TF: Skip verse 10

Tribulation Force, pp. 53-55

Buck Williams spends a few more pages reviewing and admiring his miraculously complete Global Weekly cover story on the various theories circulating to explain the disappearance of every child on the planet, plus another few hundred million adults.

In that one sentence I've already described the Event in more detail than Buck seems to have done in his article. He's not alone in this — in the world of Tribulation Force, no one stops to ask who is missing, or why them and not anyone else.

That no unbelievers would be curious about such questions is yet another impossibility. This is what we humans do when confronted with the inexplicable: We look for patterns. Buck and the other new believers don't have to look for patterns because they already know what the pattern is. They know that all of the missing adults were real, true, evangelical Christians who believed that Tim LaHaye was right about biblical prophecy. Yet Buck bewilderingly chooses not to mention this in his article on the disappearances. Like every other piece of evidence he has proving What Really Happened, he withholds this information from his readers.

As we've already discussed, Buck never had or committed time to write this article. Even if we go with the theory that Buck had the chance to type it up on the plane back from Germany, it seems unlikely that everyone he needed to interview for the piece was on that same flight. We're about to consider Buck's conversation with the Roman Catholic archbishop of Cincinnati, for example — when was that conversation supposed to have taken place? Buck's painstakingly chronicled itinerary for the past 14 days did not include a visit to Cincinnati and we never read of him conducting any interviews by phone. (Our authors are not in the habit of skipping any detail of any phone conversation.)

But yet another reason Buck couldn't have written this article is that he just isn't up to speed on the subject. He has spent the past two weeks in a voluntary news vacuum. Bruce and Rayford have at least been watching CNN, but apart from their third-hand accounts of what they saw on TV, Buck has no idea what's going on in the world. He has picked up precisely one newspaper in the past two weeks, in which he read precisely one article — his own obituary. He has no way of knowing what theories might be circulating in the current of current events because he hasn't so much as dipped a toe into the flow of news.

And there ought to be an unmanageably vast number of competing theories circulating, not just because we humans seek and require (and invent) patterns to explain the inexplicable, but also because circulating a vast number of competing theories is part of Nicolae Carpathia's job.

This is Disinformation 101: If you need to cover up a conspiracy, spread a thousand false conspiracy theories. Nicolae needs to keep people from learning the truth about What Really Happened. He may not know, specifically, about Bruce Barnes or New Hope Village Church or Pastor Billings' video, but he'd have to anticipate that there would be people like that out there and that steps would have to be taken to make sure that nobody would listen to them. This wouldn't require any recourse to his brainwashing mojo or his preternatural powers of persuasion — all he'd need would be a sound studio to record hundreds of variations on Billings' "if you're watching this, it means I have disappeared" video. Most plausible explanations would fall under the broad categories of gods or aliens, but there are any almost infinite variety of such scenarios that might be retroactively "predicted" in these videos.

Another obvious step would be to commission dozens of "bible prophecy" experts to claim that the disappearances were the Rapture of the saints predicted in the Christian scriptures. These impostors would proclaim just enough detail from the premillennial dispensationalist truth, mixed in with just enough demonstrably false and easily disprovable nonsense, to discredit people like Bruce or Rayford once they started to speak out. "The Bible predicted all of this," Bruce would start to say, and everyone would think, "Ah yes, this bit. We've heard this and we know it's not true."

This would also of course be how Nicolae would deal with the "Two Witnesses" in Jerusalem. So Moses and Elijah are prophesying by the Western Wall? Very well  then, sprinkle a half-dozen more Moseses and Elijahs throughout the city. Have Abraham and Melchizedek prophesy by the Damascus Gate, warning people of the impending natural disasters that God is sending as a sign that they must obediently serve his chosen world leader. Send John the Baptist and John of Patmos to prophesy in the Kidron Valley and have Joseph and Daniel stake out a street corner on the Via Dolorosa. Dozens of pairs of "witnesses" would arise in every corner of the globe — William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg in London; Haile Selassie and Simon Kimbangu in Addis Ababa; Edgar Cayce and Madame Blavatsky in Machu Picchu; Nostradamus and Joan of Arc at the foot of the Eiffel Tower extolling the prophesied savior, the "golden-haired son of Cluj who shall appear to many as like unto Condor, only without the sideburns." Equip them all with enough plants and pyrotechnics to make the trip-and-die guys seem like small potatoes (I'm assuming that Nicolae is at least as capable at this sort of thing as Jannes and Jambres).

Mark Twain noted that "a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on." Buck Williams has already given the lie a two-week head-start, so if Nicolae is anything like the Great Deceiver he's supposed to be — or even if he were just a bush-league disinformationist along the lines of a Kim Jong Il — the whole subject of "theories behind the disappearances" ought to be irreparably polluted by now by a flood of falsehoods and half-truths and the white noise of a thousand videos, prophets, witnesses and experts.

Nothing like any of that appears in Buck's article, which seems to restrict itself to Rayford's explanation of PMD mythology and a smattering of tabloid-style theories that Buck seems to have gleaned exclusively from the tabloids.

The good news is that by avoiding any real engagement with any actual competing theories, by refusing to debunk anything, by neglecting to even mention the official explanation, and by omitting all of the evidence he might have presented for the real explanation of WRH, Buck frees up a lot of room in his cover story. He uses this room to offer an extended rant against the Arminian heresies of the papist infidels.

That's right. Buck studiously avoids any discussion of Darby, Scofield or Hal Lindsay, but he goes out of his way to present a caricatured rehash of the Diet of Worms.

Most interesting to Buck was the interpretation of the event on the part of other churchmen. A lot of Catholics were confused, because while many remained, some had disappeared — including the new pope, who had been installed just a few months before the vanishings. He had stirred up controversy in the church with a new doctrine that seemed to coincide more with the "heresy" of Martin Luther than with the historic orthodoxy they were used to. When the pope had disappeared, some Catholic scholars had concluded that this was indeed an act of God. "Those who opposed the orthodox teaching of the Mother Church were winnowed out from among us," Peter Cardinal Mathews of Cincinnati, a leading archbishop, had told Buck.

They probably first realized they were in trouble with their new pope when he chose t
he papal name of Calvin Zwingli I.

Buck decid
es to engage the archbishop in a theological debate. Because this Global Weekly article is obviously the appropriate place for that. And because Buck skimmed through the Gospels just the other night, so he's confident he knows the Bible better than this bishop possibly could.

