Easter and Historical Nuance

Easter and Historical Nuance April 21, 2019

The key question of Easter is not one that historians can answer. Did God vindicate Jesus beyond death? But that doesn’t mean historical research is irrelevant to everything to do with Easter. As one example, Phillip Jenkins blogged about the ending of the Gospel of Mark, drawing much the same conclusion as I do about connections between a lost ending, the Gospel of Peter, and chapter 21 of the Gospel of John. See my book The Burial of Jesus for my views on resurrection and the limits of history.

Recognizing that history cannot answer all questions doesn’t require adopting the view that historians cannot tell us anything, with varying degrees of certainty appropriate to the evidence available.

The question of whether there was ever a historical Jesus, for instance, is most certainly susceptible to an answer by historians, who have been absolutely clear about what they conclude and why. Yet somehow atheist “skeptics” manage to reject the perspective of secular historians in the same way they reject theological claims. Once one has gotten into the habit of trusting one’s own insight and debunking skills in response to church “experts,” those skills prove remarkably easy to transfer to other realms, leading inevitably to the embrace of one or more additional conspiracy theories.

Here is what I wrote in seeking to reach a self-proclaimed “fence-sitter” about the historicity of Jesus, in response to a request for a brief presentation of the case:

I am happy to try to offer what you are looking for, and would like to at least begin conversationally, if that is OK with you, to address the question of which figures are appropriate comparisons.

First, can we agree that figure such as Roman empersors and Alexander the Great are inherently likely to leave behind more evidence, and of a different sort, than an itinerant rabbi, exorcist, and/or messianic claimant?

If so, would you agree that, even if we do not have the same sort of evidence for figures like Hillel or Akiba (two famous Jewish rabbis of the period), though that will make their historicity less certain than the minters of coins and inscribers of monuments, that does not make it inherently unlikely that they existed in and of itself? In other words, that the evidence will inevitably vary and our certainty should span a spectrum, with room for high degrees of certainty towards the ends but also varying shared throughout im between?

Could we then perhaps also agree that figures like King Arthur and Ned Ludd (and Robin Hood and John Frum and Prester John and many others) are often simply of uncertain hiistorical basis? No historian would deny that the Arthurian legends are legends, fictions plain and simple. But do we know with a high degree of confidence that they are not fictions that used a name that people recalled as that if an actual person? In other words, that the question of whether all, most, some, or little of our information about a person is even attempting to be accurate and factual, never mind succeeding, may not tell us whether or not there is a historical figure faintly visible, or obscured in all but name, from a historian’s view?

You may be detecting a pattern in this. This is all about aiming at nuance that tends to get lost not just in discussions of mythicism, but any kind of apologetics. It may seem to score points in internet debates if someone gets someone else to admit that they are not completely certain about something. But uncertainty is par for the course in historical study, and tackling this seems a necessary step before proceeding further.

What if anything would you have said differently? I continued later, once we got past some of these preliminaries:

Do you just want to dive into one of the pieces of evidence? If so, we certainly can. But it obviously requires assuming familiarity with the relevant sources.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, mentions a James that he refers to as “the brother of the Lord.” He obviously doesn’t mean “the brother of God!” Paul’s most frequent use of “Lord” is in reference to Jesus. And he cannot simply mean “James the Christian,” because even if one were to adopt the view that, like “brothers,” “brothers of the Lord” could denote Christians in general, it still would not make sense in that context, since in both places (also in the Corinthian correspondence) where Paul mentions brothers of the Lord, it is in distinction from other Christians. Is there a more likely meaning, then, than that he meant the literal siblings of Jesus in these instances? And if there were individuals in the early Jesus movement (not yet even called “Christianity” at this stage) who were known as the brothers of Jesus, and this claim was accepted even by people like Paul who disagreed with them, is it not more probable than not that these were in fact siblings of Jesus? Is the alternative not to pose some kind of conspiracy of a family to concoct a fictitious sibling?

Even if one were inclined to do that, then we’d have the character of the claims made about this Jesus. The Davidic anointed one was the awaited king that it was hoped would restore his dynasty to the throne and usher in a golden age of one sort or another. Being crucified pretty much disqualified you from being the person in question. Is it probable that a group that was concocting a message about the long-awaited king, which they planned to proclaim to others in order to persuade them to believe, would also invent that this individual was executed and thus at least apparently a failure and a thoroughly implausible candidate for the role?

All of these pieces and others fit together, just as the evidence for evolution does. I’m sure you know, if you’ve ever debated with an antievolutionist of some sort, that although there are individual pieces of evidence that are extremely compelling, it is really the overall picture that emerged from the evidence considered in totality that makes the conclusion so solid. I will also add that I am in no sense making this comparison so as to suggest that conclusions about biological processes that we can observe today and which have left lots of evidence are comparable in probability to conclusions historians draw about ancient people. On the contrary! Indeed, it is that very point that I sometimes find lies at the core of some people’s adherence to mythicism. They simply don’t realize that, whether we’re dealing with Socrates or Jesus, our evidence is texts, and in both cases texts that contain stories that we judge largely fictional. They can still provide a reason for judging these figures’ historicity to be more probable than not.

The conversation continued. Again, I have questions – in particular, how effective can an appeal of this sort be when someone is not well-informed not only about early Christian literature (except as Christian scripture) and not familiar with the broad historical and literary context in which Christianity appeared? The fact that the blog in question has lots of commenters who are mythicists and use popular internet “debate” tactics didn’t help.

Of related interest, see Bob Cargill on the problems of the census in Luke’s Gospel. We can tell (or indeed presume) infancy narratives are not historical without even investigating in detail. We find comparable infancy stories for historical figures throughout ancient literature. See too Chris Keith’s lecture about the Gospels and their historical accuracy or otherwise.

My analogy with the Dissent from Darwin list also came up in the discussion on that other blog about consensus. On that topic, see this meme I made some time ago:

And finally, for those who had the patience to read this far, a mythicist claimed to comment on “the state of scholarly mythicism.”

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  • The Burial of Jesus was a great help to me in understanding the boundaries between what I can affirm speaking historically (as a “historian,” using that term for myself very very loosely) and what I affirm on the basis of faith commitments, hope, etc.

  • John MacDonald

    I can give my two cents on Carrier’s mythicism, for what it’s worth (not much, lol, but I try)

    The two key points around which Carrier’s massive mythicist tome “On The Historicity of Jesus” seem to falter are (1) The James, the brother of the Lord passage in Paul, and (2) The reference in Paul of Jesus being from the seed of David. These two topics show Carrier at his most creative, but seemingly also encountering his biggest problems.

    (1) Carrier says the James, the brother of the Lord passage in Galatians is the only evidence he counts in favor of historicity, and in fact 2:1. The reason he doesn’t count this passage in favor of historicity in his final calculations is that he says “brother” could just as well mean a cultic title of “non apostolic baptized Christian,” so Carrier says Paul would have needed to qualify what he meant with something like “brother of the lord

    according to the flesh

    ” if Paul meant historicity. Carrier has to say/interpret the phrase as “non-apostolic” because in Galatians James is being distinguished from Cephas, so Carrier has to reject that Cephas is a brother of the lord. Carrier points out that Paul says Jesus is the “firstborn of many bretheren (Romans 8:29),” and so Paul calling James a brother of the lord in no way implies he is a sibling.

    Do you see where Carrier has painted himself into a “contra-diction” here? How can Jesus be the firstborn of many bretheren, and yet Cephas not be one of those many bretheren? Clearly, Cephas has to be one of the bretheren (Romans 8:29), but this is what Carrier can’t allow because the James passage in Galatians explicitly contrasts James with Cephas on the point of being a brother of the lord. It would be like talking about the pope and some average Christian, but saying the pope wasn’t a Christian. Carrier’s mythicist interpretation of the James passage in Galatians is clearly wrong. Given the premises Carrier lays out, “brother” must mean blood relative here.

    (2) The second passage that sends Carrier into mental contortions is trying to explain away the passage in Paul where Paul says Jesus is of the seed of David. There would seem to be no way around the point that Jesus was from David’s line, because Jesus is universally interpreted as a Davidic Messiah. Carrier’s response? He points to what he sees as an ambiguity in the Greek where Paul says Jesus is “made” of the seed of David (the same word Paul uses for Adam’s making – and that Carrier sees that Paul’s point is that Jesus was born of a woman only in a metaphorical sense), and speculates God attained a sample of David’s sperm, held it in a cosmic sperm bank, and later fashioned a celestial Jesus out of the sperm! What evidence does Carrier cite from Paul’s text to support this fantastic magical process? None, because there is none. What historical analogy does he point to to support this reading? None, the God of the Hebrews has no record of such magical fashioning. What of the word “made?” The usual, simple explanation here is the idea of God forming/making in the womb, such as with:

    (A) Isaiah 44:24 English Standard Version (ESV)
    24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
    who formed you from the womb:
    “I am the Lord, who made all things,
    who alone stretched out the heavens,
    who spread out the earth by myself,

    (B) Jeremiah 1:5 English Standard Version (ESV)
    5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    and before you were born I consecrated you;
    I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

    How does Carrier respond to the usual reading here? He doesn’t.

    As best as I can see, these seem to be the two key topics that provide some of the biggest stumbling block’s for Carrier’s mythicism. On the one hand, Carrier has painted himself into the “contra-diction” that Cephas both is, and isn’t, a brother of the lord, and Carrier has to invent the miraculous event of God obtaining sperm from David even though nothing in the text or Hebrew tradition points to this reading.

    Interpretive models, whether in textual hermeneutics or scientific hermeneutics, stand and fall depending on how they deal with apparently recalcitrant evidence. You can have a large mass of observational evidence/experimentation compatible with a particular explanatory framework in science, but it only takes a small amount of significant recalcitrant evidence that the interpretive framework can’t appropriate that will threaten to disconfirm the framework. I propose that the issues of “brother of the lord” and “seed of David” in Paul are just such recalcitrant, disconfirming evidence when considering mythicism as an interpretive model that Carrier proposes.

    I think Carrier is the best of the mythicists, in that he really does try to tease out the implications of what he is writing, but I also think that in doing so we can see that his mythicist interpretive model is untenable, which is to say invalidated by the recalcitrant evidence..

    • I still don’t understand why anyone (including Carrier) thinks that Paul is making a distinction between Peter and James with the phrase “brother of the Lord.” I think Paul is just trying to let the Galatians know which James it was he met on that first visit to Jerusalem. There was only one Peter, but James seems to have been a common name in the early church, so Paul needed to provide additional information lest the Galatians think that he met James the son of Zebedee, James the son of Alpheaus, or any other person named James who might have been around at the time.

      • John MacDonald

        Maybe these thoughts from Ehrman will help. Ehrman doesn’t bring out Carrier’s contra-diction explicitly as I do with Romans vs. Galatians, but he gives some helpful interpretive suggestions. Ehrman writes:

        Yesterday I explained that in the New Testament “brother” can mean either a literal “blood brother” or a “spiritual brother” – that is, someone who is connected by common bonds of affection or perspective to another, a person who is sympatico with another. The simplest Mythicist solution to the claim that James was Jesus’ brother is to say that this is what it means. James was in tune with the heavenly Christ so much that he was his “brother.”

        I’ve shown why that doesn’t work in Galatians 1:18-19, where James is called Jesus’ brother. It’s because the term is used to *differentiate* James from Cephas, to identify him in a way that clarified his distinctive relationship with Jesus, indicating what he was that Cephas was not. But no one can think that Cephas / Peter was not also Jesus’ “brother” in this spiritual sense. So the interpretation doesn’t work.

