Paul Tobin Responds to The Infidel Delusion (Part 3)

This is part three of Paul's response to the ebook The Infidel Delusion, which is an amateur attempt to deal with our book The Christian Delusion. The first two parts can be read beginning here.

Written by Paul Tobin:

34. One evidence that the pastoral epistles were not written by Paul is the fact that the authentic epistles of Paul contained an imminent expectation of the apocalyptic return of Jesus (the parousia) while the pastorals give the impression of settled communities who see their churches existing into the foreseeable future. As evidence of the historical Paul’s belief that Jesus will return within the former’s lifetime or at the latest within the lifetime of some in his congregations, I quoted the following two passages in my article:

I Corinthians 7:29-31 (NRSV)
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

I Thessalonian 4:14-17 (NRSV)
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

The Corinthian passage obviously tells us that the apostle believed that the time before the return of Jesus is very short. (“the appointed time has grown short”; “the present form of the world is passing away”) The Thessalonian passage confirms this point and indeed showed that Paul believed that it would come either within his lifetime or the lifetime of the contemporaneous recipients of his letters (“that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord”).

That Paul expected an imminent apocalyptic return of Jesus, within the lifetime of his congregation, is also evident in another passage:

I Corinthians 15:51-52 (NRSV)
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
That “we will not all die” means that Paul believed that at least some of the original recipients of his letter would still be alive at the sounding of the eschatological trumpet. Taken together with the passage other two passages we have seen, it is quite obvious that Paul was expecting the present world order as he knew it to end either within his lifetime or those of his congregations.

Hays defense is incomprehensible.

For his attempted rationalization of I Corinthians 7:29-31, the most I can make of his claim is that when Paul says the time is “short” he means ‘shortened” and that this is somehow in opposition to the Greek concept of the eternity of the world.

But this does not take away the clear sense of the passage. How could time being ‘shortened’ from infinite to finite have any bearing on Paul’s point? In the couple of verses earlier, Paul had told those who are single not to marry in view of the “impending crisis” so that they do not experience “distress in this life.”

I Corinthians 7:26-28 (NRSV)
I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life.
It does not make sense if by “the time has grown short” (or “has shortened”) Paul was talking about events thousands of years in the future. For what is the meaning then of the “impending crisis” and the advice to singles not to marry to avoid “distress”?

When Hays tries to claim that this “impending crisis” refers merely to some famine, he is either willfully ignoring, or is ignorant of, the significance of the words Paul is using here. The two words translated as “crisis” (anagken) and “distress” (thlipsin) by the NRSV are pregnant with eschatological meaning. As Dale Allison pointed out, the first word, anagken, is used elsewhere in the NT and Septuagint in an eschatological sense (Zephaniah 1:15; Luke 21:23). The second word, thlipsin, which can also be translated as “tribulation,” is used very often in an eschatological sense (Daniel 12:1, Habakkuk 3:16, Zephaniah 1:15, Acts 14:22, Colossians 1:24, Revelation 7:14).[1]

As C.K. Barrett explained in his commentary on I Corinthians:
Men and women are free to marry; but such people (acting against Paul’s advice) will get affliction for the flesh…If wars and rumours of wars, earthquake, pestilence, and famine (cf. Mark xiii. 7f., and especially 17) are at hand, marriage can only have the effect of multiplying the affliction. In the circumstances of the last days men must sit loose to all earthly relationships.[2]
Hays attempt to explain away the imminent eschatological expectation in I Thessalonian 4:14-17 is also equally unsuccessful. He quoted evangelical Gordon Fee who noted that Paul’s emphasis is “not that he and the recipients of the letter will be alive when Jesus returns”. By saying this is not the emphasis of this passage, Fee has sidestepped an important issue. The context of the I Thessalonians 4 is that some believers in Thessalonica had passed away before the parousia, when they had all expected to be alive when Jesus returns. Paul was writing in response to this. As Gerd Lüdemann pointed out, why would the believers had held such a belief unless they had been taught by Paul of an imminent parousia within their lifetimes?[3] That Paul may have not place emphasis in this passage on those who will be around until the parousia is to be expected from the fact that he is trying to console those who are alive that the dead will rise to meet Jesus with them!

