out of Christmas. And with that economic heresy, the retailers would start to do the slapping.

Source: WORLD Magazine December 24, 2005, Vol. 20, No. 50

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Michael the little boot

    “He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. ”

    Hmmm. Those present at Nicea who were on the opposite side to Nicholas might look at the above quotation a little differently, were they alive. This council was convened to decide whether they were preaching heresy. It was only after St. Slap-happy and his pals ran all over them that they were called heretics. Before that, they were called Christians, just like all the others.

  • Pingback: Big Family Christmas » Blog Archive » Santa Claus is coming to slap — Cranach: The Blog of Veith

  • Pingback: Blog blizzard « The Wanderer

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Michael the littleboot,
    Actually no. By the time the council of Nicea came about they had been called heretics for quite sometime, by a very large section of the Christian population. Unfortunately they had quite a bit of pull with the emperor and were trying to make their unorthodox version of Christianity the one endorsed by the state. The council of Nicea was really a battle to see who would be endorsed by the state. I am not one much for state endorsement, but then this council had its upsides. As iron sharpens iron, they were at least able to come together and argue out their positions to see whose made more sense according to scripture.
    A great book to read about these events is “The First Seven Ecumenical Councils” by Leo Donal Davis. I’m reading it right now, and it is absolutely fascinating.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I don’t know if that would be a good tradition to start. Too many Arians around these parts, but I do try to slap them with the Gospel as often as possible.

  • rlewer

    Is there any doubt that anyone who denies the deity of Christ is a heretic? How can you be a Christian and not believe that Jesus is God?

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I liked Dr. Luther’s headline over at Strange Herring: “Yes, Virginia, there was a Santa Claus, and he used to slap the spit out of filthy little heretics like you.”

  • kerner

    Bror:

    There in Utah slapping anyone who professes heresy about the nature of Christ would be a full time job, no?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Kerner,
    Slapping them with the Gospel is. And I love it.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Seriously,
    I sometimes wonder why I get paid for this, is it work? Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life. Well there are days I work. But I do love this job, and those days are far and in between.

  • Michael the little boot

    Bror,

    “Unfortunately they had quite a bit of pull with the emperor and were trying to make their unorthodox version of Christianity the one endorsed by the state.”

    But this council basically established orthodoxy, didn’t it? I mean, if there had been no discussion, why the need for the council? And what council has enough pull to force the hand of a government?

  • rlewer

    The council proclaimed the orthodoxy that was already established in Scripture. It stated the truth so clearly that there was not room for sneaky language to change the truth. That is why many today do no like the Nicene Creed.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    What rlewer said.
    Perhaps if the Arians had one out there position would have been labeled the orthodox, but they didn’t win out because it denied scripture.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    oh, and to your question what council has enough pull to force the hand of a government? All sorts of councils have had the pull. But when the emperor is a pious man, who wants to listen to the Holy Spirit (though he did have his faults, and refused to be baptized until right before death) then he will listen to the council of Bishops that come out on top of the argument. Actually the Bishops had a lot of pull with the people, they were almost govenors themselves, but that is a topic for another day.

  • Michael the little boot

    rlewer,

    “The council proclaimed the orthodoxy that was already established in Scripture.”

    As I’ve said before, there is still considerable debate as to what scriptures mean. In the late twentieth century, and continuing through today, there has been a resurgence interest in gnosticism. As long as there are people on the planet, there will be no predicting what twists and turns religion will take.

    Also, scripture wasn’t canonized when the bishops met at Nicea. Could it be scripture reflects this “orthodoxy” because it was influenced by the beliefs of the bishops who “won” at Nicea?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    SCripture was influenced by the beliefs of the Bishops? I want to make sure that is the position you are positing before we go to answer that, Michael the little boot. Is that what you meant to say?

  • rlewer

    Yes, religion takes twists and turns. That’s why the Scripture and the eternal truth is important.

    The bishops did not create Scripture. They merely stated what was already accepted. Both sides basically agreed on the source of truth. This, of course, is incomprehensible to those who deny that there is any truth or that truth is important. Hence the scandal of slapping heretics and the antagonism to creeds.

    Which Christian congregations or bishops do you know of that accepted the gnostic “gospels?”