        Carrier provides an important bit of nuance to the claim that in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul is not talking about a literal blood-brother of Jesus named James, but a kind of spiritual brother. In Carrier’s view, Paul uses the term “brother” to apply to someone who was baptized as Christian (and therefore sympatico with the heavenly Christ) but who was NOT at the same time an apostle. And so James was not an apostle, but was a “baptized Christian” (i.e., “brother”). But Cephas, from whom he is differentiated in the passage, WAS an apostle (and therefore NOT merely a “brother”).

        And so that’s why Paul says what he does. When he went to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, he met with Cephas and James, the brother of the Lord. In other words, he met with an apostle and a non-apostolic person who could be differentiated from the apostle because he (a) was not an apostle but (b) was in a close relationship with the heavenly Christ as a baptized person. That solves the problem, right?

        Well, it may seem to do so, until you actually look closely at the passage and think about it a bit. First thing to say: nowhere in Paul’s writings, in the rest of the New Testament, or in any writing of all of early Christianity is there anywhere that you find a two-pronged definition of “brother” as someone who was (a) baptized but (b) not an apostle.

        Moreover, what would make someone think that this is what Paul means by “brother”? In fact, when Paul uses the term brother, he simply means to all those who have been baptized into the body of Christ. They all belong to the same family. They are brothers *with* Paul. Notice: Paul himself was an apostle. But the Christians are *his* brothers. That means he is *their* brother. That means he is both an apostle and a brother, not an apostle and therefore not a brother.

        Think about it a bit further: brothers and sisters are all related to one another by a close bond. Are we supposed to think that Paul would not call Cephas his “brother in Christ”?

        But there is even a stronger argument that this unusual definition cannot be right. It involves what Paul actually says in Galatians 1:18-19. I’m afraid this is a killer from Carrier’s argument. Recall Paul’s exact words:

        18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.

        Whom did Paul visit and see? Cephas. And no other apostle EXCEPT James the Lord’s brother. In other words, James is the only other apostle Paul saw, except Cephas. He is telling us that James is an apostle. But he is also the Lord’s brother. And so Carrier’s definition (brother = baptized person not an apostle) simply doesn’t work. What differentiates James from Cephas is not that he, unlike Cephas, is a non-apostle. What differentiates him from Cephas is the fact that he, unlike Cephas, is actually Jesus’ brother. See https://ehrmanblog.org/carrier-and-james-the-brother-of-jesus/

        Elsewhere Ehrman says:

        That is absolutely fundamental to any understanding of who the historical man Simon bar Jona (i.e., Simon son of Jonah, Cephas, Peter) was. And it is the death knell for anyone who thinks that when Paul speaks of “James the Lord’s brother” he is not speaking literally. Because in Galatians 1:18-19 he indicates he met with two people, Cephas and the Lord’s brother (the latter description being used to contrast this person, James, from others in the Jerusalem church – including Cephas! In the Mythicist reading, the reason he calls James the Lord’s brother is because he was one who was especially close to Jesus spiritually. But that doesn’t make sense, when he is speaking about both Cephas and James. In this spiritual sense, they are both the Lord’s brothers. As are all the “brothers” of the Christian church.

        That’s why the verse has always been read to mean that James was literally Jesus’ brother. Otherwise, you would have to say that James was not Jesus’ blood-brother, but was spiritually close to him, unlike Cephas (since his being Jesus’ brother is what makes him stand out as distinct). But Cephas was Jesus’ best friend and most intimate disciple. So that doesn’t seem to work.

        I should point out that Jesus is said to have a physical, literal, blood-brother James in a large number of other early Christian texts (including the Gospel of Mark). If Jesus was known to have brothers, one of whom was James, and Paul speaks about Jesus’ brother, James, precisely to differentiate this person from others in Jerusalem, including his right hand man Peter, then why would you think that he doesn’t simply mean “blood brother”? (That’s what makes this person stand out from Cephas and the others.) There’s only one reason: it’s because you are firmly committed to the view that Jesus never existed, and as one who never existed, he could not have a blood brother. That’s the Mythicist position. In my view they have to twist this text in order to fit their agenda, trying to make it mean something other than it almost certainly seems to mean in the context of Paul’s discussion. See https://ehrmanblog.org/james-the-brother-of-the-lord/ See

        N.B. I write conta-diction with the hyphen because I want to highlight the contrariety of contra-dicere. I usually reserve the term “contradiction” for formal contradictions like a four sided triangle or a married bachelor.

        • I’ve read Ehrman’s explanation before, and it doesn’t make any sense to me either. Given that Paul says in the next chapter that “what they were makes no difference to me,” I can’t see why Paul would care enough about such distinctions to point them out to his readers.

          On the other hand, it would have been perfectly logical for Paul to want his readers to know which James it was that he me. Using “brother of the Lord” to distinguish James from James the son of Zebedee or James the son of Alphaeus (a point about which his Galatian readers might logically be confused) makes much more sense than using it to distinguish James from Peter (about which there would have been no confusion).

    • John MacDonald

      One last thought regarding Carrier on this issue. As Ehrman points out, Carrier is well aware that in Galatians Paul is referring to James as a “brother of the lord” in a sense that Cephas is not. Carrier’s solution? Carrier says Paul means James, unlike Cephas, is a brother in the sense of a “non apostolic baptized Christian.” Does this solve the problem? No, Carrier is quite clearly wrong. As I mentioned above, Paul says Jesus is the first born among many brothers (Romans 8:29). Accordingly, if we were to stick with Carrier’s interpretation, we would be reduced to the absurdity that Jesus is a brother, the non-apostolic baptized Christians were brothers, but the apostles were not brothers. So, Carrier is wrong. Brother as sibling is the only option that makes sense here.

      • I would say that Carrier is not aware that Paul is referring to James as “brother of the Lord” in a sense that Cephas is not. He truly thinks that Paul is saying that Cephas is an Apostle and a Christian, while James is just a Christian. I obviously don’t know enough about Greek grammar to know whether that is a reasonable interpretation of what Paul wrote, but I have no trouble thinking of analogous situations:

        I talked to the city councilman John Smith and Mike Jones who is just a resident–no reason to think that the councilman is not also a resident.

        I met Tom the assistant manager and an employee named Bob–no reason to think that the assistant manager is not also an employee.

        I ran into Father O’Malley and a parishioner, Mrs. McMahon–no reason to think that Father O’Malley is not also a parishioner.

        I listened to City Prosecutor Johnson and attorney Williams–no reason to think that Mr. Johnson is not also an attorney.

        I still think it’s more logical to think that Paul is distinguishing James from other Jameses, rather than from Cephas. Nevertheless, I think that it’s logically possible for Paul to be distinguishing James from Cephas without implying that Cephas isn’t a brother of the Lord as well.

        • Given that Paul only uses “brother(s) of the Lord” in two instances, both of which seem to refer to people with special roles like his own rather than Christians in general, this seems like a stretch.

          Do you really think that your suggestion here is more likely than the way academics understand the phrase?!

          • I didn’t make any suggestion. I was simply explaining what I understand Carrier’s position to be. I certainly didn’t say that I think that it is more likely than any other position.

        • John MacDonald

          2 things:

          (1) As you may have noticed, your thoughts on Carrier struck me and prompted me to do further reading, and I have come to realize that I don’t have a problem with Carrier’s hypothesis on this point of James, the brother of the Lord in Galatians. Why? Given that Paul uses “brother of the lord” to refer to non-apostolic baptized Christians in other contexts, and the oddity the grammatical construction would be to simply suggest James was an apostle (as opposed to simply saying “I met the apostles Cephas and James), I now have no problem accepting as a possibility that the Galatians passage about James could be creatively and interpretively translated in a non literal way as “I met with apostle Cephas, and no one else except Brother James.” This doesn’t mean the biological reading is wrong, but that I think Carrier has a possibility here. In my attempts, I was apparently not refuting Carrier, but rather attacking a straw man by uncritically and dogmatically accepting Ehrman’s interpretation of Carrier, which I would have known was incorrect if I had just re-read Carrier’s response to Ehrman’s interpretation.

          (2) Regarding your nickname hypothesis of the James passage in Galatians: Your comments have prompted me to do further reflection, and upon that reflection I am willing to concede you have a reasonable possibility. To be fair to where I was coming from, it seems odd to the modern ear to say something like: “I went to the central mosque in the holy land, and saw Imam Amir, as well as Abrahim, Muhammad the Muslim, Farshad, and Archana.” That’s sort of where I was coming from. However, on further reflection, as you point out, to the ancient ear I must concede that this would be no different than I saw “Simon the Zealot,” and you also make good points about “James” being called “The Just” even if there are other very just Christians. This all fits in nicely with Price’s historical analogy of the Chinese ruler who had the nickname “The Little Brother of Jesus.”

          So, Vinny, on those two points, I concede that I was wrong, and thus you have beaten me in open, freestyle debate. I graciously admit that I have lost, and so walk away in shame (with my tail between my legs), lol! But like Rocky losing to Apollo Creed in Rocky 1, I will prepare harder and smarter next time and will be back!

          • Wow!

            Thank you John.

            I am both stunned and touched. Usually when I realize that I am wrong, I just drop out of the conversation, hoping that no one will notice. The one time I remember admitting a mistake, I never heard the end of it (until I blocked the guy from commenting on my blog).

            One of the things I always loved about Ehrman’s books was how fairly and accurately he portrayed the counter-arguments. Any time I saw a sentence that began with “What Ehrman doesn’t tell you is . . ,” I was confident that when I checked his book, I would find that he had in fact dealt with the issue. I assume this was because, having been on the other side, he could always anticipate his opponent’s responses.

            I don’t think that Ehrman is intentionally misrepresenting Carrier. It’s just that he’s never immersed himself in mythicism the way he’s immersed himself in the other topics he’s written about. When I read Did Jesus Exist? I didn’t feel that he had any idea what counters the mythicists might make to his arguments.

          • John MacDonald

            Hey Vinny!

            Sorry for taking so long to respond. Thanks for your kind remarks!

            I have no problem conceding when I’ve lost an argument, especially when it involves being receptive to new possibilities that I’ve previously uncritically, dogmatically dismissed. Baseball superstars are only successful at the plate 1/3 of the time, meaning they put their tails between their legs and go back to the pen in defeat most of the time. Similarly, there is no shame when hockey superstars “leave it all on the ice” in a loss. There is no such thing as a mixed martial arts champion who hasn’t tasted defeat.

            Besides, “loss” is a relative term. Did Darth Sidious really lose to Mace Windu when Windu’s victory accomplished Sidious turning Anakin to the Dark Side, and Sidious’s disfigurement at the hands of Windu helping persuade the Senate that the Jedi were trying to take over? For me, if we have encountered a new hermeneutical Derridean interpretive framework of occasional, to use Derrida’s technical term for it, indecideability, where, in interpreting the James passage in Galatians, the (i) “non apostolic Baptized Christian” and (ii) “nickname” models are considered EQUIPLAUSIBLE (how’s that for a neologism !) with the (iii) “biological brother” interpretation, imagine how much less implausible my favorite pet speculation about “The Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins ( see http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html ) must be!


            THE Indifferent MUSE:

            The Muse Inspires / Indifferent to The Truth / Let us never Confuse / The Force of our Convictions / With the Strength of our Arguments.
            (A poem by me!)