Buck had been bold enough to ask the archbishop to comment on certain passages of Scripture, primarily Ephesians 2:8-9 …

OK, stop. Two things.

First, there's no way that Buck knows anything about the book of Ephesians. He's never read it himself and, since it's not one of the "prophecy" books, Bruce never read it to him. It's absurd enough that Buck is going around citing chapter and verse, as though he'd grown up doing Sword Drills in Vacation Bible School, but it's even more ridiculous that he would be citing chapter and verse for a chapter and a verse that we know for a fact he's never read.

The explanation for this miraculous knowledge, of course, is that the authors know this passage, and they can quote it from memory, citing chapter and verse. And since Buck here is acting as the authors' mouthpiece, he magically knows everything they know.

This destroys any hope the reader has of a realistic story with realistic characters, but it can also be kind of fun. Just watch this:

READER: Hey, Rayford! Bev's birthday is in April, right?

RAYFORD STEELE: Yes, the 30th.

READER: What'd you get her this year?

RAYFORD: Oh, I found this lovely butterfly broach, an antique with … wait, crap, I mean, um, ah … who is this "Bev" that you speak of? I don't know anyone named Bev. Irene, that's my wife's name, Irene Steele, not this Beverly LaHaye or whatever it was you said. And anyway I'm not supposed to be talking to you like this.

He falls for that one every time. And you should see what Buck does when you tell him that Gil Thorpe was never funny.

But let me get to the second point, namely this: Anyone who makes a habit of reciting Ephesians 2:8-9 without going on to recite verse 10 as well is a jackass.

Seriously. A colossal jackass.

Here's the first two verses, which ventriloquist-dummy Buck recites:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

And here's the next verse, the next sentence, the second half of that thought:

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now there's only one reason you'd ever quote those first two verses while omitting the third, and that's if you're doing what Buck is doing here — tossing out what you believe to be the Lutheran trump-card in some pointless, abstract and distracting argument over "grace vs. works."

Buck at least has an excuse — he's fictional, and thus on an even footing with the fictional strawman bishop he's debating here. But this same side of this same argument is presented  all the time in American evangelical churches, as though the fictional strawman Peter Cardinal Mathews were lurking in the lobby, just waiting to burst into the sanctuary to declare that we earn our way to heaven by doing good deeds, praying to Mary and buying indulgences.

Simply saying that evangelicals, like Buck, recite those first two verses without ever mentioning the third doesn't fully convey how emphatically they reject what Ephesians 2:10 has to say. They treat this verse like the 13th floor of a hotel. It's not part of their canon. I have sat through at least a half dozen sermons in evangelical churches during which the preacher read the first nine verses of this chapter and then launched into a condemnation of the evil works-righteousness of the evil good-works faction, concluding with, "So let's pick up reading at verse 11 …"

What elevates this strange behavior to the status of jackassitude is that these folks have allowed their fiercely abstract debate over the mechanics of soteriology to tie them into knots to the extent that, for them, "good works" is an epithet, an obscenity. To do good, to be good, is treated as an affront to the sufficiency of grace.

Here in Tribulation Force, LaHaye and Jenkins are gleefully proud of the way their spokescharacter in this scene is able to cite scripture to prove the evils of good works. After Buck recites Ephesians 2:8-9, carefully stopping before verse 10 (jackass), the archbishop is reduced to stammering:

"Now you see," the archbishop said, "this is precisely my point. People have been taking verses like that out of context for centuries and trying to build doctrine on them."

"But there are other passages just like those," Buck said.

Oh, snap! Buck is thinking as the authors high-five one another for successfully out-debating their fictional bishop.

Of course Buck left his personal comments and opinions out of the article, but he was able to work in the Scripture and the archbishop's attempt to explain away the doctrine of grace.

And thus we come to the point. Martin Luther believed in the doctrine of grace. Buck, LaHaye and Jenkins believe in believing in the doctrine of grace. The archbishop of Cincinnati did not believe in that doctrine, and so he was left behind. Pope Calvin was raptured along with all the other RTCs because he had come to believe in the gospel of salvation by belief in the proper understanding of the mechanics of salvation. RTCs are not real, true Christians because of the grace of God — they are real, true Christians because their sentiments are aligned with the correct side of the argument about the role of God's grace in salvation.

What L&J and Buck are arguing for here is self-refuting nonsense that swallows its own tail and it isn't easy to give a lucid description of such madness, but try thinking of it this way: They do not believe in Calvinism, but in Calvinism-ism. They believe that we achieve our own salvation by means of asserting that Luther, Calvin and Augustine were correct to say that we cannot achieve our own salvation. The logical implication of this would seem to be that Heaven will be populated with Calvin-ists and Luther-ans, but that Calvin and Luther themselves will be excluded. Those reformers mistakenly believed that God's grace would be sufficient to save them, not realizing — as L&J do — that God and grace are powerless apart from what really matters, which is our own assent to the proposition that grace is sufficient. To be saved, then, we need to say that God's grace alone is sufficient, but to mean by that that our belief in the power of our believing that we believe that is what is really sufficient to save us. Or something like that.

The point is that it is the authors and their mouthpiece who are here rejecting the doctrine of grace. The gist of that teaching is that God's grace is not dependent on our merit or worthiness — that's what "grace" means, after all. But the authors believe God's grace is dependent — that it is earned and not freely given. They believe grace is dependent on a correct understanding of grace, that it is contingent on whether or not its potential recipients can properly articulate how it works. They believe, in other words, in righteousness by works — but mental, or sentimental, wor
ks, rather than tangible one
s.

This whole lengthy aside is particularly troublesome in the context of this series, which elevates the apocalyptic passages of the Bible over the rest of it. Those passages are not very hospitable to Calvinism, let alone to the authors' Calvinism-ism. The authors' favorite book, Revelation, ends with a relentless and emphatic litany of judgment based solely on deeds: "The dead were judged according to what they had done … Each person was judged according to what he had done." Or consider my favorite apocalyptic passage, Jesus' so-called "mini-apocalypse" at the end of Matthew's Gospel, the centerpiece of which is the parable of the sheep and the goats. That parable makes no mention of faith or grace or any other basis for judgment or salvation apart from how we treat "the least of these." Those who feed the hungry and befriend the criminals are saved. Those who don't, aren't. Period.*

Those passages can be reconciled with the idea of salvation by grace, but not in the way that Buck or the authors think of it. The idea — which is embraced by Catholics and Protestants, Calvinists and Arminians alike — is that grace is what enables the sheep to be sheep. God's grace is what affords us the possibility to be — in the Pauline phrase that jackasses like Buck so studiously avoid — created to do good works.