  • rlewer

    Yes, religion takes twists and turns. That’s why the Scripture and the eternal truth is important.

    The bishops did not create Scripture. They merely stated what was already accepted. Both sides basically agreed on the source of truth. This, of course, is incomprehensible to those who deny that there is any truth or that truth is important. Hence the scandal of slapping heretics and the antagonism to creeds.

    Which Christian congregations or bishops do you know of that accepted the gnostic “gospels?”

  • rlewer

    Yes, religion takes twists and turns. That’s why the Scripture and the eternal truth is important.

    The bishops did not create Scripture. They merely stated what was already accepted. Both sides basically agreed on the source of truth. This, of course, is incomprehensible to those who deny that there is any truth or that truth is important. Hence the scandal of slapping heretics and the antagonism to creeds.

    Which Christian congregations or bishops do you know of that accepted the gnostic “gospels?”

  • Michael the little boot

    Bror,

    No, scripture wasn’t influenced by the Bishops, as they were not alive when it was written. Trying to play gotcha? :) However, the canon WAS influenced by the Bishops. They did not include other gospels in their canon because they disagreed with them. So, while the writing of the books which made up the NT was not influenced by the bishops, the selection and rejection of books absolutely was. So, OF COURSE the NT reflects the theology of the Bishops.

  • Michael the little boot

    rlewer,

    “The bishops did not create Scripture.” They did not write the books. They did choose which books to include and which to exclude. So your statement is not exactly accurate.

    “Both sides basically agreed on the source of truth.” Sure, but they did not agree on what the truth actually was. That was why there was a dispute.

    “This, of course, is incomprehensible to those who deny that there is any truth or that truth is important.” A common saying among people who swear there IS such a thing as truth, even though they have no proof of it. Cue everyone asking me how I know ANYTHING if there is no truth…even though I’m only questioning your blind belief you have found it…

  • Joe

    Since faith comes by hearing, Romans 10:17, I’ll accept that my belief is blind ;). Try the veal.

  • Michael the little boot

    Joe,

    I like Romans 10:20 better: “And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME, I BECAME MANIFEST TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME.” In the same “chapter” as this whole “faith comes by hearing” thing.

    As for the veal, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t want to go off and be all dramatic when I don’t even know to what you’re referring. I’m a vegetarian. Your joke is lost on me. I find eating babies as funny as you find killing them.

  • Michael the little boot

    Oops. A little dramatic. Oh well. ;)

  • rlewer

    The bishops did not chose the books. They just formalized what had always been agreed upon by the churches. I do concede that there were a couple of books that they agreed were questionable. There were no churches that ever accepted the gnostic books.
    (I’ll try to just hit the button once this time.)

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    “It was only after St. Slap-happy and his pals ran all over them that they were called heretics.”

    I don’t believe this is historically accurate, Michael. However, if there are any particular works, scholarly or otherwise, which are informing your view, I wonder if you might mention them?

    Consider the gospels. My (amateur) understanding is that the four gospels were granted authority according to their apostolic nature. Which is to say, they could be identified as having been handed down from the apostles to bishops and teachers such as Irenaus (who was the disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of Ignatius, the disciple of the apostle John). That separates them from the early Christian equivalent of fan fiction, which is what a number of the pseudo-gospel narratives really were: popular, non-apostolic, and imaginative enlargements on the narrative (one example might be the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, in which Jesus animates clay birds, resurrects accident victims, etc.).

    It wasn’t as if the councils were simply conferring authority on those texts which tickled their fancy (punning allusion to myself only slightly intended). Rather, they were granting formal canonical status to those texts which had already gained informal consensus.

    Rather, it was figures like Marcion and the Gnostics who sought to canonize out of the thin air of their fancy. They were the ones claiming special access to secret knowledge; they were the ones trying to circumvent accountability and reject those apostolic principles the church had already established for discerning authenticity. All simply because they just didn’t like what the apostolic church had handed down. Like the good folks at Newsweek who just this week have attempted to make a scriptural case for gay marriage, their practice was to judge scripture by their own experience and prejudice, rather than vice versa.

  • Joe

    Michael – I was trying to make a joke about the blind faith bit – obviously very poorly executed! “Try the veal” is a pretty standard closing line for lousy “house comedians” in lousy dinner and a show venues.