            “The Dark Side is a path to many abilities some consider to be unnatural (Darth Sidious)”

            “If one is to understand the great mystery, one must study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic, narrow view of the Jedi. (Darth Sidious).”


            “Deconstructive interpretation is Justice in that it brings weight/respect to marginalized points of view (adapted from Jacques Derrida)”

  • In 1 Corinthians 1:12, Paul speaks about different factions in the church: “[E]ach one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’”

    Interestingly, he designates the last faction with a phrase (“of Christ”) that presumably applies to all the other factions equally well. Apparently, a phrase that could logically be applied to all Christians could still be used to designate a particular subset of the Christian church. I assume that this worked because his readers understood to which faction Paul was referring.

    By the same token, “brothers of the Lord”—with “brothers” being used in a spiritual sense—might have been used to identify a particular subset of the Christian church even though all Christians might be brothers of the Lord in the spiritual sense. All that matters is that Paul’s readers knew which group was being designated by the term.

    • John MacDonald

      So your argument stands on the speculation (since Paul never says it) that all Christians were brothers of the lord (as per Romans 8:29), while only certain Christians were brother of the lord?

      • Would you agree that Paul appears to be designating a particular group of Christians in 1 Corinthians 1:12 with a term (“of Christ”) that logically could have applied to all Christians?

        • John MacDonald

          The passage says that people were calling themselves Christians after the kind of Paul, and after the kind of Apollos, and after the kind preached by Cephas, and those who thought they were Christ purists. In Galatians, we are not talking about what people were calling themselves in terms of leader affiliation, but rather Cephas and James, both who were apostles, but only one was a brother of the Lord.

          • Does that mean you agree or you don’t?

          • John MacDonald

            Sure, but your analogy doesn’t apply to Galatians because the James mentioned there doesn’t belong to a sub-group called “brothers of the lord,” but rather belongs to a sub-group called “apostles,” along with Cephas. Recall that Ehrman pointed out:

            Whom did Paul visit and see? Cephas. And no other apostle EXCEPT James the Lord’s brother. In other words, James is the only other apostle Paul saw, except Cephas. He is telling us that James is an apostle. But he is also the Lord’s brother. And so Carrier’s definition (brother = baptized person not an apostle) simply doesn’t work. What differentiates James from Cephas is not that he, unlike Cephas, is a non-apostle. What differentiates him from Cephas is the fact that he, unlike Cephas, is actually Jesus’ brother.

            So, as is clear from the text, James does not belong to a cultic subset of Christians called “brothers of the lord,” but rather to the cultic subset called “apostles,” and so his being a “brother of the lord” does not refer to a cultic sub-group, but rather that he is a sibling. And this reflects what we know from the gospels, namely, that Jesus had a brother named James.

          • As I noted above, I don’t agree with Ehrman. I don’t think that Paul is seeking to distinguish James from Cephas in Galatians 1:9 because I cannot see any logical purpose for him to do so in the context of the letter. I think that Paul is distinguishing James from any other James who might have been in Jerusalem at the time of that visit for the perfectly logical purpose of having the Galatians know which James it was that he met.

          • John MacDonald

            Do you agree the James in Galatians was an apostle?

          • I think it’s ambiguous. He could mean “The only apostle other than Peter that I met was James.” On the other hand, he could mean, “I didn’t meet any apostles besides Peter. The only other person I met was James.” I cant tell which it is.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said

            I don’t think that Paul is seeking to distinguish James from Cephas in Galatians 1:9 because I cannot see any logical purpose for him to do so in the context of the letter

            Couldn’t the reason be that Paul wanted to impress his readers with the fact that not only was he important enough to meet with the great Cephas, but he even met with Jesus’ brother James!

          • That seems unlikely to me since he insists in the next chapter that their status as “pillars” means nothing to him.

          • John MacDonald

            There is evidence Paul was aware of the prestige and reputation of the Jerusalem bunch, and wanted the approval of the Jerusalem bunch, such as the “Polite Bribe,” Paul’s collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Paul seemed to have an inferiority complex, which would make sense of some of his bombastic statements, such as “Am I not an apostle, have I not seen the Lord!?,” since he was seemingly protesting that he was on the same footing as those apostles who actually knew Christ in life. If Paul didn’t feel he had to live up to the resumes of those who had the credentials of actually knowing Jesus in real life, why would he have to construct an argument defending his position that he should have the rights and honors of an apostle? Paul was unsure that his message bore the full weight of apostolic clout, and so he was always second guessing himself, such as repeatedly protesting that he was not lying.

          • I think that it is reasonable to infer that the Jerusalem bunch had some sort of leverage over Paul. Otherwise, I think Paul might have broken with them. I am not convinced that Paul was unsure of himself or that he had an inferiority complex, but I think he did view himself as under some obligation to maintain fellowship with them. (In fact, I think a historical Jesus might help explain why Paul didn’t think he could break with them.)

            In any case, it also seems clear that Paul was reluctant to acknowledge the hold that the Jerusalem bunch had over him. This seems especially true in the letter to the Galatians where he claims that there status meant nothing to him and that he learned nothing from them. Hence, I think it unlikely that Galatians 1:9 had anything to do with delineating the relative status of Cephas and James.

          • John MacDonald

            What is your take on why Paul was concerned people might think him inferior to the Jerusalem apostles? For instance, “Am I not an apostle, have I not seen the lord?” Is the simplest explanation not that the other apostles had a qualification that Paul didn’t, that they had the pedigree of having known Jesus, and so who better than them to preach a message about Jesus?

          • The Jerusalem apostles were his predecessors in the movement, which might be enough to explain it. On the other hand, that doesn’t seem to me to be enough to explain why Paul didn’t just break with them. I think that they might have had some greater claim, which could have had something to do with some connection to an earthly Jesus.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            If Paul is using the phrase “brother of the Lord” to identify which James he is referring to, this makes your assertion that “brother of the Lord” refers to some group or organisation in early Christianity decidedly odd, since “Jesus’s brother” clearly identifies who you are talking about as a well known biographical fact and serves its purpose as an identifier, whereas “one of the Brothers of the Lord sect” could refer to any number of James’s and (given thus alleged sect / group seems somewhat obscure) there is no way he could be sure that those he was writing to would even be aware which James’s were of this faction.

          • I agree that “Jesus’ brother” would clearly identify a particular James and that it would be a perfectly logical reason for Paul to identify him as “James the brother of the Lord.”

            Nevertheless, the utitilty of a designation like “brother of the Lord” does not depend on the hearer understanding the reason for the designation: it only depends on the hearer knowing which person is being designated. I.e, it’s a matter of convention. “Thomas the Twin” designates a particular person regardless of the hearer’s knowledge of why he was designated “the Twin.” The same holds true of “Simon the Zealot,” “Simon Peter (the Rock),” and “James the Just.” Neither the hearer nor the speaker needs to know why a particular person has a particular designation, only that a particular designation applies to a particular person.

            I believe that Paul uses the term “brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19 simply because the Galatians knew which James that term identified. How that term came to identify that particular James–be it a biological relationship, a cultic title, self-labeling–is a different question. The Galatians knowing why he was known by that name isn’t a prerequisite to its use. For that matter, Paul knowing why isn’t either.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            Well yes, but it’s utility as an identifier is dependent on its uniqueness. The only other explanation advanced for the term is that it is a designation of some Christian group or faction, and if it were, it would not serve its purpose as an identifier. You are basically arguing from your conclusions – it has to mean something other than what it plainly does mean because Jesus, not existing, can’t have had a brother, so you are then engaging in pure speculation about some weird and wonderful explanation as to how you can still be right despite the actual evidence available.

          • Those are not my conclusions. The fact that you are convinced that they are indicates to me that you don’t actually understand what I’m saying.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            Having seen your other posts you are relying I think on 1 Corinthians 9:5 as indicating that there are more than one “brothers of the Lord”, which seems reasonable. They would still need to be small in number to be a useful identifier, however. What I don’t follow from this passage is why it doesn’t refer to Jesus biological brothers, of which the Gospels record the tradition that there were several. Nothing in the verse indicates them travelling around in a group, only that more than one were active in the Christian movement, and that they had wives would have been the norm, Paul identifying himself as an exception in this case. It’s possible “brothers of the Lord” meant something else, but there’s no reason to believe so, particularly as Church tradition and external sources also identify James as Jesus’s biological brother.
            We are again back to avoiding the obvious meaning for no identifiable reason.

          • Luke-Act does not identify James as Jesus’s biological brother.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            No, but it does reference James as the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and Paul references James as Jesus’s brother.
            It has occurred to me that Paul’s reference to James as “the brother of the Lord” may be to distinguish him from the other two Jameses, James son of Zebedee and brother to John and James the son of Alpheus, when telling the Corinthians who he met in Jerusalem.
            James is named as one of four brothers of Jesus in Mark / Matthew.

          • I agree with you. I think that “brother of the Lord” was intended to let the Galatians know which James he met on that first visit to Jerusalem. I doubt that the Galatians could have known who was in Jerusalem during a two-week window years earlier, they probably knew of other men named James–such as the son of Zebedee and the son of Alphaeus–who were part of the movement at the time. As it was a common name, there could have been others as well.

            Mark and Matthew do affirm that Jesus had a biological brother named James, but neither of them even hints that any of Jesus’ brothers had anything to do with his ministry or the movement that arose after his death. Luke, on the other hand, declines to name any of Jesus’ siblings despite using Mark as a source, and he declines to identify the James in Acts 15 as one of Jesus’ biological siblings.

            Based on his prologue, the author of Luke/Acts seem to view himself as writing the definitive account that would supercede earlier accounts of the life of Jesus. Ergo, when he departs from his sources on some point, I think that the most likely reason would be that he thinks his sources were wrong.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            That’s one heck of a stretch – we have multiple sources testifying to James being Jesus’s brother, inside and outside of the NT, not one saying he wasn’t, or identifying any other meaning for “brother of the Lord” and you conclude that he wasn’t purely because one source omits to say he was?
            Apart from this do you have any reason at all for thinking James wasn’t Jesus’s brother, or is that it?

          • Where do you see multiple sources? We have Mark and Matthew who tell us that Jesus had a brother named James but give us no reason to think that he played any role in his brother’s movement. We have Josephus who discusses a James who was a brother of Jesus, but also says nothing to suggest that he was associated with his brother’s movement. Then we have Paul and Luke, who discuss a man named James who was an important figure in the movement in Jerusalem. Paul identifies this many as “the brother of the Lord.” Luke does not identify him as the biological brother of Jesus despite having a source that told him that Jesus had a brother with than name.

            I don’t see that as particularly conclusive evidence. I would also question why that James came to be known as “James the Just” if in fact everyone knew that he was really the biological brother of Jesus.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            What has “conclusive” got to do with it? I get the impression that you are simply not engaging in ordinary, objective historical analysis here. In every other field of ancient history, if a genuine copy of an exactly contemporary work had survived, let alone more than one, where the author was in a position to know and stated plainly that so-and-so was so-and-so’s brother, in the absence of clear, or even any, contradictory evidence, my understanding is that that would be accepted uncontroversially as being so without a second thought. Why is there an issue here?
            (This obviously has the obvious unstated caveat of “according to the best evidence currently available”, but this is true of every accepted historical “fact”.)

          • By “conclusive,” I mean sufficiently strong that it’s reasonable to discount or ignore other possibilities. I don’t judge that to be the case here for several reasons.