That idea leads to a workable doctrine of grace — something more like the original Pauline and Augustinian notion that Luther and Calvin sought to recover. It says, "Grace. Therefore works." Buck and the braying crowd of Skip-Verse-10ers would argue the opposite of that, "Grace. Therefore not works." So I guess I shouldn't be calling them jackasses. "Goats" would be more accurate.

The poor archbishop was constructed and inserted here entirely for the purpose of this anti-works-righteousness rant in defense of thoughts-righteousness, so he's not meant to be anything more than a straw-man embodiment of the worst evangelical fantasies about what it is that deluded Catholics believe. The authors won't allow him to discern any pattern as to who was taken in the disappearances, and they insist that he must be — like every character in Tribulation Force who isn't a member of the Tribulation Force — wholly ignorant of any aspect of PMD rapture mythology, and those restrictions force him to seem a bit dim. But all of that together gives the bishop an incoherence which is just about the closest thing you'll find in this book to realistically conflicted human nature.

He comes across as someone who is struggling to make sense of the horrific tragedy of the Event, someone who is desperate to reconcile such horrors with the idea that a just and loving God is still in control. So he starts by trying to talk himself into the "winnowing" of evil theory:

"The Scripture says that in the last days it will be as in the days of Noah. And you'll recall that in the days of Noah, the good people remained and the evil ones were washed away."

He's got a point there, actually. The bishop is referring to Matthew 24, where Jesus says that the end of the age will be like "the days before the flood":

… until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.

That last sentence is, of course, where the Left Behind series gets its name — Matthew 24:40 via Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready." But neither L&J nor Larry seemed to notice that the flood reference clearly shows that getting "taken" is bad while being "left behind" is good.** That's part of why I think this passage makes far more sense if read as a memento mori.

When Buck pointed out to the bishop that the disappearances also involved children and babies:

The bishop had shifted uncomfortably. "That I leave to God," he said. "I have to believe that perhaps he was protecting the innocents."

"From what?"

"I'm not sure. I don't take the Apocrypha [sic] literally, but there are dire predictions of what might be yet to come."

"So you would not relegate the vanished young ones to the winnowing of the evil?"

"No. Many of the little ones who disappeared I baptized myself …"

He's a straw man grasping at straws. He doesn't know how to make sense of what happened and he's willing to admit that, to confess, "I'm not sure." This makes me far more fond of him than I'm able to be of any of the cruelly certain characters the authors tell me I'm supposed to like.

Buck could have helped the archbishop. He could have opened his eyes to the pattern of the disappearances and explained the prophecies outlined on the back cover of the book, but he's no more interested in sharing that evidence with the bishop than he is in sharing it with his GW readers. So instead of telling the poor man what he believes happened — what he knows happened — he instead abruptly asks the guy "to comment on certain passages of Scripture."

"So you've lost many children from your parish, precious little ones you knew and loved yourself," Buck says. "Well then suck on this. Ephesians 2:8 and 9, bee-yatch! Aw yeahhh!" And then he spikes the Bible and starts doing his end-zone victory dance, leaving the poor man more bewildered than ever.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* This parable utterly contradicts Calvinism-ism's notion of salvation by assent to proper doctrine. The story suggests, instead, that salvation itself is unrelated to concern about salvation. The Son of Man tells the sheep that they are blessed and they reply, "I'm sorry, have we met? What's a 'Jesus' and what does that have to do with me?" They have no knowledge or understanding of the mechanics of salvation and it turns out they didn't need any. Soteriology is a red herring.

** The parallel passage in Luke's Gospel is more fun if you ever have to deal with a PMD in conversation. Be sure to use the King James Version when you bring up Luke 17:34 — "In that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left" — and then argue that a literal interpretation suggests that precisely 50 percent of homosexuals will be raptured.

  • Jeff

    [[Well what do you expect - he's a Christian .]]
    I know the Christians threw out a lot of Jewish law, but this one is just common sense.
    =======================
    I’d say that the God of the OT (“OBEY”) and the God of the Gospels (“Love”) are different enough that they could be considered different entities. The God of Paul and the not-Pauls (band name?) is starting to slide back to OT habits (“Love but OBEY”). He’s kind of a bridge between the two.

  • Daughter

    OK, been on vacation and so I’m arriving way late to the party.
    I imagine that L&J would disagree with your assessment of their theology. They would say that the difference between being raptured and being left behind isn’t belief about a specific doctrine (salvation by grace, PMD) but having a personal relationship with Jesus. Most Evangelical theologians teach that the personal relationship with Jesus is the key to salvation.
    Except I have trouble believing LH&J see it that way. They keep using the term, “transaction,” to describe a character coming to Jesus, suggesting a business relationship rather than a personal one. I’ve never heard the term used that way outside of these books.
    ===========
    With apologies to Mabus, but I too have a Restoration Movement background:
    A man dies and goes to heaven, and Peter takes him on a tour to show him around. As they pass different rooms, Peter explains who’s in there. They pass a room of Pentacostals shouting and dancing, a room of Baptists singing, a room of Lutherans silently praying, etc. When they approach the final room, Peter tells the man he needs to be very quiet.
    “Why?” asks the man.
    “Because the people in that room are from the Church of Christ, and they think they’re the only ones up here.”

  • Daughter

    Regarding the “personal relationship with Jesus,” it may be an annoying-as-hell question, but you have to admit that it’s one of the best straight lines an evangelical can hand you. The only problem is that Chris Rock already staked his claim to the best response.
    My apologies if this has been answered already and I missed it, but what was Chris Rock’s brilliant response?

  • Froborr

    My apologies if this has been answered already and I missed it, but what was Chris Rock’s brilliant response?

    “[N-word] still owes me twelve bucks.”
    My own response is, “I tried, but he really sucks at video games. It’s like he’s not even picking up the controller!”
    The God of Paul and the not-Pauls (band name?) is starting to slide back to OT habits (“Love but OBEY”). He’s kind of a bridge between the two.
    And then there’s the God of Revelation (DIEDIEDIE), aka Nyarlathotep. (In many ways the least frightening of the Outer Gods, because he’s actually and actively malevolent and has a semblance of a personality.)

  • Froborr

    My apologies if this has been answered already and I missed it, but what was Chris Rock’s brilliant response?

    “[N-word] still owes me twelve bucks.”
    My own response is, “I tried, but he really sucks at video games. It’s like he’s not even picking up the controller!”