  • Michael the little boot

    Joe,

    Ah. I must admit a huge gap in my knowledge of pop-culture. Sorry for the strong answer!

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext

    First off, a couple things. I took many courses in college which inform my view, though I cannot remember the titles of the books we read. Hopefully you will forgive me this, especially in light of the fact you included no references in your comment.

    Before I get into explaining how my view is historically accurate, I have to point something out: “…their practice was to judge scripture by their own experience and prejudice, rather than vice versa.” I’m going to do what some people call playing a card, but I find it accurate. As a Jew I must point out the Christian church has done this! Every day you read from the scriptures of another faith, put your spin on it, and call it your own! You reject the Judaic interpretation of the Old Testament (a very insulting title), because you claim to have “special knowledge” from God, or the apostles, or the early church fathers. It is your belief you are correct which gives you the confidence to proclaim you know better than the community out of which more than half your scriptures issued.

    The biggest problem you and I will have in this discussion is your acceptance, and my rejection, of the notion the canonical gospels were written by the authors to whom they are attributed. There’s just no evidence of this. You only have tradition to go on, which is not necessarily based on what happened. Most scholars accept there were various reasons the four gospels were included and the others rejected. They had as much to do with the “apostolic” nature of the former as they had to do with politics and differing philosophies.

    “Rather, they were granting formal canonical status to those texts which had already gained informal consensus.” If that’s the case, why the rush to settle with Arius? And, when that failed, why did Constantine convene the Council of Nicea? If there was no controversy, why all the, well, CONTROVERSY? I think you are the one who doesn’t have it historically accurate, because you have a faith which forces you to reshape reality to reflect your own.

    “Rather, it was figures like Marcion and the Gnostics who sought to canonize out of the thin air of their fancy.” Sounds like the history written by the winner. Modern scholarship tries to find out what actually happened, rather than finding evidence to support what we already believe.

    “Like the good folks at Newsweek who just this week have attempted to make a scriptural case for gay marriage…” And there we have it. You are simply defending tradition, Tickletext. You admitted you are an amatuer. I suggest you look into the modern scholarship. They take into account historical and textual criticism, which try to get around our biases as much as is possible. Unfortunately, since I am not a Christian and don’t care much who wins arguments like this, I can’t give you any references. I take full responsibility for my bad memory (and possible laziness) here, and hope you will, despite my failings, press on and find some better answers.

  • Michael the little boot

    rlewer,

    “There were no churches that ever accepted the gnostic books.” Sure there were. They were some of those rejected from the church as heretics. Conveniently, now Christians get to say “No CHRISTIAN churches ever accepted these books. These people were never Christians,” all the while leaving out they were called Christians until the dominant sects – those people whom you call your “early church fathers” – kicked them out.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Michael,
    you write:
    “Bror,

    No, scripture wasn’t influenced by the Bishops, as they were not alive when it was written. Trying to play gotcha? :) However, the canon WAS influenced by the Bishops. They did not include other gospels in their canon because they disagreed with them. So, while the writing of the books which made up the NT was not influenced by the bishops, the selection and rejection of books absolutely was. So, OF COURSE the NT reflects the theology of the Bishops.”
    Actually, no I wasn’t trying to play gotcha, I was trying to clarify what you meant.
    The view you have expressed is a fairly common one, perpetuated by such stellar scholars as Dan Brown, which should make one weary of holding it right away. It does not hold up to scrutiny though, no matter how popular it is. The books that make up the N.T. as we have it now were selected according to provenance. Liking them or not liking them had nothing to do with it. the books that were not included were known to have a late and un-apostolic authorship, a very bad provenance in other words. They were also in gross contradiction to what was known to be true, like the Gospel of Luke. The councils were infact ecumenical and there was great representation on both sides, in the end the orthodox won out thanks to Athanasius and his exposition of the book of John, which persuaded most of the bishops representing the Arian side. There were a couple who stubbornly refused to be persuaded, but few. No one dared seriously argue that John was not authoritative.
    So i