            I don’t know whether Paul was in a position to know who Jesus’ biological siblings were. Nowhere in any of his letters does he indicate that he knew anyone who knew Jesus personally. Paul credits his knowledge of the resurrected Christ to scripture and revelation, and he never indicates that anyone he knew had any other source of information.

            I don’t know whether we have a genuine copy of Galatians. The earliest extant manuscript of Galatians dates to the early third century. I cannot know what alterations might have been made during that first century and a half.

            Paul never states plainly that “James is Jesus’ brother.” He refers to him as “James the brother of the Lord.” As far as I can tell, whenever Paul uses the term “Lord,” he is referring to the resurrected Christ rather than the earthly Jesus, and whenever he uses the term “brother,” he is referring to a spiritual relationship rather that a biological one. Indeed, I think that Paul thinks that spiritual relationships are the only ones that matter.

            I don’t think that historians ever accept anything without a second thought. I think they know that the only way to increase certainty is by corroboration. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone other than a New Testament scholar thinking that Galatians 1:19 establishes the historicity of Jesus beyond doubt.

          • Gary

            “we have multiple sources testifying to James being Jesus’s brother, inside and outside of the NT, not one saying he wasn’t, or identifying any other meaning for “brother of the Lord””
            Not necessarily true. The First Revelation of James says (Jesus speaking) “For not without reason have I called you my brother, though you are not physically my brother.”

            And yes – The Second Revelation of James (James the Just) says he is his “stepbrother”, and both texts were later (2nd century).
            But regardless, some people at the time did not think James was Jesus’ biological brother. Some people did. Same as today.

          • John MacDonald

            I agree. Vinny’s position of Paul identifying James with the nickname “brother of the lord” without any further qualification would be inherently confusing because that wouldn’t distinguish the James Paul was talking about from all the other Jameses in the movement who were brothers. Paul would have had to qualify his statement with something like “James, the brother of the lord, who you know” …

          • The only way it would be confusing is if the Galatians didn’t know which James was known as “the brother of the Lord.”

          • John MacDonald

            That’s the whole point. Every Christian James would be a “brother of the lord,” so how would the Galatians know which James was being referred to?

          • They would know the same way people knew which Simon was “Simon the Zealot” and which was “Simon the Rock.” They would know the same way that people knew who “James the Just” was and who “Thomas the Twin” was. It’s just a matter of convention.

            As you agreed above, everyone in Corinth knew which faction was identified as being “of Christ” even though all the factions were “of Christ.” Similarly, people could know which James was known as “the brother of the Lord” even though other men named “James” were also brothers of the Lord in a spiritual sense.

          • John MacDonald

            I am not persuaded yet of your nickname argument as a reasonable possibility. There seems to be a difference from the point of view of reader understanding in calling Simon “the Zealot” in the context of listing the apostles where only Simon among the apostles has that appellation, and doing as you suggest and calling James by the nickname “the brother of the lord” in a general Christian context where every other James is also a “brother of the lord” as per Romans 8:29. It seems that Paul writing in such a way as you suggest would just engender confusion as to which James Paul is referring to.

          • It wouldn’t create any confusion as long as the Galatians knew which James bore that appellation.

          • John MacDonald

            All Christian Jameses bore that appellation!

          • No they didn’t. We have no reason to think that any other James was ever known as “the brother of the Lord.” It is reasonable to think that may other men of that name could be considered to be brothers of the Lord in a spiritual sense. It is also reasonable to think that many other men of that name were just men, but that didn’t prevent “James the Just” from being a useful moniker.

          • John MacDonald


            As best as I can judge, I think that finishes the argument, because It seems highly probable that all Jameses who were Christians were understood as “James, the brother of the lord,” as implied by Romans 8:29. So, It looks as if you’ve painted yourself into a contra-diction.

            As I said above, following Iain Lovejoy’s lead, for you to be right Paul would have had to qualify what he was saying with something like “James, the brother of the lord, who has long lived with you here.” Just saying “brother of the lord” would engender confusion. So, in my assessment, you have lost the argument. I will bow out now, but I might chime in again if my assessment changes. Thanks for debating Vinny! It’s always fun!

          • I have not been impressed with your ability to judge what finishes an argument and what doesn’t.

        • Paul isn’t designating them with that term. They are designating themselves. They are the ones saying, “I am of Christ.” So, a particular group of Corinthians were designating themselves with a term that could logically apply to all Christians.

          That doesn’t establish it’s a literary practice of Paul’s, though.

          • I agree, but I don’t think that it’s a question of Paul’s literary practice, beyond a practice of identifying people and groups with the terms that his readers knew them by.

            There was a faction in Corinth that identified itself as something like “followers of Christ” as opposed to others who called themselves “followers of Paul,” “followers of Cephas,” or “followers of Apollos.” Paul did not give them that designation. Rather, he used it because he knew that the Corinthians would know which faction he was talking about. By the same token, I don’t believe that Paul was the one who designated James as “the brother of the Lord.” I think he used the designation because it was one that the Galatians would recognize.

          • John MacDonald

            Notice how none of those factions identified at Corinth were “Brothers of the Lord” …

          • “Brothers of the Lord” is used to identify some group in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 9:5.

            The tradition that James was the biological brother of Jesus is attested to by many sources from the second century onward, including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel According to the Hebrews. As far as I am aware, there is no tradition anywhere concerning a group of Jesus’ biological brothers traveling about together as missionaries with their wives. Lacking any such corroboration, I think that I have to be open to the possibility that “the brothers of the Lord” was simply a particular group of Christians known to the Corinthians by that name.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            I don’t get how you can read 1 Corinthians 9:5 as identifying “brothers of the Lord” as a group at Corinth. All the others mentioned are as rival authorities to Paul within the wider church who might expect Christian groups such as the Corinthians to provide them support. It’s difficult to see why Paul would be referencing a faction within the Corinthian congregation here.

          • Possibly. I suspect that the group of Corinthians who said, “I am of Christ,” if they were not hypothetical, were probably distancing themselves from the other groups who were picking a “leader” who was not Jesus. Christian communities will do this, today. “No creed but Christ,” and so on.

            But that’s neither here nor there. If Paul points out that some Corinthians are saying that, and by doing so is talking about a group that other Corinthians would recognize even if, in theory, people saying, “I am of Christ” could describe a variety of Christians, then that proves the use of the designation means something unique. The people Paul calls out are saying, “I am of Christ,” and in the context of Paul’s address, that -differentiates- them from anyone else who might possibly say the same thing.

            When Paul talks about the people who say, “I am of Christ,” the Corinthians don’t go, “Who is he talking about? We all say that. We’re ALL of Christ!” They know who, specifically, he means.

            So, if calling James “the brother of the Lord” was something the Galatians would recognize in specific, then that establishes that Paul is using “the brother of the Lord” in a sense that would differentiate him from anyone else one might call “the brother of the Lord.” The readers are not intended to go, “Why did Paul call James that? Aren’t we all brothers of the Lord?” James is the brother of the Lord in a sense that differentiates him from everyone else who might theoretically be called “the brother of the Lord,” and the most parsimonious explanation is that James was actually the brother of the Lord and the others weren’t.

          • I agree that it’s a parsimonious explanation for why that James came to be known by the term “the brother of the Lord.”

            I disagree that use of that term depended on James being the Lord’s brother in a sense that was different from anyone else being a “brother of the Lord.” Later that same man was known as “James the Just,” but knowing him by that term doesn’t require that he was just in any way that differed from anyone else who was considered just. We don’t have any reason to think that Simon the Zealot was any more zealous (or any more of a Zealot) than anyone else who might have been considered zealous. The designations were matters of convention that were useful simply due to a shared understanding of whom was being designated.

          • It’s actually THE most parsimonious explanation. In order for your explanation to work, we need to have evidence that the phrase “brother of the Lord” was a designator for a large group of people in the same way Zealot would have been or was a de facto designator for some trait that virtually everyone potentially shared in common, such as being just.

            What you’re arguing is that “brother of the Lord” was a well-known designator such that a pretty large group of people would have understood themselves to be brothers of the Lord, and James was just… REALLY a brother of the Lord in a special sense that the community would recognize, but he was a brother in the same sense as everyone else, just to a very special degree that he was well known for.

            While this is theoretically possible, of course, we don’t have any evidence that “brother of the Lord” was a designator in that sense, and it requires more postulation of entities.

            “Zealot” does not have another meaning. If someone is a Zealot, there’s no other sense in which someone can be a Zealot other than to be a Zealot. Likewise with Just, although the word “just” can encompass a variety of shades of meaning, it’s always a virtue. There’s not some other way someone can be called “just” in a manner that would be a common referent.

            By contrast, “brother” does have multiple possible referents, and the most common referent for “brother” is biological brother. It’s the metaphorical sense that requires further explanation.

            Again, your thesis is possible; I’m not saying it isn’t or that it’s fundamentally absurd or anything like that. But I have to go with probabilities, and I think it’s more probable that “brother of the Lord” means the Lord’s biological brother rather than, “someone who really exemplifies what it means to the spiritual brother of the Lord to a degree that was famous in the early church and intelligible in light of how often this designator was applied to other people.”

          • No. That’s not what I’m arguing.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            A quick analogy if I may, I live in a large expat community where names are used for ease of understanding who we are talking about, for example a good friend of ours is Scottish Andy and obviously he is not the only Andy from Scotland, as more expats arrive we happen to have two more people from Scotland called Andy who have a different designation(Glasgow Andy and tall Andy) we all know who we are talking about when we refer to Scottish Andy even though there are 3 named Andy from Scotland……..I hope that made sense.

          • But, in your case, “Scottish” means someone from Scotland, and that’s all it can mean.

            Let’s say there was a convention that some people figuratively called people from Scotland, “Robert’s brother.”

            You’re reading a collection of letters from one Scotsman to another, and you come upon the sentence, “I went to see Logan, who is Robert’s brother.” You also know that there is an actual person named Robert in Logan and the author’s circle of friends. Do you think the most likely understanding of that phrase is that it’s a metaphorical designation to say that Logan is a Scotsman, or do you think it’s more likely that Logan is actually Robert’s brother?

            Now, let’s add to the analogy that there is no evidence at all that any group of Scotsmen were ever referred to as “brothers of Robert.” Now what’s the most probable understanding of the phrase?

          • Fair enough. Could you help me understand your argument, then? Are you suggesting that “brother of the Lord” was just some label that got stuck on James? Like, everyone already knew him as “James the brother of the Lord” the same way I might know “Skinny Tom” or “Toothless Joe?”

          • That is the possibility that I am suggesting. I think the most reasonable explanation for Paul’s use of the term was to identify the James that Paul met to the Galatians. From that, I don’t think I can be certain of anything beyond this particular man being known as “James the brother of the Lord.” It is plausible that people knew James was the biological brother of Jesus, and that’s the reason he got that particular designation, but I don’t think Galatians 1:19 is enough to establish that.

          • And the question I keep asking is why this James would have this nickname, that is more likely than that he was the brother of Jesus…

          • And the claim you keep making is that “brother of the Lord” couldn’t mean anything other than “biological brother of Jesus” because that is the only way that it could serve to identify a specific James. That is the claim that I am addressing because I do not find it persuasive.

            I don’t know whether there is a more likely explanation for the designation than that James was the biological brother of Jesus. Nevertheless, I think the fact that the author of Acts declines to identify him as Jesus’ biological brother is enough to create uncertainty that he actually was.

          • Growing up, I had three uncles named “John.” We called them “Uncle John Bourbon,” “Uncle John Martini,” and “Uncle John Vodka.”