As is always the case with evangelical apologetics, the position of the majority of mainstream scholars[4] who concluded, based on the evidence above, that Paul did expect an imminent parousia is simply ignored.

35. Another evidence normally cited by scholars for the spurious authorship of the pastorals is the fact that the pastorals showed a more developed hierarchical structure than those evident from the authentic epistles of Paul.

As usual with the evangelical mindset, Hays tried two mutually contradictory arguments to defend the authenticity of the pastorals here.

Firstly, he made an unsupported assertion that “the polity in 1 Cor 12 seems to have a more developed “hierarchy” than the simpler polity in the Pastorals.” He did not show how he derived such a conclusion.

Secondly, in contradiction to his first argument (which seems to show that he thinks the Corinthian church was more developed than the ones referred to in the pastoral epistles), Hays speculated that Paul had to put “more emphasis on church office, to take over as the apostles died off.”

Let me first note that Hays have conveniently ignored the fact that the developed church hierarchy is an important clue to the spurious nature of the pastoral epistles is something accepted by most critical scholars. [5]

In response to his first argument, the evidence that the Corinthian church was certainly more chaotic that the ones referred to in the pastoral epistles is very clear.

During Paul’s time, we see that the church structure is quite amorphous with no one really in command. In I Corinthians we see that there are many different types of members in the church – apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles workers and others (I Corinthian 12:28). Any of these may choose to speak freely during their worship service (I Corinthians 14:26-33). We can tell that no one was truly in charge when Paul had to ask these Christians to “wait for one another” (I Corinthians 11:33) to prevent a chaotic scramble during the common meal. In the pastorals, this is no longer the case. We find that there are bishops, presbyters and deacons who are formally appointed to their position (I Timothy 3:1-7, 4:14, Titus 1:5-9) and who have the right to get paid (I Timothy 5:27) by the congregation.

Such a hierarchical structure as evidenced in the pastorals is only known in second century Christian texts.[6]

Hays second argument betrays an evangelical’s ahistorical understanding of early Christianity. First, to say that Paul is making preparation for the “death of the apostles” implies the idea of apostolic succession, something which only came about in the second century CE. [7] Paul had no use of this idea of apostolic transmission of his gospels. He expressly disavowed that he received his gospel from any man (Galatians 1:1, 1:11-12).

Second, Paul could not merely “put more emphasis on church office” if the structure is not there to begin with. Notice how he had to plead with the Corinthians to be less chaotic. In the pastorals he is giving advice on an already established hierarchical structure.

It is no surprise that critical scholars are nearly unanimous in declaring the pastorals to be pseudepigraphical. The Catholic New Testament scholar Raymond Brown estimated that 80% to 90% of critical scholars consider these epistles to be spurious.[8]

36. Turning to my summary of the position of critical scholarship on the spurious authorship of Daniel, the Pastoral Epistles, Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, I & II Peter, James and Jude, Hays accused of not even beginning engaging “the opposing literature.” Again all his references of “the opposing literature” are either from evangelical apologists or very conservative scholars. This doesn’t really amount to any criticism since my summary was based on mainstream biblical scholarship which is, of course, at variance with apologetic works!

On Biblical Scholarship and Evangelical Apologetics

Perhaps this would be a good time to explain why the word ‘scholarship’ cannot be used when referring to evangelical literature[9] and why people like Hays are mistaken in placing their trust in such works.

The mark of scholarship is its dependence of evidence and reason regardless of where it leads.

Yet we find that many evangelical institutes have very strict rules about what their “scholars” are supposed to accept. Many evangelical theological seminaries, such as the Dallas Theological Seminary,[10] Denver Seminary[11] and Fuller Theological Seminary[12] require its faculty to sign a strict statement of adherence to biblical inerrancy before they are allowed to teach there. Some institutions even require the faculty member to recommit to this statement annually, just in case they have changed their mind on inerrancy after signing the statement.

Not adhering to these statements could mean loss of one’s tenure and may even result in sacking or forced resignation. The recent case of Bruce Waltke, an evangelical professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, is one such example. He had to resign his post from the Reformed Theological Seminary in circumstances still unclear – but it clearly had to do with his advocating the compatibility of evolution and biblical creation, something clearly anathema to many, if not most, evangelicals.