    The God of Paul and the not-Pauls (band name?) is starting to slide back to OT habits (“Love but OBEY”). He’s kind of a bridge between the two.

    And then there’s the God of Revelation (Death! Destruction! Mine is an evil laugh!), aka Nyarlathotep. (In many ways the least frightening of the Outer Gods, because he’s actually and actively malevolent and has a semblance of a personality.)

  • Anton Mates

    Meryn Cadell:
    Then later in the car my hot-from-crying face against the window shutting out the conversation around me
    I thought about what I said and
    I already doubted it
    So intangible so surreal
    letting Christ in to my heart
    I didn’t even know the man
    And then summer came and the fervor died
    And the following year I fell in love with a red-haired boy two rows over
    And that was much less painful

  • Jessica

    Except I have trouble believing LH&J see it that way. They keep using the term, “transaction,” to describe a character coming to Jesus, suggesting a business relationship rather than a personal one. I’ve never heard the term used that way outside of these books.
    I’ve seen this before. The evangelical churches I attended prior to becoming an apostate episcopalian (I say that with tongue firmly in cheek) used the “transaction” bit. Examples include “God putting paid to the bill of your sin”, “if someone wants to give you a gift, like a million dollars, you have to accept it”, and less business-like but more court-like: “it’s like if you were arrested for drunk driving, and Jesus is your defense attorney, and Satan is the prosecutor, and God the Father is the judge. You’re guilty, and everyone knows it, but before the judge hands down the punishment, Jesus says something like “Dad, I paid for this already” and you get to walk away scot-free.
    The reason all this language about payment and fines and business keep coming up, IMO, is that we have a phrase that keeps those things in the forefront of our minds: “Jesus paid the price/penalty for our sins” and even a Bible verse: “The wages of sin is death”. There’s been excellent commentary on the topic here previously, but I think as long as we look at these things as prices, penalties and wages, the business-sounding “salvation transaction” will continue to be a buzzword.
    Now that I think about it, the whole wages/penalties thing ties into the Tony Perkins thread, too. Women who have sinful sex deserve the penalties for it: pregnancy, risk of death, etc. If they were worried about the consequences, they ought not to have done the deed. It’s completely f—ed up, of course, but it’s the origin of the mindset. Not that we didn’t already know that. Just sort of reminded me of it.

  • Hobbes

    @Daughter: Technically speaking, Jesus used transaction languages when he said “it is finished” on the cross. Telos (“Done”) was the common word stamped or written on bills when the debt was paid off.

  • Hobbes

    @Jessica: It’s not wrong (or foolish) to teach that sin has consequences. It is wrong to teach that sin has consequences and that we should therefore just let them happen as punishment. Judgment and punishment is totally out of our realm – that’s God’s job.
    And according to Paul’s writings, the courtroom language is at least partially accurate. The word “justification” isn’t used for nothing.

  • Froborr

    As for the courtroom analogy, Satan’s role in much Jewish folklore is explicitly as a prosecuting attorney who specializes in entrapment: during your life he tries to get you to reveal your evil impulses in action, and then at death he presents to God the case against you. Satan is very much the Adversary (it’s what “Satan” means, after all), but of man, not of God — he’s a servant of God like any other angel. This is clearly the role he’s taking in the Job framing story, for example.

  • Froborr

    Also:

    It’s not wrong (or foolish) to teach that sin has consequences. It is wrong to teach that sin has consequences and that we should therefore just let them happen as punishment.

    THIS.
    I don’t believe in sin as Christians understand it, but otherwise I wholeheartedly agree: actions have consequences. It is wrong not to teach people that their actions have consequences (failing to do so is one cause of a psychological phenomenon known as “learned helplessness”, which is very subtle, absolutely crippling, and nearly impossible to treat).
    However, some actions have the wrong consequences, and one of the main functions of human society is to fix that problem: increasing the positive consequences of things we want people to do, decreasing the negative consequences of things we don’t care if people do, and increasing the negative consequences of things we don’t want people to do. Tikkun olam.

  • ako

    “it’s like if you were arrested for drunk driving, and Jesus is your defense attorney, and Satan is the prosecutor, and God the Father is the judge. You’re guilty, and everyone knows it, but before the judge hands down the punishment, Jesus says something like “Dad, I paid for this already” and you get to walk away scot-free.
    I once saw a completely mad Chick Tract (redundant, I know) with the premise that some murderer was about the get the death penalty, but the court let his elderly mother take his place instead.
    This was supposed to be equivalent to what Jesus did for humanity. Mostly it just made my head hurt.
    It’s clearly not justice to execute an innocent volunteer instead of a guilty person. And it’s not mercy to say “Well, we’ll spare the guilty party, so long as someone else dies.” It’s just making the entire point “I need to kill someone for what this person did”.

  • Daughter

    There’s been excellent commentary on the topic here previously, but I think as long as we look at these things as prices, penalties and wages, the business-sounding “salvation transaction” will continue to be a buzzword.
    I see what you’re saying, but I would argue that the transaction words used in the Bible generally refer to what Jesus does (redeeming humanity), but not to what people are supposed to do (repent, have faith). It goes back to what Fred wrote about the idea of grace being free–we’re not supposed to be making a business deal with God, and indeed don’t really have any currency to offer in the exchange. But since the concept of normal human relationships seems so foreign to LH&J, no wonder they can’t really describe a personal relationship with God.

  • Sniffnoy

    OSAS is a belief that is eating its own tail.
    I hereby dub this Oroboros Christianity, or OC. I suspect we can find lots of OC beliefs in L&J.
    Calvinism-ism is one of them.

    Hm, this is interesting. Calvinism-ism is, as Fred has pointed out, pretty much self-refuting (perhaps not technically, but I don’t really want to think about that) – not really circular. OSAS isn’t so much *itself* circular as it is encouraging of circular thinking, because it presents us with two possibilities (person X is saved, person X is not saved), with no way to decide between them.
    Now I think this may be due to my own poor understanding of Christianity, but I had always thought that the whole “saved through faith” thing was neither Calvinism, nor Calvinism-ism (because I would not have thought of either of those), but rather itself-ism, i.e., “We achieve our own salvation by means of asserting that [stuff that includes this statement]” – which is truly circular, and can’t be expanded out into any closed form. (There’s more there than the self-reference, say statements about Jesus and such, but there is the self-reference.)
    Have people actually encountered this, or am I just totally off?

