POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Kind of Ironic

I am beginning to read the Book "Lost Christianities - The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew" by Bart Ehrman Phd (UNC Chapel Hill Religion Professor). The book is a look at the world of the early church, the religious sects existing at the time, and the texts which reflected beliefs which were "suppressed, discarded, and lost" when orthodox teaching was established in the first three centuries of the church. The author, a critical scholar has a tact to his work that is profoundly at odds with church tradition. I expected this and picked the book up for precisely this reason. I wanted to see how he presents the canonization of the New Testament documents in the complex world of the early church. I expect his position to be rather unnerving, but I did not expect to see such sloppy thinking like I ran across in Part 1 - Forgeries and Discoveries In this section he introduces the discoveries of ancient texts as well as the universal agreement that all the non-canonical materials found are agreed to be forgeries by all scholars "liberal, conservative, fundamentalist, and atheist" -- What he continues with is the familiar claim that these forged (or pseudepigraphal) books are no different than some of the NT writings...in other words, the New Testament contains books which claim to be written by one author but this is not actually the case...2 Peter, and the Pastorals (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) are claimed to be of this ilk. This is nothing new to "critical biblical scholarship." What is shocking is what he claims next; I quote: How could forgeries make it into the New Testament? Possibly it is better to reverse the question: Why shouldn't forgeries have made it into the New Testament? Who was collecting the books? When did they do so? And how would they have known whether a book that claims to be written by Peter was actually written by Peter or that a book allegedly written by Paul was actually by Paul? So far as we know, none of these letters was included in a canon of sacred texts until decades after they were written, and the New Testament canon as a whole still had not reached final form for another two centuries after that. How would someone hundreds of years later know who had written these books?
Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities (New York: NY, Oxford University Press, 2003) 11.
Now the irony of the last sentence was evident to me right away and also to my brilliant, clear thinking wife :). Basically the author's argument is this: 1) The documents were written long before the people who selected the canon were doing their work. 2) This distance of time, some hundreds of years, would have made their knowledge of the authorship of books somewhat impossible. 3) Therefore, they included books which they may have thought to have apostolic authorship, but they really did not know. The problem with this reasoning is evident. This very same author (see Ehrman, New Testament, 377-79.) makes the claim to know who the author of these books was not. In other words, critical scholars, tell us that Paul did not write the Pastoral epistles and that we should believe them about this "fact". But yet his own argument from long distances of time, which prevented those involved from an earlier era from knowing anything of the sort. Now if we apply this "time rubric" to the authors own claims, what do we find? Somehow "modern critical scholars" - writing close to 2000 years after the events, can know what those 200 years out could not. This seems rather arrogant to me. Especially when the Christians who met in council to recognize the canon, authentic writings which would become the rule of faith for the church, were dealing with their own tradition. In other words, it seems to me, that the early believers, followers of Christ and the apostolic witness were in an infinitely better position to judge such issues of authorship and authority. This unless one writes off these early believers (by theory alone) as ignorant, zealous, propagandists who are not as wise, objective and intelligent as the modern scholars viewing the Christian world through the lens of a few poorly attested, archaeologically unverified, fragmented texts (the so called "lost books") - Texts, mind you, that were thoroughly rejected by the early Christians as being false witnesses to Christ and a scourge to the Christian movement. It seems to me quite easy to trust God's church to have done the right thing in recognizing the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament and rejecting the erroneous gospels of that day. Any good Pastor would do the same today - protect his flock from the flurries of false teachings abounding in the world. I think we should continue to follow the example set by the early councils and trust the Spirit inspired text. Let not your hearts be troubled by the axes that "biased critical scholars" seem to continually want to grind with the Word of God. ...