What’s wrong with the world

Recently at his blog, eminent NT scholar Craig Keener published a post stating that Christians should not "attack" the minimal facts argument for the resurrection. Given that I have written quite a bit on this subject and had a webinar on this subject not long ago (see here, here, and here), it might quite understandably be thought that his post was directed to my views, though he does not say to whom he is responding.

Via personal communication I have now verified that Dr. Keener has not read or listened to my material on the topic of the minimal facts approach and was not intending to respond to my criticisms of the method. He has stated that he had heard that "some" are attacking minimal facts and, although he did not say who these are nor quote anything that they have said, conjectured that perhaps they may be distorting my views.

Well, I obviously cannot speak to that, since I don’t know who these "some" are or what, precisely, they have said about minimal facts.

However, I want to say for the record here that there is nothing in his post that either represents or responds to my own objections to the minimal facts approach. Therefore, I of course cannot regard myself as bound to agree with the conclusion he states that "Christians should not be attacking minimal facts" if "attack" means "seriously criticize."

Unless you live under a rock or do not read religious news at all, you have probably heard the news, to the effect (depending on the precision of the news source) that Pope Francis has done away with the death penalty (DP). He has issued a new version of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which says that the DP is “inadmissible”.

But to be more careful, or at least more precise, it is not clear that what happened is that Francis has “done away” with the DP in calling it “inadmissible”. In order to get a fair estimate of what actually happened, let’s read the actual new text that replaces the old: 2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

There are two major opinions about the meaning of the money quote in bold, and especially, about the import of “inadmissible” here. They are as follows: (1) “inadmissible” has the effect of saying that the DP is intrinsically evil, a per se immoral and disordered act, because that’s what happens if an act is, by its very nature an unjust attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person. (I insert “unjust” here, because if it was a JUST attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, then it would not be inadmissible). If the character of “being an unjust attack” did not belong to the very nature of the DP, then the Pope could not have called it “inadmissible” simply, but could only have called it “inadmissible under certain conditions”.

Several stories all came up around the same time in the "choice devours itself" department. Readers to whom this concept is new may need it explained. I coined the phrase "choice devours itself" over ten years ago while writing for a different blog. It doesn’t describe merely in general the fact that the party of "consent" becomes increasingly coercive. Rather, it describes situations where the person who was supposed to benefit from having the option to "choose" something the left considers good (generally in the categories of sex, abortion, or euthanasia) is actually coerced into this alleged "choice."

So forced or high-pressure abortions to which the left turns a blind eye are cases of choice devouring itself. Perhaps the most common type of example comes from coercing or pressuring people into "consenting" to euthanasia, or euthanizing people who by definition cannot give mature and informed consent (those with dementia, children, etc.). In the most extreme cases, the victim is physically coerced, as in one of the stories in this post.

To be sure, there are differences of emphasis, but those differences are exaggerated by scholars, to such a point that Craig Evans says that "you have virtually nothing in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that sounds like and looks like Jesus in the Gospel of John" and that, if we took John’s portrait to be just as literally historical as that of the synoptics, we would have to wonder "is there just some other Jesus we just didn’t know about?" Of course, all of the posts in this series on John contribute to a rebuttal of Evans’s statements. See especially here, here, here, here, and here.

Michael Licona has used the alleged great difference between the way Jesus talks in John and the synoptics to support the idea that John "adapted" the "traditions about Jesus" to such an extent as to change "My God, why have you forsaken me?" to "I thirst" on the cross ( Why Are There Differences in the Gospels, p. 166), when the latter was not uttered in an historically recognizable fashion at all.

Mere differences of emphasis are, of course, a completely different matter. John and the synoptics may have recorded different statements by Jesus for reasons of theme and saliency to a particular author. Showing crossovers in Jesus’ speech at precisely the points where the Gospels have been alleged to be most different is therefore relevant to the historicity of the gospels and, since John comes under such special doubt, to John in particular.

In this post I will be laying out some parallels between the way that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John and in the synoptic Gospels. I am not trying to make an absolutely sharp distinction between verbal and conceptual parallels. When a conceptual parallel is close enough it becomes a type of verbal parallel, and a distinction between verbal and conceptual parallels can become artificial if pressed too hard. My examples will all be chosen, however, to represent at least very close conceptual parallels in Jesus’ speech, and several are definitely verbal parallels.

I am not, of course, implying that, in all of the places where a word is translated by the same English word, the same Greek word is used. For example, the word Jesus uses for "Come" in Matt. 11:28 is different from the word he uses when he says that all that the Father gives him will come to him in John 6:37. On the other hand, the same Greek word is used for "believe" when he tells Jairus to believe (Mark 5:36) and when he tells Martha that she will see the glory of God if she believes (John 11:40). Whether or not the same Greek word is used varies, but the parallels are there nonetheless and often quite striking.

I’ve found it especially refreshing to read an author who, writing as relatively recently as 1969, evokes the style of the authors of the 19th century. Morris writes without jargon or equivocation. It’s always possible to tell what he is saying. And he does not take with undue seriousness highly complex theories of factual alteration. He is occasionally more concerned about something than I think he needs to be, but he has a balanced enough mind to recognize that there are always going to be things we don’t know. For example, he seems (to my mind) unduly puzzled by Jesus’ open statement to the Samaritan woman that he is the Messiah in John 4:26 in contrast with the alleged "messianic secret." But Morris, though not as satisfied by it as perhaps he should be, is open to the theory (which to my mind is correct) that the contrast between this clear statement and Jesus’ attempted secrecy elsewhere (e.g., Matthew 16:20) is explicable in terms of attempting to keep his Messianic claims from raising the wrong idea in the minds of those likely to take them in a revolutionary direction.