Apologetic reply challenged

by Dennis Diehl

I appreciate the time Gordon took to respond to my article on the Birth Narratives.

I had suggested that one first read Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah, in which one will find all these apologetic issues covered thoroughly.
Dr. Brown was a very thorough Catholic theologian who wanted to explain the way things were, yet still not offend the magisterium of the church and get bounced. He sometimes left the obvious conclusion up to the reader. I suggest reading his work before addressing the questions raised by the inconsistencies of the birth accounts and their possible resolution. If you want to stretch your brain a bit, try Dr. Brown's two volume Death of the Messiah. I also recommend John Shelby Spong's Born of a Woman as a more to-the-point read on the same material and conclusions. The title comes from the fact that the Apostle Paul only knew that Jesus was "born of a woman...” He had never heard all these miraculous birth stories, as neither did Mark or John. Remember Paul never met Jesus, didn't quote him or relate anything of his life in his teachings, or at least precious little. An apologist will say he didn't need to, but a theologian would say it's odd to write most of the NT and not quote the teacher. For Paul, Jesus was hallucinatory and he claims he was called to be an apostle from birth, like Jeremiah and Jesus before him. The Damascus Road story is Luke's, not Paul's account of his conversion.

Appealing to analogies and legal analysis by famous lawyers to declare the whole of scripture cohesive and inerrant I suppose is one way to do it. I would simply say we have outstanding lawyers who were able to prove beyond a shadow of any doubt that OJ Simpson did not murder his wife. I believe the need to prove something one way and not the other goes a long way in determining the outcome and conclusions drawn. Apologists have the need to have the story be literally true. I personally no longer feel that need to have the story be literally true and defend its many, many inconsistencies and contradictions along with both historic and scientific impossibilities.

For example, when Matthew, "writing to the Jews" went hunting for the mystical virgin birth, he did not choose to quote the Hebrew Old Testament, but the Greek as it fit his intention better. This fact alone sheds suspicion that the illiterate, Galilean tax collector, Matthew, may not have been the Greek reading "Matthew" who wrote the Gospel. Galileans were not known for the prowess in Greek studies. The original context of Isaiah 7:14 was a deliverance miracle not a delivery miracle. Only later, in "Matthew", was it used to explain the sinless birth of Jesus and all the theology that goes along with that. All Caesars were supposedly born of virgins and conceived by the gods. If the Roman leader can be, well ours can be too.

On a side note, I sent my article to head of Plain Truth Ministries and was told that their belief in the Virgin Birth was not predicated on Matthew's view alone. I would mention that were it not for Matthew's view, there would be little or no basis for the doctrine. Another WCG writer simply said he did not have time to read it to which I said, we all have time, but that it is more honest to say "you don't chose to take the time." No further responses.

At any rate, the key for me is that we tend to prove what we need to prove. As a former Bible soaked, somewhat God-haunted pastor, I now have a need to understand what I refused to see in the past but clearly saw was there to be explained. Each to their own. I simply do not now wish to be a piously convicted but marginally informed compliant yes-man to the flawed visions of others. I believe that the scripture can never mean what it never meant. Apologetics is a distasteful concept to me now as it implies an unwillingness to see that perhaps Western literalist Christianity might have missed the point long ago and to our spiritual harm. Gordon's example of the gospels being true because they contain irrelevant details is irrelevant.

A theological study of John 20 will show that this chapter is sending the subtle message that Peter is not the believer he is cracked up to be. John, "the other disciple", is however obviously qualified for the task as he believed. (Jn 20: 8). Peter and the others were too stupid to remember that Jesus was supposed to rise from the dead (vs. 9). While both are said to have started running to the tomb together, John evidently took the lead and beat Peter. John looked in, but did not go in. Peter then bursts upon the scene, runs into the tomb, but doesn't understand where Jesus is or the significance of the empty tomb. John then enters, understands it all, and comes out looking like the spiritual leader the book of John wishes him to be, at the expense of Peter the ignorant disciple.

Every time John mentions Peter he does so unfavourably, and sandwiches him between disparaging accounts of Judas. The writing technique is known as intercalation. If one does not know this, then you can argue that these irrelevant details merely show good memory. What it shows is church politic. It is the bracketing of one idea (the victim of the scorn) with two accounts of another equally despicable person. It's a writing technique meant to send a deeper message to the audience than that of who went in first. Peter the denier, to John, is the baloney between the two slices of Judas the betrayer, and the object of his scorn.

In this case the message was that Peter was not qualified to lead the Church because he, like Judas, betrayed and denied Jesus. John believes himself more qualified. He went with Jesus supposedly to the trial while Peter lurked outside denying Jesus, proving him unworthy of leadership. Details revealed only by John.

The first time John compares Peter to Judas is in John 6:63-71, the second is John 13:1-11 and the third is 21-27. In each case it is

1. a statement about Judas betrayal....
2. A disparaging statement about Peter...
3. A statement about the betrayal of Judas. John even manages to throw in the irrelevant detail that Judas is the son of Simon Iscariot. Irrelevant that he is bashing Simon Peter with the son of Simon Iscariot.

In the end of John, which is really John 20:30 , we find what may indeed be the missing end of the gospel of Mark. Mark has no hopeful ending with women fleeing in fear. John has two endings, John 20:30 and the whole non fitting, fishing motif, chapter 21. Long story. The short of it is that John 21 may have been added to show that in spite of John considering Peter to be an embarrassment to the Church and that he, John, was more qualified to win the race to the tomb, all was forgiven and Peter erases his three denials of Jesus with three affirmations of his love for Jesus and told to "Feed my sheep."

What I have just told you is theology and not the simplistic irrelevant details of text that prove the text is genuine. The text of John is a subtle statement to those communities in the know of who was in and who was out in the later leadership of the Church. In this case, Peter was out in the book of John, the beloved disciple John was in, and in the added story at the end of an already ended account, Peter is forgiven and back in charge with the jangling keys of the Kingdom firmly attached to his belt.

Gordon says, "what difference does it make who went in first?" The answer is that if one reads the account like Goldilocks and the Three Bears...it matters not. But if you read it as a theological statement on who's who and who's not, it makes all the difference in the world who is perceived to have won the race to the tomb.

Ambassador Watch

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