Thursday, 29 September 2011

I Don't Hold to the Infallibility of Richard Carrier: Why I Don't Take Sceptics Seriously About NT Textual Corruption

This is actually something I wrote ages ago. Whilst being a historian, unlike Ehrman, Carrier is NOT a textual scholar, although he does have some experience and knowledge in this area. His opinion should not be wholly dismissed, but at the same time, we should take his claims with a little more salt than say Ehrman’s. I shall first start with two that he bought up in his debate with apologist, JP Holding, and mentioned again on his own personal blog. [Richard Carrier, Pauline Interpolations, Richard Carrier Blogs, (June 2011), ]

He claims that 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are both interpolations we don’t have manuscript evidence for. I guess Carrier must be privy to some information that the rest of the academic community is unaware of, considering the question is not settled as he would have us believe but then, pointing this out would undermine his case. [See: Carol J. Schluter, Filling Up The Measure: Polemic Hyperbole in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, Sheffield Academic Press, (1994) for a full coverage of arguments for and against interpolation of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. For a substantive treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 passage, see: William O. Walker, Interpolations in the Pauline Letters, Continuum Publishing Group, (2001).]

Let us first take a look at the 1 Thessalonians passage:
“14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.”
Carrier claims:
• Paul never blames the Jews for the death of Jesus elsewhere.
• Paul never talks about God’s wrath as having come, but only at the future judgement (see: Romans 2:5, 3:5-6, 4:15.)
• Paul teaches the Jews will be saved, not destroyed (see: Romans 11:25-28.)
• Paul was dead by the time the “wrath had come upon them to the uttermost” (the destruction of Jewish nation and temple in 70AD.
Carrier likewise claims that arguments against interpolation “make no sense” and requires us to “believe too many improbable things.” He also argues that Paul never talks of the Jews as if he were not one of them.

Let us take a look at the evidence. First, is there any reason to suggest that this verse refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD? Carrier just dismisses other proposed events with a hand wave, yet this does not make a valid argument. Maybe if Carrier had spent more time interacting with the scholarship on this issue, then he would know that some have suggested that the event referred to was the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius in 48AD. This was not exactly an event of little consequence but had far reaching implications. Indeed, roughly 20-30,000 Jews were massacred and there was a subsequent famine in Judea. How can this not be interpreted as divine punishment? If Carrier wants to argue against such a position then he needs to provide some interesting reasons to accept his claim that the passage exclusively refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. You’re going to need to get beyond bare assertions if you want people to take you seriously, Richie C.

Secondly, does this condemnation of the Jews stand in contrast with what Paul had previously said about the Jews? One wonders, what is problematic or contradictory here? Is one to suppose that Paul never got angry with his fellow Jews? As Williams notes:
“A frank recognition of guilt does not preclude love for the guilty.” - David J. Williams, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Peabody: Hendrickson, (1992), p47
There is also the fact that Romans was written 7-10 years after 1 Thessalonians. Are we to suppose that Paul could not have changed his mind? The simplest explanation, however, that this is simply an example of hyperbolic polemic and ancient rhetoric. Lastly, is there any reason to suggest that Paul means all Jews? It seems clear that such an identification is mistaken, Indeed, when one reads the passage, we note that Paul makes the distinction that he is only referring to Jews who persecuted the Church. How can it be inferred he is talking about all Jews, when the Christians of the Judean churches were themselves Jews? This argument thus makes no sense whatsoever. Thus I agree with Jewett:
“…only those desiring a sanitised picture of Paul and the early Church are likely to find Pearson [another critic who makes use of such arguments] convincing on this point.” - Robert Jewett, The Thessalonian Correspondence: Pauline Rhetoric and Millenarian Piety, Fortress Press, (1986), p39
Thus Carrier’s bold bare assertions are woefully inadequate and do not encapsulate scholarly consensus on the matter whatsoever.