  • thirstygirl

    ooo re the church where they decide to pool all their resources and work communally- I was born in one of those! and yes, it is now currently listed on Cultwatch. Given the early marriage age+lack of contraception, sometimes I count up how many children I’d have by now if we’d stayed.
    My parents were founding members and described it as they were going to build a new community, back to the land+a true Christian community. Worked well for a while, then fell prey to the normal rise of the leader type nonsense. We ran away in the middle of the night.
    It’s not a bad idea but these things do tend to get high-jacked by the power-hungry, charismatic leader.

  • Hobbes

    @Sniffnoy: I think that the concept is more “if we ‘X’ it will show that we’ve accepted God’s grace and forgiveness, and therefore will save us”. You’re right that Christians often make the word “believe” into an active verb, as though it was something like jumping or running or hammering a nail.
    Generally the phrase used for “X” is “accept Jesus into our hearts”. I, for one, wouldn’t know how to do that if I wasn’t already raised in a Christian church. As far as I understand it, it is a a historical proposition (“accept that God raised Jesus from the dead”). To the disciples at the time, this historical proposition had a direct implication: Jesus is Messiah, and therefore King, and therefore the highest authority next to the Father himself. To us, that isn’t implied (since we aren’t already Pharisaic Jews), so we must teach that “role” proposition separately.
    Paul also mentions two distinct steps (justified, saved) on a number of occasions. Here’s Romans 10:9-13:

    That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    My general feeling is that “X” in my first sentence in this post is both simpler and different than Christians often teach it. However, I also believe that by the grace of God, we don’t have to get it all right for it to be effective. And that’s great.

  • Hobbes

    @ako: Scripture is very clear on that. Sin implies death (and therefore ~death implies ~sin). This is how (even apart from Christ’s teachings), the early disciples managed to leap from “Jesus is risen” to “Jesus did something about sin”.

  • Froborr

    @ako: Scripture is very clear on that. Sin implies death (and therefore ~death implies ~sin). This is how (even apart from Christ’s teachings), the early disciples managed to leap from “Jesus is risen” to “Jesus did something about sin”.

    Um, no. You have the history and chain of reasoning exactly backwards here. The second generation of disciples (by which I don’t mean necessarily children of original disciples, but rather people converted by disciples rather than Jesus himself) reasoned from “Jesus is risen” and “Jesus did something about sin” to ~Death->~Sin. Then they concluded Sin->Death, which greatly colored their interpretation of Genesis, giving rise to the doctrine of Original Sin.
    The scriptures which actually state (rather than being interpreted to state) that there’s a connection between sin and death are all in the New Testament, and therefore postdate the early disciples by a couple of decades to a couple of centuries. They would therefore not have had any Scriptural basis on which to argue that connection.
    (Alternative explanation if you believe the Gospels are reliable sources for what Jesus said and did: Jesus told them there was a connection between sin and death, and so when he returned from the dead they concluded something had happened to sin. That still doesn’t mean they had anything “even apart from Christ’s teachings” to go on.)

  • Jessica

    Daughter: I see what you’re saying, but I would argue that the transaction words used in the Bible generally refer to what Jesus does (redeeming humanity), but not to what people are supposed to do (repent, have faith). It goes back to what Fred wrote about the idea of grace being free–we’re not supposed to be making a business deal with God, and indeed don’t really have any currency to offer in the exchange. But since the concept of normal human relationships seems so foreign to LH&J, no wonder they can’t really describe a personal relationship with God.
    I agree with you that the words in the Bible do refer to what Jesus does, but not to our relationship with him, as being businesslike. We are “children of God” “sons of God” “sheep”. God is our “abba, father” or “good shepherd”. Those are very unbusinesslike images. It’s a distortion in modern christianity that makes us think we’re doing a business deal with God.
    @Hobbes:
    It’s not wrong (or foolish) to teach that sin has consequences. It is wrong to teach that sin has consequences and that we should therefore just let them happen as punishment. Judgment and punishment is totally out of our realm – that’s God’s job.
    Of course sin has consequences. The problem is that Tony Perkins and people of his ilk are deciding that in the case of sinful sex, the woman is the one paying the brunt of the price for it, and similar to what you’re saying, it’s wrong to just let that happen as a way to punish and shame the filthy slut. I think we’ve been ’round and ’round this particular topic before, so we obviously don’t need to rehash it.
    Corollary to Godwin’s law: as the number of comments in a slacktivist thread approaches 1000, the probability of the topic of abortion coming up in the discussion approaches 1.

  • lonespark

    I get that that law has the same form as Godwin’s, but can’t it be Slack’s Law or something?

  • Hobbes

    The scriptures which actually state (rather than being interpreted to state) that there’s a connection between sin and death are all in the New Testament, and therefore postdate the early disciples by a couple of decades to a couple of centuries. They would therefore not have had any Scriptural basis on which to argue that connection.
    1)
    Couple of centuries?? Are you assuming that Paul was not one of “the early disciples”?
    2)
    The interpretation of Scripture was, of course, a very fluctuating thing at the time. However, there’s a pretty clear relationship between exile and death, in Genesis, in Daniel, and in Ezekiel, at the very least. Adam and Eve were threatened with death; instead, they got booted out of the garden (and later died). The return from exile is depicted in Daniel as a literal predicted resurrection (shining like stars) and in Ezekiel as a vision of resurrection (the valley of dry bones). By the time of 2 Maccabees, the belief in literal future resurrection was pretty standard, but it still stood for (in addition to coming back from the dead) something like “returning the Kingdom to Israel”.
    Furthermore, in the same section of Ezekiel (ch. 37), the prophet concludes that the return of the Kingdom to Israel – the eternal reign of David – the end of exile – will be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham: “They will be my people, and I will be their God.”
    Since the prophets all declared that sin causes (or caused) exile, and since God’s loyalty to Israel (and vice versa) will reverse exile, and since exile was a common metaphor for death (and vice versa, and inversely), and since the Jews at that time still considered themselves in extended “exile” (“house arrest” might be a better term), I don’t know why it would be difficult for a Jew of that era – which all the disciples were – to conclude that death was related to sin, especially in light of the teachings of Jesus.

  • Froborr

    Couple of centuries?? Are you assuming that Paul was not one of “the early disciples”?