  • Michael the little boot

    Bror,

    If what you’re alleging is true, why were there those who fought the inclusion of James in the NT for theological reasons? The book of John is very different from the Synoptic gospels, and was included because of the fierce loyalty of those whose theology was reflected therein. That is to say, they fought for its inclusion. They persuaded enough people to include it. Those who did not want James to be included did not win, and so it is part of the canon. These were not debates about authorship, however – and they were very important discussions in the early church – so your statement is not entirely accurate.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Michael,
    The book of James was not fought for theological reasons, but the fact that there was considerable question as to its provenance. John was not questioned, it was part of what the Christians came to call the Holy quartet. That it is different was known to everyone, but it was not questioned by anyone.
    By the way us Lutherans still adhere to a two tiered canon. So we do not put as much stock in James a book that is questioned as to authorship, as we do in say the Pauline Corpus which is not questioned as to authorship.
    The other objection to all this is Nicea did not officially vote on the canon. Some books were quoted from and were in that way recognized, but the council wasn’t responsible for the canonization. You find the books we have listed not in the minutes of Nicea, but in Muratorian Canon, and the same books also in Athanaisius 69th paschal letter. Eusebius lists the different books and discusses how some are universally accepted, and some are accepted in some areas but not in others (By the way he himself sympathized with the Arians). The decisions were made based on the readings of those books that were accepted universally in the church without question, by both sides in the debate. The Gospel John having considerable weight. To this day no ecumenical council has really ever weighed in on the canon. The council of Trent did canonize James, but I think 1600 years is a little late to be forcing a book as binding that was not binding before hand.

  • Michael the little boot

    Bror,

    I didn’t say the bishops voted on the canon at Nicea. I was using bishops to loosely, though. I think I was confused a little myself. The point I was making from the beginning is there was no canon when Nicea occurred. Since this council began the foundations of orthodoxy, and predate the canon, it is right to assume this council and these bishops had an influence on theology.

    There were people who disputed James based on theological reasons all the way up to Martin Luther! It was, once again, a rejection of the Jewish-Christians by what became the mainstream church of the time. The Jewish-Christians – of which James the Just was one – were proponents of a faith-plus-works theology, while the Pauline sects, whose theology quickly came to dominate, rejected this idea. It works in your favor to deny this ever happened, and to use the authorship argument. I’m not denying the authorship debate, but you shouldn’t be denying the validity of the theological side, which was a debate that happened, as well.

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Bob Waters

    Actually, both James and Paul were proponents of a faith-always-produces-works theology, Michael. And the fact that a matter is debated does not prove that it is debatable- only that it’s possible find somebody to take even the most implausible of positions.

    Like the notion that it’s possible to reconcile Arianism with the New Testament.

    By the way, I wasn’t aware that the guy Nicholas belted was Arius himself. Good for Nick.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The theological argument can only be pursued once the authorship question is answered. The question of authorship takes precedent. If you cannot establish apostolic authorship then it doesn’t matter what is said, it is subject to the authority of what is sure. Paul and james can be reconciled in their theology, Bob, waters is correct there. They are in agreement. But you can also easily, almost to easily twist James to say faith plus works, and pit him against Paul. But again without establishing authorship the question is moot, the only proper interpretation would be one that conforms to Paul. Of course I would hold that position either way, it isn’t proper to pit Scripture against scripture.

  • rlewer

    michael (#30)

    In fact there were no congregations or bishops who accepted the gnostic books. The Arians may have had some gnostic tendencies but they did not accept the gnostic books. They did not base their arguments on the gnostic books. Most of them finally accepted the arguments from the Scriptures about the full deity of Christ.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael, thanks for your reply.

    When you say that “there’s just no evidence” for apostolic attribution I think you make a broad overstatement. However, as you observe, our disagreement on authorship, with your approach based (seemingly) on a hermeneutic of suspicion and mine not so based, is unlikely to be reconciled on Cranach. (Still, there are many interesting questions out there concerning attribution, like why attribute to obscure or distant figures like Mark or Luke instead of someone like Peter himself ((which was the practice of many of the non-orthodox gospels)), and why openly admit that such gospels were *not* written by direct eyewitnesses as the early orthodox church did, etc. But perhaps you’ve already weighed such questions.)

    Concerning scholarship, I did find Bruce Metzger’s Canon of the New Testament very helpful, not to mention Mark Roberts’ Can We Trust the Gospels? Additionally I have found Bart Ehrman’s books helpful in some respects but unpersuasive on the larger issues. In general what I have read has not given me much reason to doubt the canonical tradition; to the contrary.