          • No, the claim I keep making is that it seems more likely to mean that in the present context, in view of the evidence both within Paul’s letters, and from other early Christian literature.

            The other point I keep making is that your insistence that it could just be a nickname, with no attempt to explain what that nickname meant, why it was appropriate, or how it would have singled out this James from other individuals, is inadequate and does not support your consideration of your stance as equally likely to the conclusion of mainstream scholarship.

          • Yes, you did make that claim. You wrote

            [H]e cannot simply mean “James the Christian,” because even if one were to adopt the view that, like “brothers,” “brothers of the Lord” could denote Christians in general, it still would not make sense in that context, since in both places (also in the Corinthian correspondence) where Paul mentions brothers of the Lord, it is in distinction from other Christians.

            I will happily concede that it is not the only claim that you keep making, but it is certainly one claim that you keep making, and it is the claim to which I was responding here (and to which I have responded in the past).

            I can think of possible ways that James might have come by that nickname–including self-designation–but given the available evidence, these hypotheses aren’t testable. I will say that I don’t see anything in Paul’s letters that corroborates either understanding of “brother of the Lord.” I would also note that the next earliest text to discuss that text does not confirm that he was Jesus’ brother.

          • You seem not to see a lot of things, and I am not sure what your last comment is supposed to refer to. But sticking to the main point, you seem surprisingly willing to envisage that someone chose to nickname himself “the Lord’s brother” without that phrase having any specific content, and for that to have become his nickname and nickname of a group of other people, and to treat this ad hoc scenario you have concocted as more likely or as likely than others, for no good reason that I can discern other than stubborn commitment to obscurantism.

          • My main point is that the claim of yours that I quoted above isn’t a valid reason for rejecting the possibility that “brother of the Lord” refers to a spiritual relationship. That is the point that I have been addressing. It doesn’t surprise me that you would rather make something else the main point rather than responding to the point I have been making. That’s what you usually do when we disuss the issue.

            You referred to evidence in other early Christian literature. My last comment refers to the fact that Acts is the earliest other Christian literature to discuss the man named James who was a leader of the church in Jerusalem. It does not corroborate that he was the biological brother of Jesus.

          • And why does Acts not mentioning that detail make the historicity of Jesus seem less likely to you? Why do you judge Acts more reliable than Paul on this matter about James’ relationship to Jesus, and yet not judge Luke and Paul together as reliable on there having been a real life human being named Jesus?!

          • Aren’t you the one who referred to evidence from “other early Christian literature”? Are you saying now that I shouldn’t care about corroboration?

            I don’t judge Acts to be more reliable than Paul. I would, in fact, judge it to be of dubious historical value other than as evidence of what at least some early Christians believed. If it corroborated the existence of an early tradition making James the biological brother of Jesus, I would judge it to considerably strengthen the case for interpreting Paul that way.

          • Obviously you should care about corroboration – that is precisely what I said, merely adding the additional suggestion that you should consistently care about corroboration, and not only in a self-serving manner when it seems to support what you prefer to think.

          • That is a very wise admonition. I am gratified to learn that you aren’t actually confused (as your question suggested) as to why I consider it significant that Acts does not corroborate the tradition that James was understood to be the biological brother of Jesus.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            The nickname identifies this specific James as an early follower of the Lord (as an identifier to which James, Paul is referring) it is appropriate because it was an identifier for the community to whom Paul was writing and it singles out this particular James because of his importance to the early movement, although I think it still probable that he is referring to a biological brother of Jesus it is no slam dunk historically speaking.

          • John MacDonald

            Sorry to interrupt the discussion, but I just wanted to add one thing. All men in the movement would have been considered “brothers of the lord (see Romans 8:29) ” so it might be helpful to sort of transliterate Galatians to read

            “18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other except James the Christian.”

            You can see how useless this phrasing would have been to communicate which James was being referred to, and so if it were a nickname Paul would have needed to further qualify to identify which James he meant. Okay, I’m gone again, lol

          • If there was only one James who was known as “James the Christian,” there wouldn’t be any confusion. There are dozens of Catholic saints named Joseph, all of whom probably did some sort of work during; nevertheless, only one of them is”Saint Joseph the Worker.” No one who understands whom the term designates is going to say, “I’m confused because every St. Joseph was a worker.”

            Come back when you have something new to contribute.

          • John MacDonald

            Again, as per usual, your analogy misses the point. All Jameses were brothers of the lord in terms of their cultic designation as Christians. Paul calling one in a letter by the nickname “James the brother of the lord” without qualification as you envision is inherently much more confusing when writing to Christans than calling someone by the nickname “Bob the man” in similar Christian circumstances even though other Bobs were men.

            Vinny said:

            – “Come back when you have something new to contribute.”
            – “I have not been impressed with your ability to judge what finishes an argument and what doesn’t.”

            Play nice now, lol

          • As much as I would like to play nice, I cannot help but ask: Can you truly be as obtuse as you pretend to be?

            Every St. Joseph was a worker. That “St. Joseph the Worker” (without any further qualification) is not confusing–i.e., that it designates a single individual–is purely a matter of convention. People have a shared understanding of whom is designated by the term.

            If people had a shared understanding of the designation “James the brother of Lord,” it wouldn’t make any difference that other men named James could be considered brothers of the Lord in the same sense, just as it doesn’t make any difference that other Catholic saints named Joseph were also workers.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said,

            “As much as I would like to play nice, I cannot help but ask: Can you truly be as obtuse as you pretend to be?”

            You seem to have as poor an ability understanding what has been repeatedly pointed out to you as you do expressing yourself (I can count about four people recently that you’ve protested didn’t understand you when they’ve tried to characterize what you are arguing)

            This will be my last attempt with you because it’s gotten tedius and the hockey game is coming on.

            Suppose you are right. Suppose there was a Christian named James who also had the nick name “James the Christian” and this is who Paul is referring to in Galatians. Even if this were true, under what magical theory of interpretation would Paul merely referring to a”James the Christian” in a letter nudge the reader to believe it is the Christian James with the nickname that is being referred to?

            Anyway, maybe someone else will pick up the conversation with you …

          • It’s very simple John. Paul had interacted with his Galatian readers before and knew that they would understand the reference. It’s the same reason that Paul could refer to a particular faction in Corinth as being “of Christ”:he knew that his readers understood the reference. There’s no magic to it.

            Even if Paul had believed that James was the biological brother of Jesus, his use of the term “brother of the Lord” would still depend on his knowing that the Galatians understood which James the term designated.

            I doubt that anyone but you would want pursue this argument, who knows?

          • John MacDonald

            You can’t be serious!

            You actually think the two situations are analogous?

            How is Paul “telling us” he is outlining a bunch of factions, one of which contrasts with the others by being ‘Of Christ,’ analogous to Paul “not telling us” he is referring to an individual with a nickname with the phrase “James the Christian,” which could just as easily refer to an individual not so nicknamed – ESPECIALLY SINCE EVERY CHRISTIAN MALE NAMED JAMES BEARS THE SAME CULTIC TITLE?

            Paul leaves it clear by “contrasting” the different factions which one is “Of Christ,” in precisely a way that he doesn’t make clear when he says “James the Christian.” As I have said from the beginning, if Paul meant “James the Christian” as a nickname, he would have needed to qualify what he meant.

            Anyway, that’s enough for me. This is exhausting having to restate the same point like 15 times now! Dr. McGrath must have incredible stamina dealing with your inexplicable skepticism over the years, lol. I’ll let you have the last word. You seem to like the last word. Maybe it makes you think you’ve won the debate, lol.

          • I think that the pot may be calling the kettle black here John. You are the one who twice declared the argument settled, only to return to repeat the same arguments.

            If I understand your argument (and please correct me if I don’t), you believe that Paul could only be using “brother of the Lord” to refer to a biological relationship because otherwise his readers would be confused by the multiplicity of men named James who might have been considered brothers of Christ in a spiritual sense.

            This argument seems to me to be undermined by the fact that Paul frequently uses names without any qualifying information at all. “John,” “Mark,” and “Luke” were all common names in Paul’s time, and each could have been referring to a multiplicity of people who shared the name. Nevertheless, Paul expected his readers to know to whom he was referring with each name–he counted on a shared understanding with his readers and expected them not to be confused.

            If Paul could use the names “John,” “Mark,” and “Luke” to identify specific individuals despite the many Johns, Marks, and Lukes that existed at the time, he could use “James the brother of the Lord” to identify a specific individual despite the many Jameses who might also have been brothers of the Lord.

            You know I often get the feeling that you are arguing with Carrier rather than me. I’ve never used the term “cultic title” in anything that I have written.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            To distinguish him from other persons named James.

          • Distinguishing him through the additional identifying factor that this particular James was the brother of Jesus?

          • John MacDonald

            All the other Jameses were also “James, the brother of the lord,” so such a nickname wouldn’t serve the function of distinguishing one from another.

          • I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder to a certain extent. I think the most obvious reason someone could identify “James the brother of the Lord” is if James were the Lord’s brother. If Galatians 1:19 isn’t enough to establish that probability, it’s definitely not enough to establish the probability that “James the brother of the Lord” is essentially “James the Christian” and that was just a nickname that kind of stuck.

            Again, for me, the parsimony plays into it. If James is actually Jesus’ brother, there are no intermediary steps needed for that explanation to work.

            1. James is Jesus’ brother, which requires no social constructions or attachment or metaphors.
            2. Paul refers to him that way, thus designating which James he means.

            In your explanation, there’s a little more that needs to happen.

            1. “Brother of Jesus” is a metaphorical phrase that gets attached to one of the apostolic James’ as a nickname that differentiates him from the other James (who is also a Jesus follower).
            2. Paul refers to him that way, thus designating which James he means.

            Possible, certainly. We could also say that “Judas, son of James” was just a nickname to help readers differentiate between him and Judas Iscariot, and that’s not enough to conclude that Judas was actually James’ son.

            I’m just not sure what makes that the more attractive or likely option.

          • I haven’t claimed that the possibility is sufficient makes it the most likely option. Nevertheless, when I look for corroboration that this particular James was understood to be Jesus’ biological brother, I don’t find it. In fact, the author of Acts declines to identify him as Jesus’ biological brother.

          • What do you find when you look for corroboration that “the brother of the Lord” was a nickname attached to James?

          • I think the fact that Paul uses the term to identify which James he met on his first trip to Jerusalem is enough to establish that it’s the name he was known by.

          • And one might also reply that Paul using that -characteristic- to identify James is enough to establish it was an actual characteristic of James.

            Let me ask you this:

            “Judas son of James” is referred to as such by Luke/Acts (6:16 and 1:13 respectively, although interestingly, the 1:13 reference can mean “brother). However, in Matthew’s gospel, he is referred to as “Thaddeus” with no other elaboration (10:3), and in John, he is referred to as “Judas not Iscariot” (14:22).

            So, only one writer calls “Judas son of James,” and two other authors do not identify him this way. In fact, one of them uses a -different designator-.

            Do you think this makes the proposition doubtful that Judas was the actual son of James and, instead, we should just say that “son of James” was a nickname of some kind that just got attached to Judas for reasons unknown?

  • Gary

    Since my head is hurting reading Vinny and John’s comments, I’d like to get their opinion on this.

    I think there is more going on in Galatians than a simple minded Gal 1:19 “James the Lord’s brother”, considering the polemics of the letter, and Paul’s statement in the following verse, “I do not lie!”
    Combined with “false believers” referring to Jerusalem leadership (including James) in 2.4, especially since the “false believers” is actually “false brothers” in Greek, I do not think any conclusion about “the Lord’s brother” can be taken as gospel (excuse the pun). Perhaps Paul was being sarcastic, considering rather caustic polemics involved!