    Paul’s writings are the “couple of decades”, the earliest-written portions of the New Testament. The Gospels were pretty much all written around 70-100, and then the non-Pauline epistles mostly 100-150. But some of the pseudo-Pauls are as late as the 170s, which is getting pretty close to a couple of centuries. But that’s just the main bodies of the books; the pre-Constantine church rarely used professional scribes, so you get mistakes, well-meaning “corrections”, and interpolations throughout the first four centuries or so.
    (It’s not just that literacy was rarer. Reading and writing were harder. Greek, for example, was typically written with no spaces, punctuation marks, or paragraph breaks, and read from left to right on odd-numbered lines and right to left on even-numbered lines. No, seriously.)
    And no, I’m not counting Paul as one of the early disciples. From the context of your post, I assumed you meant “people who joined up prior to the crucifixion”, and used the term in that sense in my response. Apologies if that wasn’t your intent.
    As for your second point, find me one non-Christian writer prior to 100 CE that equates sin and death and I’ll concede it, but so far as I know that’s a purely Christian interpretation.

    since exile was a common metaphor for death

    Evidence?

  • Bugmaster

    since exile was a common metaphor for death

    I don’t know about “metaphor”, but on a purely literal level, it is quite reasonable to assume that exile meant death more often than not. Where are you going to go, and how far can you make it before you die of exposure ?

  • Froborr

    Again, though, modern Judaism doesn’t read the passages about exile as being about death. So I’m going to need to see a Jewish writer uninfluenced by Christianity interpreting the passages that way before I accept that particular contention of Hobbes.

  • Katz

    As for your second point, find me one non-Christian writer prior to 100 CE that equates sin and death and I’ll concede it, but so far as I know that’s a purely Christian interpretation.
    Being a purely Christian doctrine doesn’t preclude it being an original or correct (ie, taught by Christ) Christian doctrine. Moreover, all the business with our NT being unreliable due to scribal errors and later additions is nonsense. We have virtually the entire NT in manuscripts from the 2nd to 4th centuries, the earliest from just 125 AD–absurdly early by classics standards. We have dozens of manuscripts altogether with virtually no differences except for discrepancies of grammar and spelling.
    Compare that to any other work of antiquity. Our earliest manuscripts of Virgil come from the 5th century (and one from the 4th)–400 years after he wrote–and are highly fragmentary, but you don’t see many people questioning their reliability and alleging late additions to The Aeneid.

  • hf

    Our earliest manuscripts of Virgil come from the 5th century (and one from the 4th)–400 years after he wrote–and are highly fragmentary, but you don’t see many people questioning their reliability
    The fact that you could write this suggests to me that you’re not actually trying to understand. Or that you secretly worship the gods of Rome.

  • Anton Mates

    Our earliest manuscripts of Virgil come from the 5th century (and one from the 4th)–400 years after he wrote–and are highly fragmentary, but you don’t see many people questioning their reliability and alleging late additions to The Aeneid.

    Yes, you do. In fact, quite a few classicists suspect that certain passages of the Aeneid were actually written by one of his slaves after his death (Virgil famously had difficulty finalizing the thing, and never actually presented it to Augustus.)

  • hapax

    Froborr: So I’m going to need to see a Jewish writer uninfluenced by Christianity interpreting the passages that way
    Philo of Alexandria?

  • Katz

    Yes, you do. In fact, quite a few classicists suspect that certain passages of the Aeneid were actually written by one of his slaves after his death
    Fair enough, but what I meant was that people don’t generally dispute the intrinsic themes of the Aeneid the way people often suggest that all references to X in the Bible are later additions.
    The fact that you could write this suggests to me that you’re not actually trying to understand.
    Another constructive comment from hf.

  • MadGastronomer

    Fair enough, but what I meant was that people don’t generally dispute the intrinsic themes of the Aeneid the way people often suggest that all references to X in the Bible are later additions.
    On the other hand, very few people, including Roman reconstructionists, are attempting to base their lives on the Aeneid. Since so many people have hung the validity of their beliefs on the historicity of the events the Bible discusses, I think that examining exactly when various parts of the Bible were written is pretty valid.

  • Hobbes

    @Froborr: So I’m going to need to see a Jewish writer uninfluenced by Christianity interpreting the passages that way
    Well okay. Note that we are looking for implications that a sinful life leads to death here, not a specific and explicit statement of “the wages of sin is death”. The inverse (being rescued or forgiven sin leads to life) would also be helpful. Also note that the examples I found that are in the Protestant canon were found merely by doing a search for “death” in an online NIV Bible.
    There’s this, for instance, in 2 Maccabees:

    And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

    Baruch 3 says this:

    Hear, O LORD, for you are a God of mercy; and have mercy on us, who have sinned against you: for you are enthroned forever, while we are perishing forever.

    Most of Baruch 3 discusses how sinful Gentiles are destined for “the nether world” (in the New American Bible translation).
    Baruch 4 begins with:

    She is the book of the precepts of God, the law that endures forever; All who cling to her will live, but those will die who forsake her.

    And continues:

    Let no one gloat over me, a widow, bereft of many: For the sins of my children I am left desolate, because they turned from the law of God, and did not acknowledge his statutes; In the ways of God’s commandments they did not walk, nor did they tread the disciplined paths of his justice.

    The rest of the book is about return from exile, which is, once again, the explicit death-exile connection. Exile is death and return from exile is life.
    There’s also Deuteronomy 30, another part of which Paul quotes twice in Romans 10:

    See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

    And Psalm 68 has this little snippet:

    Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.

    And Proverbs:

    The truly righteous man attains life, but he who pursues evil goes to his death. (11:19)
    There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (14:12)

    Isaiah 38:

    Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.

    Ezekiel 18:

    (23) Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

    (32) For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/RajExplorer Raj

    Moreover, all the business with our NT being unreliable due to scribal errors and later additions is nonsense. We have virtually the entire NT in manuscripts from the 2nd to 4th centuries, the earliest from just 125 AD–absurdly early by classics standards. We have dozens of manuscripts altogether with virtually no differences except for discrepancies of grammar and spelling.
    Compare that to any other work of antiquity. Our earliest manuscripts of Virgil come from the 5th century (and one from the 4th)–400 years after he wrote–and are highly fragmentary, but you don’t see many people questioning their reliability and alleging late additions to The Aeneid.

    *Siiiiiiiighhhh!* Not that specious argument again!
    To begin, it simply isn’t true – contrary to RTC propaganda – that all ancient records except the books of the Bible are assumed to be reliable (see Jun 18 9:15PM post by Anton Mates).
    Suppose, though, your implication about “any other work of antiquity” were valid. Suppose every historian in the world were to realize suddenly that they have been uncritically assuming the accuracy of ancient records other than the Bible. In this hypothetical situation, the appropriate response would be something like “We need to start doing our jobs and subject all ancient records to critical analysis”, NOT “Hey! since we’ve been so lax in our examination of all ancient records except the Bible, let’s take the same approach with the Bible!”