  • Michael the little boot

    Bob Waters,

    “By the way, I wasn’t aware that the guy Nicholas belted was Arius himself. Good for Nick.”

    Good for you, for saying this. Really Christian thing to say.

  • Michael the little boot

    Bror,

    “If you cannot establish apostolic authorship then it doesn’t matter what is said, it is subject to the authority of what is sure.”

    Cool. Then one wonders why you think the gospels do have apostolic authorship. What actual evidence do you have other than “this dude was said to have known this dude, and every church agreed these were the authors, and no church anywhere ever at any time believed in the gnostic literature (not even the gnostics!), etc.”?

  • Michael the little boot

    rlewer,

    “In fact there were no congregations or bishops who accepted the gnostic books.” Okay. I’m only saying this one more time, then I’m going to conclude you’re not listening to me. The Gnostic Christians DID accept those books, and one of the consequences of that acceptance was being told they were not Christians. You, as a Christian, have a vested interest in defending the traditional Christian position. But it is simply revisionist to act like Gnostic Christians never existed.

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext,

    I find Ehrman very persuasive, so perhaps that’s why we’re not in agreement.

    “When you say that ‘there’s just no evidence’ for apostolic attribution I think you make a broad overstatement.” I should clarify, then. The evidence for apostolic attribution is not compelling to anyone who does not believe in Christianity. That means 2/3 of the world. The evidence is not what people who don’t believe in it would call strong.

    “Still, there are many interesting questions out there concerning attribution, like why attribute to obscure or distant figures like Mark or Luke instead of someone like Peter himself (which was the practice of many of the non-orthodox gospels), and why openly admit that such gospels were *not* written by direct eyewitnesses as the early orthodox church did, etc.” Once again, I think these are interesting questions to those who are already believers, or who are at least tending toward that (what I would call “almost-believers,” or what many here have called “seekers”). They are good red-herrings, but they are not ultimately accurate ways to determine these things historically. They are more like the evidence weighed at a trial, which is usually contemporary with whatever issue is the subject of the trial. If historians use this method, the conclusions at which they arrive are tentative, and they say as much in revealing their findings. The answers to the questions you pose above are not clear-cut. They don’t even weed out anyone. They are just ways to make your arguments sound more plausible. There are many reasons to attribute a work to someone obscure. One of them is so you can ask the question “Why would they have said this guy wrote it if it wasn’t really him? I mean, these other guys were more famous.” Most of this is circular reasoning. As I said at the beginning, these arguments are only compelling to those looking to back up what they already believe.

    “But perhaps you’ve already weighed such questions.” As I said, I did study this in college. It was there I decided I was no longer a Christian, and it was through asking some of these questions, as well as others which you have not suggested. I’m sure you’ve thought of things I never did, and I certainly haven’t pondered EVERYTHING one could in connection with Christianity.

    “In general what I have read has not given me much reason to doubt the canonical tradition; to the contrary.” But you read Ehrman? Did you not find his arguments persuasive because you want to believe the canonical tradition? He has some VERY nontraditional things to say, and is widely regarded to be an expert. No one’s asking you to be persuaded by things which don’t persuade you. But if the scholars can’t do so – it is the prevailing view that the canonical gospels were not written by the people to whom they are attributed, and it is a controversial claim only in the evangelical/fundamentalist arena (forgive me if you do not consider yourself either of these, as I do admit to generalizing here) – it seems to me you wish not to be persuaded.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael, I sense the discussion may be heading into something of a digression. As I see it the issue is not apostolic ascription per se, but rather the early Church’s credibility, its stance toward truth. A quotation from the late Bruce Metzger may be in order:

    “The distinction between the New Testament writings and later ecclesiastical literature is not based upon arbitrary fiat; it has historical reasons. The generations following the apostles bore witness to the effect that certain writings had on their faith and life. The self-authenticating witness of the word testified to the divine origin of the gospel that had brought the Church into being; such is the implication of Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: ‘We thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of any human being but as what it really is, the word of God which is at work in you believers’ (I Thess. ii. 13). During the second and succeeding centuries, this authoritative word was found, not in the utterances of contemporary leaders and teachers, but in the apostolic testimony contained within early Christian writings. From this point of view the Church did not create the canon, but came to recognize, accept, affirm, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church. If this fact is obscured, one comes into serious conflict not with dogma but with history” (The Canon of the NT, Oxford, 286-287).