    My source:
    Putting a few interesting sentences together from my New Oxford NRSV commentary regarding Galatians –
    “The content and sharp polemics of the letter were worked out in reply to what Paul knew of his opponents’ teaching and of their attacks upon him. Despite the efforts of scholars to identify and reconstruct the arguments of Paul’s opponents, they remain a shadowy group. Most commentators describe them as Judaizers because they insisted on circumcision. Whether they belonged to the same opposition that Paul had faced in Antioch or during his visit to the Jerusalem leaders (the “false believers” in 2.4) cannot be decided from Paul’s letter.”

    Then, going to the text in the referenced 2.4, it says –
    “But because of false believers (superscript note a) secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those leaders contributed nothing to me.”

    Note a — Gk “false brothers”

    • I’m sorry to cause you pain.

      I think that a big problem with Paul’s letters in general is that we’re only hearing half the conversation. I think that there may be many possible explanations for “the brother of the Lord” that haven’t occurred to anyone. I think that people who claim to be certain about its meaning are fooling themselves.

      I wouldn’t venture a guess about sarcasm without knowing how those things worked in Greek, but I do think that any explanation should take into account Paul’s attitude towards his opponents. Paul insists in the second chapter that who Cephas and James were meant nothing to him and that he learned nothing from them. That makes me suspicious of any interpretation of Galatians 1:19 that has Paul increasing the status of Cephas and James in the eyes of the Galatians.

      • Gary

        “I’m sorry to cause you pain.”

        As with Paul, it’s only sarcastic pain 🙂

        Perhaps, more amusement!

    • John MacDonald

      Hey Gary.

      Interesting thoughts.

      I’ll try to catch you up, lol.

      As you know, this is a highly technical debate being conducted by experts, so I am certainly in no position to try and weigh in on the debate, being a mere interested amateur. I think I follow what Ehrman and Carrier are saying and it makes sense to me, but again I am just an amateur so I really haven’t the requisite background to pass judgement on the matter like Dr. McGrath or Dr. Ehrman do. I am a very animated person by nature and so sometimes come across as more certain than I actually am, but in an informal setting such as this I’m sure that’s fine.

      (1) It’s an interesting debate. Carrier got things rolling by posting these thoughts on the issue as it came up in the Ehrman/Price debate:

      Ehrman is right, though, that when Paul uses the full phrase “brother of the Lord,” he is doing so to “contrast” one group with another. Grammatically, it has already been shown in the peer reviewed literature that in Galatians 1:18-19, Paul is saying the James there referenced was not an apostle (OHJ, pp. 589-90). Thus, he is contrasting apostolic and non-apostolic Christians: he is saying the James there is merely a baptized Christian, albeit still an initiated member of the sect, but not an apostle. Likewise in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is saying that even if mere baptized Christians—in other words, even rank and file members on church business—get their wives fed on the church dime, why shouldn’t Paul, who was an actual apostle? Even his co-apostle Cephas, Paul says, was getting that benefit, as were apostles generally. … Grammatically these readings are just as likely as the alternative Ehrman wants to be true. And contextually, Ehrman’s reading requires Paul to have inexplicably not made the required distinction between what kind of brothers he means; evidently, Paul only knows of one kind, and the only kind we can see from his letters that he knows about, is fictive. So we cannot argue from these passages that Paul is attesting to biological kin of Jesus. Even if he is, we can’t tell. See https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11435

      (2) Ehrman responded that Cephas most definitely was a brother, and beyond that both Cephas and James were apostles:

      Carrier provides an important bit of nuance to the claim that in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul is not talking about a literal blood-brother of Jesus named James, but a kind of spiritual brother. In Carrier’s view, Paul uses the term “brother” to apply to someone who was baptized as Christian (and therefore sympatico with the heavenly Christ) but who was NOT at the same time an apostle. And so James was not an apostle, but was a “baptized Christian” (i.e., “brother”). But Cephas, from whom he is differentiated in the passage, WAS an apostle (and therefore NOT merely a “brother”)….And so that’s why Paul says what he does. When he went to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, he met with Cephas and James, the brother of the Lord. In other words, he met with an apostle and a non-apostolic person who could be differentiated from the apostle because he (a) was not an apostle but (b) was in a close relationship with the heavenly Christ as a baptized person. That solves the problem, right?…Well, it may seem to do so, until you actually look closely at the passage and think about it a bit. First thing to say: nowhere in Paul’s writings, in the rest of the New Testament, or in any writing of all of early Christianity is there anywhere that you find a two-pronged definition of “brother” as someone who was (a) baptized but (b) not an apostle… Moreover, what would make someone think that this is what Paul means by “brother”? In fact, when Paul uses the term brother, he simply means to all those who have been baptized into the body of Christ. They all belong to the same family. They are brothers *with* Paul. Notice: Paul himself was an apostle. But the Christians are *his* brothers. That means he is *their* brother. That means he is both an apostle and a brother, not an apostle and therefore not a brother…Think about it a bit further: brothers and sisters are all related to one another by a close bond. Are we supposed to think that Paul would not call Cephas his “brother in Christ”?…But there is even a stronger argument that this unusual definition cannot be right. It involves what Paul actually says in Galatians 1:18-19. I’m afraid this is a killer from Carrier’s argument. Recall Paul’s exact words:…18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother… Whom did Paul visit and see? Cephas. And no other apostle EXCEPT James the Lord’s brother. In other words, James is the only other apostle Paul saw, except Cephas. He is telling us that James is an apostle. But he is also the Lord’s brother. And so Carrier’s definition (brother = baptized person not an apostle) simply doesn’t work. What differentiates James from Cephas is not that he, unlike Cephas, is a non-apostle. What differentiates him from Cephas is the fact that he, unlike Cephas, is actually Jesus’ brother… It requires this kind of detailed examination to show why Mythicists’ views can’t be right. A claim they make in three lines can easily be taken apart. But it takes three paragraphs to do so. Claim after claim. And that’s why I find it difficult to deal with them at length. But in the end, their arguments simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. I’ll deal with one other major issue in subsequent posts to try to nail down the point. https://ehrmanblog.org/carrier-and-james-the-brother-of-jesus/

      (3) Finally, Carrier responded to this gauntlet thrown down by arguing:

      Ehrman concedes that “brother” can be meant non-literally, a “spiritual brother” as Ehrman describes it, meaning “someone who is connected by common bonds of affection or perspective to another.” That actually isn’t what any peer reviewed mythicist argument claims. Christians were not brothers because they were “connected by common bonds of affection or perspective.” They were brothers because they were at baptism the adopted sons of God. Literally. Paul explicitly says that. And this made them all brothers of the Lord Jesus. Again, Paul explicitly says that. And I reiterated this point in my assessment of Ehrman’s Argument 14. It was disingenuous of Ehrman to only respond to the non-peer reviewed arguments for mythicism and ignore the peer reviewed arguments. Ask yourself, why would he do that?… Ehrman also says this can’t be the meaning in Galatians 1:18-19 because there the James thus called a brother of the Lord is being differentiated from Cephas (Peter) the Apostle. As I wrote in my summary, that’s indeed true: Paul is making a distinction; he uses the full term for a Christian (“Brothers of the Lord”) every time he needs to distinguish apostolic from non-apostolic Christians. The James in Galatians 1 is not an Apostle. He is just a rank-and-file Christian. Merely a Brother of the Lord, not an Apostolic Brother of the Lord. The only Apostle he met at that time, he says, was Cephas (Peter), the first Apostle (according to 1 Corinthians 15:5 in light of 1 Corinthians 9:1). Likewise the “Brothers of the Lord” Paul references in 1 Corinthians 9:5 are, again, non-apostolic Christians—and thus being distinguished from Apostles, including, again, the first Apostle, Cephas….Given what we have from Paul, this is just as likely, if not more likely, than the alternative reading, because we have evidence direct from Paul that he knows of cultic Brothers of the Lord (as in Romans 8:29 he says all Christians are brothers of the Lord), but no evidence he knows of biological brothers of the Lord, a significantly different category of person. So when Paul says “Brothers of the Lord,” he never says which kind he means; and had he known that there were two different kinds of such brothers, the cultic and the biological, he would need to clarify which he meant. That he never clarifies which he meant, means he only knew of one kind. And the only kind of such brother we can clearly establish he knew, was the cultic. And if even that doesn’t move you, he still doesn’t tell you which he meant; so you can’t otherwise claim to know….Ehrman now asks how this can work when “no one can think that Cephas / Peter was not also Jesus’ “brother” in this spiritual sense” too. But it works the same way as now, when, for example, we distinguish pastors and priests from just “Christians.” If we say “the only Pastor I met was John, but I also met the Christian, Jacob” we are not saying Pastor John is not also a Christian; we are saying Jacob is not a Pastor—but still a Christian. This is why Paul’s grammar is so convoluted in Galatians 1:17-19. Rather than simply say “I met two Apostles, Cephas and James the Brother of the Lord,” a way of saying it that would definitely mean Cephas was not whatever a “Brother of the Lord” was, Paul chose instead to say … See https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11516

      I encourage you to read the links Gary, they’re interesting. Above I commented on it being problematic for Carrier that he was saying Cephas wasn’t a brother of the lord because that is how Ehrman interpreted Carrier, but I did some further reading and discovered this isn’t what Carrier was saying. I still feel, though, that Paul saying Jesus was from the seed of David is extremely problematic for Carrier’s mythicism.

      As for the nickname hypothesis regarding James, we see this in Robert M. Price when he cites the historical analogy of a Chinese ruler who called himself the little brother of Jesus. I think Neil Godfrey also ascribes to this model. He is at least is sympathetic to Price’s analogy.

      • Gary

        Thanks, John. I’ll read your stuff. But I don’t think the issue is high on my priority list. Ehrman wants brother of Lord meaning biological, to reinforce the conclusion that Jesus existed. Carrier wants brother of Lord to be non-biological, to reinforce Jesus as a myth. I think Jesus existed, so I don’t have a stake in the argument, one way or the other. James could have been Jesus’ brother, or James could have been a very smart political person, and realized attaching his birth to Jesus’, reinforced his status. Either way, Jesus was a person. Paul’s use of “false brothers” in referring to the leadership in Jerusalem (which includes James), pretty much invalidates that Paul actually thought that James was really Jesus’ biological brother. He talked around the issue, simply to not piss off too many people in Jerusalem, who might have thought that. Paul has a good technique of insulting someone, without them actually realizing it. “from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders”… pretty much says it all!

        • John MacDonald

          Dr. McGrath is the real expert on this topic here. I think he is considering writing a book about mythicism (fingers crossed). Carrier’s current writing project is a version of his OHJ for a general audience.

        • I think it’s a very interesting idea that there may be a connection between Paul’s complaints about “false brothers” and his use of the term “brother of the Lord” to describe James. I don’t think that Paul directly accuses James of being a false brother, but he does seem to be suggesting that James and Cephas are responsible for the false brothers who infiltrated his communities.

          • Gary

            “I do not lie!”

          • I do often wonder why the purity of Paul’s motives always seems to be assumed. Perhaps he is anticipating an unfair accusation of lying, but perhaps he is anticipating an accusation that is perfectly fair.

          • Leigh Sutherland

            I often muse on the same point, the assumption that Paul’s motives are pure by many biblical scholars could well be misplaced,certainly, if I were Paul, getting early believers onside would be paramount, even if the truth gets lost in the haze belief.