  • random atheist

    “Our earliest manuscripts of Virgil come from the 5th century (and one from the 4th)–400 years after he wrote–and are highly fragmentary, but you don’t see many people questioning their reliability”
    Isn’t that largely because the Aeneid is acknowledgedly a work of fiction, though? I mean, no-one is suggesting that the events in it actually happened. It’s just a good poem, which can be enjoyed as a work of art whatever its provenance may be. If it was trying to present a historical record, I think there would be a great deal of questioning whether this was a reliable account of events or not.

  • Anton Mates

    Katz,

    Fair enough, but what I meant was that people don’t generally dispute the intrinsic themes of the Aeneid the way people often suggest that all references to X in the Bible are later additions.

    Well, people don’t care all that much, because the Aeneid is a work of literature; it’s either a good book or a bad book, no matter who wrote it or when. Ditto for the Iliad and the Odyssey; whether Homer was one person or twenty-five is a very interesting historical question, but it doesn’t affect their literary value much. In the case of works that are supposed to be historically informative, on the other hand–like Suetonius, or Tacitus–people have to spend a lot of time critiquing them and trying to figure out what parts are corruptions or later interpolations. And generally, we end up viewing the surviving copies very skeptically indeed.
    Or take Plato. It is extremely unlikely that his Socratic dialogues accurately reflect the words or even the general philosophical stance of the historical Socrates. Nor do they perfectly reflect Plato’s philosophy, since they’ve been translated and transcribed and mutilated and interpolated over a couple of thousand years. They’re still very valuable, of course, since they’re the best insight into Plato we’ve got, and they also give us a good idea of how later eras (who had to make do with those same corrupt copies) viewed him. But they’re not “reliable” in any sense.
    In terms of the Aeneid vs. the New Testament: The Aeneid was at least believed by the Romans to be the work of a single writer, who was very well-known in his time. It received the seal of approval from the Roman government as soon as it was completed, and very quickly became one of the most popular works of literature in the empire; schoolkids translated it for homework for the next few centuries. Under those circumstances, it would be rather difficult for someone in a later generation to sneak in a massive change; it would be like someone in 2009 circulating copies of Jane Eyre where Jane was an openly lesbian member of a biker gang. You have to figure the public would notice. And yet, as I said, we still do accept that the Aeneid was altered in various ways, starting with Vergil’s own slaves and continuing through the ages.
    The New Testament, on the other hand, is explicitly the work of many authors, most of whom were writing and circulating their texts semi-covertly. There’s a lot of competing material, like the non-synoptic gospels, that didn’t make it into the canon, and it’s not always entirely clear why. And early Christians spent a couple hundred years arguing over which texts were correct and which ones were corrupt or fictitious. Under those circumstances, it seems quite probable that the NT texts were heavily altered in the centuries after their creation.

  • Anton Mates

    Or, you know, what random atheist said.

  • inge

    thirstygirl: It’s not a bad idea but these things do tend to get high-jacked by the power-hungry, charismatic leader.
    There’s a pool of community resources lying around. These things attract vultures. (No offense to non-metaphoric vultures meant, they are useful.)

  • Froborr

    @inge: Interesting. I’d never thought of it as an aspect of the Tragedy of the Commons before, but it really is, isn’t it?

  • Hobbes

    @Anton Mates:
    There is one enormous problem with that. There are a lot of problems with the single most important story in the Gospel: the resurrection. The same sorts of things happen in each telling, but different people are involved, or they happen at different times or in a different order. The basic elements of the story (tomb is empty, the woman/women, angel(s), disciples) are there, but it’s garbled and jumbled. And John seems to spend more time focusing on totally beating Peter in a footrace than on the actual tomb. (It is critical that the basic elements are there. Nobody is asserting that there was a dragon there, or that the tomb was not empty but full of Jello, or that the body was still there and Jesus had been raised in spiritual form.)
    This is easily explainable: Each author was independently telling his take on an oral legend that everybody in his community knew. This also makes sense of the fact that none of the authors try to interpret the resurrection story (“Jesus did X to fulfill the saying by the prophet Y…”, as they try for everything else Jesus did, even his death). They don’t really make any commentary on it at all. The confused retelling of each authors – which, of course, don’t imply that nothing happened – made it into the canon, which made it down to us today. This makes sense, with the nature of history and legend. Two painters painting a portrait of the same person will produce portraits that are undeniably by that painter, but also undeniably of the same person.
    It is hard to believe that, if the church was altering documents during the next few hundred years, scholars would not have tried to alter the Gospel documents to make the resurrection stories align better. All four Gospels were considered authoritative by the author of the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatessaron"Diatessaron around 150 AD, so we can’t explain it by fragmentary distribution. Given the importance of the resurrection, and given the skeptical nature of Greek philosophy, getting the stories straight seems to us like it would be of profound importance. But it was apparently not more important than adding a few notes about the wages of sin, or something.
    Yes, there are variant readings. Lots of them. Given the sheer number of copies we have, there are thousands of them. But we have enough readings overall to deal with 99% of these. Every modern Bible not intended for basic readers has footnotes at unclear places, which say things like “other manuscripts read ____” or “this section does not appear in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts” or “Septuagint; MT reads ____”. There’s no attempt to hide that there are variant readings.
    (Also, it’s noteworthy for a different reason that, while schoolchildren may have copied the Aeneid for hundreds of years, our earliest copy – out of all those schoolchildren copies – is from 500 years later. What happened to all those documents? Time is crazy.)

  • Hobbes

    Crap. Obviously where the link starts, there’s supposed to be the word “Diatessaron”. HTML fail.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    In the subject of documents from antiquity having their details doubted, isn’t it true that Troy was thought to be fictional for a good chunk of history?
    I’m reminded of an anecdote from my history professor back in college. He was a medievalist, and he’d given a presentation at a conference. I’ll say it was a conference on military history, and his presentation was on the Hundred Years War. Afterward, a gang of civil war historians cornered him and took him to task, insisting that his conclusions were insufficiently supported, and where did he get off making such sweeping claims on the basis of sources so scant.
    A bit later, a group of Peloponnesian War scholars came up to him, clapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Man, we wish we had sources like yours.”