What then of the passage from 1 Corinthians? Let us take a look:
“34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
Carrier is this time aware of the argument in favour of Pauline authorship, by noting the explanation that Paul is quoting his opponents. Does Carrier offer any substantive argument against this argument though? The answer is no, and we are again met with bare assertions that have no place in scholarly discussion of nuanced issues such as these. We actually have several good reasons for thinking Paul is quoting his opponents here. We have a number of examples were Paul DOES use this literary device throughout his epistles, such as 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul quotes opponents in verses 12 and 13 and then offers a refutation.

A second fact is that of a tiny particle in the Greek text that is left out of a number of translations, immediately following this passage. Carrier notes this and quotes the passage in its wider context:
“29 And let the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern. 30 But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence. 31 For ye all can prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted; 32 and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; 33 for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. 35 And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church. 36 What? was it from you that the word of God went forth? or came it unto you alone? 37 If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. 38 But if any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Wherefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 But let all things be done decently and in order.“
Carrier claims the “What?” does not appear in the Greek text and is the invention of a “modern commentator.” I think many Biblical scholars would be surprised to hear that. Presumably, he means the translation of the particle to mean “What?” as it can also be translated as “or.” Otherwise, one can conclude that Carrier is simply making things up. One fact that Carrier leaves out is that this particle occurs elsewhere in Paul’s writings, in both meanings “or” and “what.”

For example, in Romans 2:3-4:
“3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
This is from the NIV, where the particle is untranslated in the 1 Corinthians passage. Two similar passages, one where the particle also remains untranslated in the NIV, are Romans 9:20-21 and 1 Corinthians 6:8-9:
“20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 [Particle is here] Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”
“8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men.”
In all these examples, it means the same thing. It’s kind of like modern “NOT!” jokes in that regard. In other words, it marks violent disagreement.

What is even odder, though, is how Carrier claims that this “what?” is the only evidence of Paul’s disagreement with the statement in the preceding two verses. I have to ask, is Carrier blind? Even without the particle, it is still clear that Paul is disaffirming the preceding two verses. The flow of the argument alone indicates that Paul is rebuking the position espoused in verses 24-35:
• Paul uses a gentle, instructional, nurturing tone in verses 26-33.
• Paul switches to a legalistic rabbinical style disgrace-oriented passage in verses 34-35.
• Paul then switches to a rebuking, ironic tone in verses 36-38 to demolish a false teaching in the immediate context.
• Paul finishes by switching back to the gentle, instructional, and nurturing tone in verses 39-40.
Lastly, the nature of the rebuke indicates that verses 34-35 are a position that the Corinthians held, and not Paul. In verses 26-32, Paul offers his solutions for orderly worship with universal speaking allowed. In verse 33, Paul concludes that God seeks order and seeks it this way in all churches. In verses 34-35, Paul quotes somebody else’s solution for orderly worship, which mandated that women shut-up. Verses 36-38 are Paul’s argument against this position. He admonishes them by asking why they think themselves so much more spiritual than other churches to the extent that they believe they can propose a different solution to the problem of orderly worship.

What is also odd is how he claims that if these two passages can prove to be interpolations, then it would somehow make the New Testament “hopelessly corrupt.” Excuse me for not following you in your obvious leap in logic by jumping to highly implausible, improbable conclusions based on scanty data. Not even that, there are good reasons for believing both of these passages are not interpolations, which Carrier asserts is just delusional babble. Gee, projecting much there at all, little Richard? Neither of these passages contribute towards undermining or supporting any particular major New Testament theology, so what is the problem? It is not enough just to cite two incidental cases and expect us to run around like Chicken Little, expecting the sky to fall on us at any second. Especially considering that the two examples aren’t even interpolations. Carrier would need to show multiple examples of core elements of the New Testament being corrupted in order for us to seriously entertain his position that the New Testament is “hopelessly corrupt.” Yet instead he chooses parade around with these Jackanory objections that pose no serious challenge to the reliability of the NT textual tradition whatsoever.

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