          • I’m not even sure whether we should take Paul at his word about persecuting the church. I’ve heard a lot of testimonies in which the believer was virulently opposed to Christians and Christianity before he or she found Jesus. Maybe Paul was just the first one to hit upon that shtick.

          • John MacDonald

            The Tübingen critics suggested the story in Acts of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus (Dr. Dennis MacDonald also points to parallels with Euripides Bacchae). Perhaps Paul had stories like 2 Maccabees in mind and the significance of such stories to people and got a little mischievous!

          • I suspect that each time Paul told the story of his conversion and revelation, it would have gotten a little more dramatic. Elements that were effective in gaining converts would have been retained and embellished, while those that weren’t would have been dropped.

          • John MacDonald

            I think the “lie” hypothesis is a good explanation for the resurrection appearance claims in 1 Corinthians from a secular point of view. The visual hallucination hypothesis is also good (although I would have to research whether “ophthe” in scripture always means something visual). Anyway, we certainly have historical analogy supporting the “lie” avenue, such as Plato’s noble lies in the Republic and Laws, or Joseph Smith and his witnesses regarding the “discovery” of the golden plates from heaven, lol. I think Carrier sums up the secular options nicely (he also does this in OHJ) when he writes:

            Of course Habermas tries to sell Strobel on the tired apologetic line that “no one dies for a lie.” Surely not, “if they knew it was a hoax,” we hear said. This is a classic straw man. And as such, another lie. It’s one thing to ask how likely it is the resurrection appearance claims were a hoax. It’s altogether another to ask how likely it is they were like every other divine appearance experience in the whole history of all religions since the dawn of time: a mystical inner vision. Just as Paul tells us. Our only eyewitness source. Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false. SEE https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12263

          • John MacDonald

            Regarding “ophthe” and the resurrection experience claims in 1 Corinthians, here is what Ehrman and a reader had to say about whether the experiences were necessarily visual.

            Ehrman said regarding ophthe:

            As you probably know, it is the aorist passive of οραω (ORAO) which means “to see,” so technically it means “he was seen.” I’m not sure offhand if it is ever used less literally to mean “he was experienced” — I can’t think of a place where it does, but maybe someone can correct me.

            The reader, pen name Celsus, responded to Ehrman that:

            I found online what seems to be an excerpt from the TDNT.

            The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. V, p. 358) points out that in this type of context the word is a technical term for being “in the presence of revelation as such, without reference to the nature of its perception.” In other words, the “seeing” may not refer to actual sensory or mental perception. “The dominant thought is that the appearances are revelations, an encounter with the risen Lord who reveals himself…they experienced his presence.”

            H. J. de Jonge in “Visionary Experience and the Historical Origins of Christianity” notes that the word is used for God “appearing” in a dream – Gen 31:13 LXX, 35:1 LXX as well as two other ways in which nothing is actually “seen.”

            “There are references to appearances in some cases in which nothing at all could be seen, but a voice alone uttered the divine message The voice which restrained Abraham from killing Isaac is referred to in the Septuagint in the words “the Lord appeared” – Gen 22:4 LXX. Further examples occur in Gen 12:7 LXX, 26:2 LXX.

            Finally, there are references to God’s appearances when there is no indication of any visible form or of the hearing of a voice, but that God’s power and favor were made manifest in the course of earthly affairs. A psalm says, for example, that when God has taken away the indignity from Jerusalem and freed it from its enemies, “he will appear in his glory” – PS 101:17 LXX, 83,8 LXX See also Isa 40:5 LXX, 60:2 LXX, 66:5 LXX, Jer 38:3 LXX (31:3 MT) All these passages describe the coming of a period of salvation, but Jer 38:3 LXX has the aorist (κύριος ωφΟη) instead of the future tense Isa 60:2 LXX shows that there is no difference between the appearance of God’s glory and that of God himself. This is not a suggestion of a theophany in the strict sense. The word “appear” (όφθήναι) is purely metaphorical.”

            That’s interesting!

          • John MacDonald

            I find the topic of lying in antiquity fascinating, which I studied in University. I actually did a blog post on the possible connection between Christianity and Noble Lies: see http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

  • soter phile

    you said: We can tell (or indeed presume) infancy narratives are not historical without even investigating in detail.

    this is not a historian’s approach to the biblical accounts.
    might as well say “2000 years removed from the facts, we know better than they did… (wink, wink)”

    who would be an authority on the infancy of Jesus in Luke’s time? Joseph’s dead. But Mary
    And where was Mary when last we heard about her in Acts 1? among believers in Jerusalem
    And after Luke connected with Paul (Acts 16), to what city did they travel in Acts 20?
    And who is the purported author of Luke-Acts with almost complete unanimity in the early Church?

    Yes, you can dismiss the classic views as fabricated –
    but doing so while bragging about not even engaging the evidence is an open admission of bias.

    • Are the police “bragging” or “biased” when they do consider whether an angel might not have simply wanted a murder victim dead, so that as a result, if there is a case that does not seem to have an identifiable perpetrator, they leave it open and set it aside? Would criminological methods be appropriately applied as a means to invoking the miraculous?

      • soter phile

        1) the very accounts to which you’d appeal demonstrate the possibility.
        you can’t appeal to the Scriptures as authoritative while simultaneously dismissing their authority.

        2) furthermore, dismissing the miraculous requires dismissing the primary content of what is presented.

        as CS Lewis pointed out:

        Now I do not here want to discuss whether the miraculous is possible. I only want to point out that this is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else. The canon ‘If miraculous, then unhistorical’ is one they bring to their study of the texts, not one they have learned from it. If one is speaking of authority, the united authority of all the biblical critics in the world counts here for nothing. On this they speak simply as men; men obviously influenced by, and perhaps insufficiently critical of, the spirit of the age they grew up in.

        • You don’t seem to grasp the basics of how historical study works. Sources are not authorities to which one appeals. Each detail in them is evidence for something, but not necessarily the same thing or kind of thing. To use an analogy again, if a detective decides that two fingerprints at a crime scene come from two different individuals, because each matches the prints of separate individuals, rather than insisting they must find one individual who matches both prints, are they inconsistently appealing to the authority of fingerprints?!

          • soter phile

            No, you don’t seem to grasp the basics.

            3 rounds of the so-called “Quest for the Historical Jesus” have amply demonstrated – we have no access to the Jesus of history apart from the earliest, most well-attested sources. That is what makes them authoritative.

            Everything else is self-projection, far removed from the only sources we have.

          • Of course historians don’t have access to any historical figure other than through the earliest and most reliable extant sources. Who did you think was suggesting otherwise?!

          • soter phile

            You cannot eat your cake and have it, too.

            Either you give those sources the according authority of their claims & unique standing…
            or you – the self-proclaimed “detective” – despite being 2000 years & in an utterly different culture & context, claim greater ability to discern what is & is not historical than those who shared that culture and context. To extend your analogy, that’s not ‘checking fingerprints’; that’s contaminating the evidence.

            Never mind the prima facie claims made in the content of those same sources… nor the bias you bring to the text which leads you to reject the claims found therein.

          • You can either be critical and reflective or gullible. It is your choice, just as it is your choice to try to spin being uncritical and biased as though it were a virtue and an advantage.

          • soter phile

            That is the fallacy of a false dilemma. There are not merely two options here: gullible or hermeneutic of suspicion (i.e., higher confidence in self than Scripture).

            As I posted to you before (yet you avoided), here’s Richard Hays:

            The real work of interpretation is to hear the text. We must consider how to read and teach scripture in a way that opens up its message and both models and fosters trust in God. So much of the ideological critique that currently dominates the academy fails to foster these qualities. Scripture is critiqued but never interpreted. The critic exposes but never exposits. Thus the word itself recedes into the background, and we are left talking only about the politics of interpretation, having lost the capacity to perform interpretations.

            Is it your contention he is merely calling for gullibility among scholars?
            Is that what you think he means by hermeneutic of trust?

          • The historian works with sources. One is free to use other methods to approach a text as scripture, but that is not the work of historian as historian.

            Your attempt to pretend that I am claiming that the only options are gullibility and a hermeneutic of suspicion simply makes you look dishonest, given that I write about these topics so often, and engage regularly with the biblical texts as scripture myself, both in a church setting, in books and articles, and here on my blog. There isn’t even only one way or two ways of engaging with a text as scripture!

          • soter phile

            you said above: You can either be critical and reflective or gullible.
            That’s a direct quote. Not me ‘pretending.’ Those are the only two options you gave.

            And your blog all too often only furthers that perception – seeing as how infrequently one hears of a conservative scholar in any form other than straw men & caricatures. (I’m left to wonder if you’d be able to find even one example, much less five.) Yet again, your comments – even in this immediate exchange – are only another example of that same dismissive sentiment.

            No, I’m not objecting to the work and/or methods of historians.
            I’m objecting to conflating personal bias with historical methods.

          • Well, they represent a spectrum, obviously – it is not as though those who strive to be reflective and critical always avoid gullibility. But that’s a different distinction than yours. You seem to want to engage with scripture uncritically and to dismiss everything else as inappropriately skeptical. But one can engage with and wrestle with scripture in a critical and reflective manner.

          • soter phile

            Again with the caricatures.
            No, I’m all for appropriately critical thought. Keyword: appropriately.

            Note well: Christians were the most critical thinkers about their own faith & the Scriptures for 1800 years before the historical-critical movements of the 1800s. For the most part, they did so without calling the entire faith into question. That’s a different category of ‘criticism.’

            When one elevates oneself above the text (as modern historical-critical scholars do), one effectively substitutes ‘faith in self’ for ‘faith in God’.

            Jesus sought out Thomas. Asaph wrote Ps.73. The Imprecatory Psalms exist.
            Criticism & questioning are not out of bounds with God.
            But purposefully dodging the testimony of the apostles? Read Jn.20:24-30.

            These things are written that you may believe, and that in believing you may have life.
            John leaves the opposite inference dangling – something he normally makes explicit.
            As Jesus says, let him who has ears hear.

            The direct offer is for the skeptic to become more skeptical of himself than of Christ.
            It’s not a sacrifice of the intellect; it’s a sacrifice of pride.

          • You don’t seem to be aware that you are simply sidestepping historical questions, for instance when you assume that what you have is the testimony of the apostles. Do you accept the testimony of Islamic sources about the one that they consider God’s apostle? Do you accept the details of the Acts of Paul and Thecla or the Acts of John about those apostles? Or are historical questions and even a measure of skepticism appropriate except when you’d rather not?

          • soter phile

            No, I’m not sidestepping historical questions.
            As I said, 3 rounds of the historical Jesus have made clear we have NO OTHER ACCESS to Jesus. Trying to get under/around/through the text to some other ‘kernel’ results in self-projections.

            Exhibit A: John Dominic Crossan’s “Revolutionary Biography”. Critics from all sides of the spectrum pointed out: Jesus as a cynic philosopher only works if you come to the text with that idea… that’s your self-projection onto Jesus.

            Again, the only access we have is from the original sources – sources you want to subject to modern bias without admitting it as such. that’s not historical study. that’s just propaganda.

            As for all the later works (and they are demonstrably later works), you revert back to my former point about the earliest, most well-attested documents: the NT Gospels. It is precisely the historian’s methodological approach that – yet again – points us back to the NT Gospels.