  • Froborr

    @Katz: I wasn’t arguing that it isn’t a correct Christian interpretation. I was arguing with Hobbes’ suggestion that it was a likely first-century Jewish interpretation.
    @Hobbes: All right, Deuteronomy 30 has me convinced, there is pre-Christian Scriptural basis for saying Sin->Death. Objections withdrawn.

    It is hard to believe that, if the church was altering documents during the next few hundred years, scholars would not have tried to alter the Gospel documents to make the resurrection stories align better.

    They did. It’s just that different scholars aligned them in different ways because they took different Gospels as authoritative, so the end result was that there was no alignment. Also keep in mind that early Christianity was far more diverse in belief than it is today (can you imagine any modern Christian sect, even one as far from the mainstream as the Mormons or the PMDs, arguing that the crucifixion was an illusion?)
    However, you’re correct that most of the changes were relatively minor ones. Keep in mind that these are sacred texts, so people were reluctant to outright change them. Still, copyists did make mistakes, and they also took it upon themselves to “correct” what they erroneously saw as mistakes. This is especially true of the early Christian copyists, who were far less likely to be trained scholars than either the later Christian or earlier Jewish copyists.
    To give you an idea of how bad a problem it was: Revelation 22:18-19 threatens copyists with damnation if they screw it up.

  • hapax

    it would be like someone in 2009 circulating copies of Jane Eyre where Jane was an openly lesbian member of a biker gang.
    Or Jane Austen with the Bennett girls as zombie fighters!
    I was arguing with Hobbes’ suggestion that it was a likely first-century Jewish interpretation.
    I repeat, Philo of Alexandria.

  • Hobbes

    It’s just that different scholars aligned them in different ways because they took different Gospels as authoritative, so the end result was that there was no alignment.
    I’m not going to let this one go by without examination. Yes, I agree that copyists did make mistakes, and they rearranged certain grammatical terms and updated what they felt were mistakes. If they did this after about 120 AD, we can know about it and can correct for it in our translations. If they did it before, then no, we can’t know.
    As for thinking different Gospels were authoritative, there’s no question that the Gospels were not, at first, evenly distributed. However, the fact that the Diatesseron (my failed link above) was written as a harmonization of the specific four Gospels we still use today means that these particular four were accepted by early church scholars fairly early. I think it was the Ethiopian church that used the Diatesseron as their sole Gospel resource for a long time, before switching over to the four individual ones. That would be very strange if the early church did not accept the same four Gospels we accept today.
    It’s always possible to speculate that there was an earlier version of a document that includes something you don’t like. Scholars do it all the time with everything from the Bible to Shakespeare. However, it’s just that: speculation. Unless somebody actually produces an earlier version of the document (which has happened in a few cases), there is little evidence for any such changes.

  • Froborr

    However, the fact that the Diatesseron (my failed link above) was written as a harmonization of the specific four Gospels we still use today means that these particular four were accepted by early church scholars fairly early.

    Except that we have other resources, some of them centuries later, which indicate that other groups accepted other Gospels. Nag Hammadi, for example.
    So all the Diatesseron shows is that some early church scholars accepted the four Gospels we use today early on. Which is perfectly consistent with my point that different scholars accepted different Gospels until the official canon was finally decided on.

  • hapax

    Froborr, the fact that certain groups accepted *additional* gospels (Thomas for example) is irrelevant to the argument that since almost all accepted those four, they must have been thought of as authoritative.
    Even more telling, those that rejected any of the four for some reason (there were a number of Christian Gnostic* groups that accepted only John, or only John and Thomas), made a specific point of discussing WHY they rejected this or that “canonical” Gospel, which indicates that they indeed held a certain status.
    As far as I know, the only other eventually-rejected NT texts that received this widespread respect of “no rejection without explanation” were Thomas (sometimes), the letters of Clement, and the Didache. And I think most modern NT scholars accord those texts the same respect as historical documents as they do to the canonical NT books.
    (I’m willing to be corrected on this latter point, though. My indepth immersion in the topic is a decade or so out of date; I’ve only kept up in a fairly dilatory fashion since I abandoned academics for the heady joys of public book-pushing)

  • Froborr

    @hapax: I have to admit that at this point we’re past where I can argue without reference materials. I do recall that Bart Ehrman makes some very strong arguments in Early Christianities that there was little to no consensus on anything between the various early churches, but the Pauline Christians slowly grew in influence over a period of two to three hundred years, before they finally became sufficiently dominant to declare the others to be heresies and wipe them out. A lot of his reasoning is based on discoveries which were fairly recent at the time of writing (early 2000s), I remember that much, but it’s been four years since I read it so I can’t give much detail.

  • hapax

    I’ve read Bart Ehrman and deeply admire him, but I must confess that his books have more than a whiff of special pleading about them sometimes. (I’d have to re-read them to give you specific cites, but oh, for example, I think he way overstates the significance of minor textual variants, considering the way that most readers actually approach text; it’s the equivalent of finding a schism in a typo)
    At this point, I do think we’ve reached the stage of arguing about subtle nuances and flavors that may not be reconciliable with the documents we have available to us — I’m going to keep seeing “poTAYto” where you see “poTAHto”, and without such differences of opinion, we would be sadly bereft of horse races.

  • Jessica

    okay. I like Slack’s Law. I just wasn’t sure if I was worthy of making up a new law. I thought I’d be able to at least get away with a corollary or something.

  • Hobbes

    I do recall that Bart Ehrman makes some very strong arguments in Early Christianities that there was little to no consensus on anything between the various early churches, but the Pauline Christians slowly grew in influence over a period of two to three hundred years, before they finally became sufficiently dominant to declare the others to be heresies and wipe them out.
    Marcion, one of the earliest “heretics” of the church who held some strongly Gnostic and Neoplatonic views, rejected all Gospels except his followers’ own variant, the Gospel of Marcion. He was particularly concerned about the Gospel to the Hebrews, which was apparently a popular contender at the time. However, he strongly favored Paul’s views as undeniable religious truth and included ten of Paul’s letters in his canon.
    So I’m not sure that 3rd century Pauline Christianity is necessarily opposed in being Pauline to all of the heresies it condemned. And furthermore, some of the “early” heresies weren’t condemned by the church for a good thousand years, but it might only be because they were small or distant.
    Also, this is neat.

  • Froborr

    Hobbes: Point re: Marcion. “Pauline” is perhaps not the best term for the group in question. Any suggestions on a clearer short term for “early Christian subsect from which modern Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant sects descend”?


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