How can honest scholarship be done when one is already adhering to a position of inerrancy? Imagine physicists being required to sign a statement affirming the “inerrancy” of quantum mechanics before they can get a teaching position in any university! One would not believe any “research” on the fundamentals of physics that comes out from such an institution.

It is the same with evangelicals. When they are already committed to an unalterable belief, then that very position cannot but produce “scholarship” which agrees with such a belief. Thus, it should come as no surprise that any book by Craig Blomberg on the reliability of the gospels will conclude that the gospels are “reliable.”[13] And if Ben Witherington III were to write a book about the Acts of the Apostles, you can bet your bottom dollar he is going to “find” the book historically reliable and that Luke is its author.[14]

Studies where the end results are known beforehand are not works of scholarship but of pure apologetics. As Robert M. Price noted in his recent book, “The Case Against the Case for Christ,” such “scholarship” has only one main goal – to “turn back the clock” to a time when the Bible made is safe from historical criticism.[15]

We do not find this in mainstream biblical scholarship, where debates and differing positions are taken based on how each scholar marshals the evidence. When a consensus is reached by such a boisterous group of scholars–it tends to mean that the evidence for such a consensus is strong. Thus when we say that 80% to 90% of such scholars agree that the pastorals were not written by Paul, we can be certain that the reason for such a consensus must be compelling.

A “Consensus” among evangelicals however, comes not from the result of arguments and evidence but from their “statements of faith.” In other words, such “consensuses” among evangelicals come from the unquestioned presuppositional biases.

So when Hays cites his “authorities” on the reliability of the Bible, all he is saying to the skeptic is, ‘Hey, see how all these apologists with PhD’s are using ingenious methods to defend beliefs which cannot be held without a presuppositionary belief in Biblical inerrancy!”

This concludes my response to the critique of Steven Hays. The next installment will look at the critique of Jason Engwer.

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[1] Dale Allison, “Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet” Fortress Press 1998, p. 190

[2] C. K. Barrett, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” Adam & Charles Black 1971: p. 176

[3] Gerd Lüdemann, “Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles: Studies in Chronology” SCM Press 1984 p.212

[4] Allison, “Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet” p. 190

David Barr, “New Testament Story (Second Edition)” Wadsworth Publishing Company 1995, p.67

J.D. Crossan & J. Reed “In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom” HarperSanFrancisco 2004, p. 172

Bart Ehrman, “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium” Oxford University Press 1999, pp. 136, 139

Bengt Holmberg, “Paul and Power: The Structure of Authority in the Primitive Church as Reflected in the Pauline Epistles” Fortress Press 1978, p.151

Helmut Koester, “Introduction to the New Testament, Vol II: History and Literature of Early Christianity” Walter de Gruyter 2000, p.248

Lüdemann, “Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles” p.212

Alvin Roetzel, “Paul: The Man and the Myth” Fortress Press 1999, p.62

E.P. Sanders, “The Historical Figure of Jesus”, Penguin Books 1993, pp. 179-181

Udo Schnelle, “The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings” Fortress Press 1998, p.316

[5] Barr, “New Testament Story” p.170

Bart Ehrman, “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings” Oxford University Press 2000, pp.359-360

Calvin Roetzel, “The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context”, WestminsterJohnKnox 2009, p.160

Schnelle, “The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings”, pp.329-330

[6] Ehrman, “The New Testament”, pp.359-360

[7] Bart Ehrman, “Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew” Oxford University Press 2003, pp. 142-143, 192-193

[8] Raymond E. Brown, “An Introduction to the New Testament” Doubleday 1997, p. 639

[9] I am referring to evangelical works on issues which are fundamental to their faith. There are works of scholarship from the evangelical community in peripheral topics which do not “threaten” their basic beliefs such as textual criticism. One of the most well known experts on textual criticism, Bruce Metzger, was an evangelical.

[10] http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/

[11] http://www.denverseminary.edu/about-us/what-we-believe/

[12] http://www.fuller.edu/about-fuller/mission-and-history/statement-of-faith.aspx

[13] Craig Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels” IVP Academic 2008
[14] Ben Whiterington III, “The Acts of the Apostles: a socio-rhetorical commentary” Eerdmans, 1997, pp. 58, 88

[15] Robert M. Price, “The Case Against the Case for Christ” American Atheist Press 2010, pp.95-96.

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