    I fully admit that I came to accept scripture as authoritative long before I knew anything about its canonicity. But Metzger is making an historical claim here (one made by other scholars as well), and in the absence of contrary evidence I don’t have any reason to doubt it.

    Secular scholars often fail to grasp the extent to which the early christians sought to bear witness to that authority which had changed their lives so radically, as Metzger intimates. That those scholars tend to explain (or dismiss, as it were) the Church’s motives in cynical terms–the arbitrary exercise of power, politics/ideology, etc.–does not surprise me. As far as I am concerned they fail the test of the scholarly imagination. I don’t expect them believe as believes, but to imagine as scholars. By not so doing they seem to miss what Metzger means when he says that “the status of canonicity is not an objectively demonstrable claim but is a statement of Christian belief. It is not affected by features that are open to adjudication, such as matters of authorship and genuineness, for a pseudoepigraphon is not necessarily to be excluded from the canon” (284).

    If you want to say I’m close-minded, in all probability nothing I can say will prevent you from believing that. All I can tell you is that I have read Ehrman with as much honesty and charity and open-mindedness as I can muster. As I say, as an orthodox believer I do approach him skeptically, but I have tried, and will continue to try, to make a deliberate and conscious attempt to understand his position and willingly suspend my disbelief (or belief, as it were) insofar as the law of love compels me. Indeed I find him to be very good on many if not most points. He is a fine communicator and an expert as you say, and is more balanced and fair-minded than, say, the Jesus Seminar. Were that not the case I doubt Metzger would have collaborated with him as often as he did. Nonetheless, I have come away with the sense that Ehrman’s intention to undermine my confidence in the New Testament–and I believe that is his intent, especially in his more recent popular-audience books–has distorted the value of his work to some extent.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    A few more points regarding Ehrman.

    He seems to have something of a reputation among scholars for being far more unorthodox in his popular works than in his strictly scholarly works. Given the nature of popular writing, perhaps that is not too surprising. Iconoclasm sells, and Ehrman sells it well. But I think he may have given laypeople the false impression that textual studies in general is as radical as he is in his popular books.

    Also, some scholars have noted that in many respects Ehrman never outgrew the fundamentalism of his youth. His loss of faith seems to be premised on an extremely rigid and inflexible standard resembling that of the most conservative KJV-only-type fundamentalists. In books like Misquoting Jesus, he assumes that because we aren’t sure of a minute percentage of minimally important NT words, God must not have inspired it. As Roberts points out in the link I posted (awaiting moderation as of now), that’s exactly what the KJV-fetishers say!

    Now, I’m not surprised that fundamentalism produces atheists and agnostics like Ehrman. But a more fruitful approach would be to ask why would God would permit inconsistencies–and I would think that even a non-believing scholar would be able to pursue that line of thinking. But Ehrman is blinded by his skeptical fundamentalism to that sort of subtlety. To quote Roberts:

    “Ehrman’s argument, therefore, isn’t merely with the God of biblical inspiration but imperfect textual transmission. His argument is with the God who actually entrusts His treasures to human beings. His argument is with the God who actually empowers human beings to mess up what He has perfectly created or revealed. Even if Ehrman believed that the Bible was the Word of God, he’d be very unhappy with the God revealed in that Word. Ehrman seems to want a God who doesn’t enter into partnership with limited, fallible, and even sinful humanity. But, unfortunately for Ehrman and others like him, that’s the God we have.”

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext,

    Apologies if I gave the impression I think you’re closed-minded. I am aggressive, and my response came out too strongly worded as a result. There are little things I could quibble with in your comments, but, as you pointed out, this is a digression. If you accept the Bible is flawed, any other argument between us – on that point – is minor.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Agreed, Michael. The heart of the issue is whether or not a person accepts scripture as authoritative. If only people on both sides of that question would spend more time openly explaining why they stand where they do

    And no offense taken whatsoever.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    That should have read: …why they stand where they do, we’d all be better off.

  • Nathan

CLOSE | X

HIDE | X