            No, I’ll roll with Bruce Metzger on this one. The canon wasn’t decided by any individuals or church council. As he said, these documents were “self-authenticating.” But hey, if you think the most prominent NT scholar of the last century was simply gullible or avoiding historical questions… you’re just reinforcing my argument.

            And as for Islam: Mohammed claimed to be the sole author, and wrote much more via mantic diction. And, notably, he claimed these revelations occurred in private. Christianity is much more readily falsifiable than that since it has multiple witnesses, authors & the major events occurred publicly. And yet here it stands:

          • So as I said, you go with the earliest sources because historical method indicates this, but then reject the historical scrutiny of those sources because you prefer not to. You appeal to historical reasoning when it supports what you wish to affirm, and reject it when it does not.

            Scholarship in all fields proceeds by scholars proposing new ideas and subjecting them to the critique of their peers. To point out that academics disagree, that varying interpretations of the evidence are possible, and that academics are not immune from projecting their own assumptions and desires onto the evidence, is not saying anything that isn’t well known. That is the reason the academic approach is so important – without it, we would indeed just have everyone believing what they wish, as you would like to, but without the counterbalancing scrutiny and pushback from other academics.

          • soter phile

            No, I do not reject historical scrutiny. I’m pointing out that you have conflated historical methodology with self-projection – something not found in the text (CS Lewis’ point above).

            Historical reasoning leads us to the text. Then one encounters the Jesus found there & must wrestle: will I subject myself to this person & his claims, or will I find a way to dodge the content of what is said? Again, that’s not an issue of intellect; it’s an issue of pride.

            Yes, that argumentation works in freshman ‘intro to religion’ classes. But once one gets deep enough into the field of study, you see the bias everywhere. If you don’t admit that, you truly are blind to your own predilections. How much my proudly ‘skeptical’ professors hid of the problems with their skepticism later exploded the entire edifice of their claims. Jesus Seminar, Bultmannian demythologizing, Tillich’s ground of being, Wellhausen scheme, etc… I have seen where these sycophantic historical-critical methods lead. And it is certainly not to life. Maybe books sold, but not life. Never mind that there are more problems with the deconstructive methodologies than the faith they were erected to critique.

            Self-projection saves no one. Jesus transforms lives.
            That’s what Richard Hays is saying. Hopefully his credentials actually get him a second hearing. Get back to engaging the Jesus actually found in these earliest accounts. Engage him.

            The fact that such an obvious point is so readily dismissed among self-styled ‘scholars’ who have imbibed and regurgitate historical-critical methods only re-iterates CS Lewis’ point: the academy (for all its self-congratulatory ‘wisdom’) is all too often a product of its immediate context. 200 years from now, that ‘wisdom’ will be mocked for its naivete… just as your peers mock the prevailing wisdom of 200 years ago. And yet Jesus and his Word remains.

            So yes, I’m all for critique from peers. Yes, I read those who disagree with me. But Jesus calls me to repentance. So often, the academy merely calls me to various self-projections.
            One is freedom in Christ. The other is perpetually new forms of self-enslavement.

            In that sense, I am openly biased. But it is precisely because I am a product of the very academy which you hold so dear. History leads me to Jesus – and Jesus disabuses us from the ‘myth of neutrality’, as well as the lie that human thought will enable us to overcome.

            I find it deeply ironic that there is no greater mantra than ‘freedom’ in the halls of the academy, and yet so much of what is taught there is simply re-enslavement. It’s evident in the students and professors. It’s certainly evident in a room full of scholars, often jockeying for order of ‘importance’ and recognition; but even more so in their personal lives. Wisdom as humility may be the rarest pearl among ‘accomplished elites’ of the academy. That’s intellectual slavery.

            I came that you would know the truth and the truth would set you free.
            Has panentheism really set you free? Has it brought about real, substantive change to your life (i.e., repentance)? Or has it just allowed you to pursue the goals you already had for yourself? There’s no basis (much less reason) for change when god is remade in one’s own image.

            That’s the central problem and arrogance of the historical-critical method.
            It fails to admit the spiritual battle taking place when reading the Scriptures.
            ‘This teaching is painful. If true, it would mean I need to change. Let me find an intellectually viable way to avoid this content.’

            But that means avoiding Christ through sophistry.
            It’s a self-salvation technique. And we are terrible messiahs.

            The academy/career success/accolades/selling books will not bring you what only Christ can. That’s not a Christ remade in your own image but the Jesus of history.

          • You seem to either have forgotten, or to not cared to pay enough attention to whom you are talking to to notice, that you are addressing someone for whom their experience of being born again is the whole reason they got into this field of study in the first place; and who has spent enough time in the secular academy, in Christian universities and seminaries, and in churches, to know well that not only am I myself prone to self-deception as an academic, but I was all the more so before I committed myself to the arduous path of subjecting my conclusions to critical scrutiny both within the academy and from Christians. Setting up some caricature of the secular professor driven by book sales not only suggests that your comments are posted here without ever getting to know the story of the academic blogger you are addressing that he has been very open about over a period of many years, but that you have no idea how little most academics make on book sales. Which just reinforces the point I was making, which is that anyone can assert and caricature, whereas self-critical reflection and wrestling with historical evidence is a more rigorous and arduous task that few have the commitment and patience for, never mind training in the relevant methods…

          • soter phile

            you said: …you have no idea how little most academics make on book sales.

            something tells me that when you wrote this line, you were (purposefully?) not including career advancement. yes, academics rarely crack the NYT best seller list, but are you really denying how books function for academicians? not only are they the key to getting the ‘right’ job at the ‘right’ schools – but certainly gaining tenure has much to do with writing the ‘right’ kind of books that garner the ‘right’ attention from the ‘right’ people? no, it is precisely because i have seen the process up close and personally that i’m making this point. it is not merely direct income from book sales at stake here; you can’t dodge it that shallowly. honestly ask yourself, how does one get noticed among the field of scholars to be considered for that one vacancy at the ‘right’ institution? that is how much academics make on book sales – not how ‘little’. and let’s not pretend blogs avoid serving in a similar capacity, even if merely as a place to test the waters of a possible book thesis publicly.

            so, no – while that is not a comprehensive picture, it is not a caricature either. book sales are intrinsically connected to virtually all of the income for the ‘secular professor.’

            you said: …not only am I myself prone to self-deception as an academic, but I was all the more so before I committed myself to the arduous path of subjecting my conclusions to critical scrutiny both within the academy and from Christians.

            this is a good admission. i hope you mean it. all too often your blog entries give me a lot of reasons to doubt it. I have seen you repeatedly demonstrate the opposite (thinking the least of those with whom you disagree), especially the frequent caricatures you give of biblical conservatives. i will admit my experience with you is limited to Patheos – but that experience alone is enough for me to question the sincerity of your rhetoric here, if not the almost immediate humble-brag about the arduous rigors of academic scrutiny.

            you said: …you are addressing someone for whom their experience of being born again is the whole reason they got into this field of study in the first place…

            do you deny you’ve jettisoned that paradigm? or at least – if you want to play semantic games – you mean something utterly different by ‘born again’ than the historically orthodox Christian faith has taken it to mean? you don’t have to agree with biblical conservatives to understand why all of your seemingly ‘humble’ claims here (self-deception, critical questions, subjecting self to rigorous study) invite hard questions about your panentheism, especially when these claims come without fully admitting the stark departure in belief it represents.

            you said: whereas self-critical reflection and wrestling with historical evidence is a more rigorous and arduous task that few have the commitment and patience for, never mind training in the relevant methods…

            back to the self-congratulatory tendencies of the academy. note well: the rare professor who doesn’t secretly pat him/herself on the back like this were the ones who actually had real influence on the students – certainly in my experience. they were the ones who actually had the ears to hear constructive criticism and change. again, this faith in credentialism directly contradicts your previous ‘prone-to-self-deception’ comment.

            point being: no, i have not forgotten with whom i’m speaking. if anything, your responses here – with the one caveat I gave – only corroborate that perception. Namely, when it comes to biblical conservatives, most of your blog entries (as you said) merely “assert and caricature.”

          • Well, your comment neither suggests that you understand the diversity in academia (what is involved in teaching at an undergraduate, liberal arts focused institution as opposed to an R1 research university). Nor does it give the impression that my characterizations of conservative Evangelicals – based on my own personal experience as one – are wide of the mark…

          • soter phile

            again, i am a product of the ‘hallowed’ halls of liberal arts academia. i have seen firsthand. notably your response moved the goalposts to ‘diversity’ rather than acknowledge my accurate portrayal of how one gains a position in the academy.

            related: i find it ironic how often ‘diversity’ is a byword for ‘except for them.’

            and your perspectives on conservatives remains quite clear – anecdotal straw men.

          • If my perspectives on conservatives are anecdotal straw men, surely it would help persuade me that this is so if you stopped commenting in a manner that confirms those very things you claim are mere anecdotes and misrepresentations?

          • soter phile

            so disagreeing with your caricatures is confirmation bias to you?

            never mind me – dare to ask some of your conservative peers if your memes are ‘accurate’ representations of their views. if so, ignore me. but i think you know I’m not mistaken.

          • When I critique conservative views, I am above all else critiquing myself and views that I used to hold. If they seem off target to you, that could be because they are, or because my former views ad your current views are different, or because you are resistant to challenges in the same way I would have been when I held the views I now find fault with.

          • soter phile

            Worthwhile, valid, constructive criticism requires:
            – a re-presentation of one’s opponents’ views in a form they find recognizable
            – exposing a problem (logical, ethical or otherwise) within that recognizable view

            Creating a straw man (as most of your criticisms do) fails at both of those stipulations AND encourages the ongoing dismissal of future criticisms built on such misrepresentations.

            That’s not about conservative or progressive.
            It is not accurately dismissed as merely being “resistant to challenges.”
            Instead, it simply tells those with whom you disagree that you have not heard them – or are refusing to listen in any meaningful way.

            Edit: NB: my comment on your new blog entry… yet another example of this

          • I’m refusing to listen to the views I used to hold? How would that even work?!

          • soter phile

            Therein lies the rub. If by these caricatures you are representing “views I used to hold”, and yet hearing from that same group “you are misrepresenting our views”, why not consider the possibility that you dismissed a straw man rather than the real thing?

            when none of the scholars you are criticizing find your ‘summary’ of their positions recognizable… maybe it’s time to consider that your prior misconceptions have actually inoculated you from hearing real thing.

          • Which scholars that I have criticized do not recognize themselves in my critiques?

            I studied in conservative Evangelical colleges, then taught in several such institutions. I could still have completely misunderstood everything that was going on around me, and received unmerited grades as a student. Do you think that is the most likely explanation for why you bristle as you do at the way I write about these topics?

          • soter phile

            And I studied at progressive colleges & institutions. I could have completely misunderstood everything that was going on around me, and received unmerited grades as a student. Is that why my critique hits a little too close to home for you?

            No, you don’t get to flash those cards as though they alone confirm your bias.

            Never mind the fact that some of your sycophants on another of your blog entries are arguing ad nauseam that you do not intend these critiques to apply equally to evangelicals (as opposed to fundamentalists) – though your comments here yet again prove my point. You don’t seem to care whether you misrepresent or not. And that matters when you are the one being misrepresented.

            No, perpetuating caricatures does not further dialogue.
            It is not designed to teach. It is designed to silence.

            Again, if I’m so wrong, ask a few of your ol’ friends from those “conservative Evangelical colleges” whether they find your re-presentation of their views accurate to what they believe.
            I think you know the answer you’ll get.

            To be clear: that is what makes me bristle – this is intentional on your part.