Monday, 17 November 2008

Matthew Henry's Leeches

Bob Thiel has responded to criticism of his assertion that John (the disciple) canonized the New Testament. In a long posting that seems to lack any awareness of contemporary scholarship Bob quotes Matthew Henry's commentary in support.

Bob seems to think that this is a credible authority. Well, it may have been in the early 1700s (Matthew Henry died in 1714. His commentary first appeared in 1706.) Nearly all of Bob's citations come from books that predate the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first. To pontificate on the canon without bothering to get up to speed with modern studies is a lot like trying to treat high blood pressure with leeches.

The canon question is one of the "trunk of the tree" issues for understanding not only what the Bible is, but just as importantly what it isn't. Bob launches into rampant fantasy when he tries to proof-text his position by citing a verse in Isaiah:
The Old Testament Book of Isaiah prophesied that the LORD’s disciples would bind up and seal the Bible. Notice the following:
Bind up the testimony, Seal the law among my disciples (Isaiah 8:16).

To suggest that this has anything to do with the New Testament comes close to willful stupidity. On this dubious basis Bob proceeds to build his house of cards.

Bob finishes with a quote from Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. Well, not actually Bauer himself, but a comment from James Moffatt (the guy who translated the Bible in the 1930s) which appears in an appendix to that book. I'd recommend Bob actually read the full book (which I suspect he hasn't - want to borrow my copy Bob?) rather than cherry-picking quotes. Bauer's book is one of the truly ground-breaking studies in early church history, and while Moffatt may have had reservations about his thesis, he would surely have laughed out loud at the rigidly fundamentalist twist Bob gives to his words.

Again, Harry Gamble's book is one Bob should sit down with. Also highly recommended is Lee McDonald's The Formation of Christian Biblical Canon. McDonald isn't a wicked liberal or agnostic, but a Baptist pastor and a professor at Fuller. In the meantime, it might be wise to retire Matthew Henry's three hundred year-old commentary and update to Eerdmans. Realistically though, I can't see Bob doing any of the above.

Did John finalize the New Testament canon?

Not a chance.


Anonymous said...

Is it just me or did Thiel not spell well on the very first line there?

"We in the Living Church of God believe that the true church new ..."

Perhaps he's been dwelling on the Island of Rodmos for too long.

Anonymous said...

To make it easier for Bob, here is a link to Bauer.

An interesting bit of scholarship, though not, I believe, for the faint-hearted. I was first directed at Bauer in one of Bart Ehrman's lectures on early Christianity. Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus is not a bad piece of work either, and fewer grey cells are needed than reading Bauer.

Anonymous said...

What about the "Viva Voce" and the role of oral tradition in the NT? (especially since the majority of the populance at the time were unable to read) Ben Witherington outlines some key issues in his new work "The Living Word of God - Rethinking the Theology of the Bible" (particularly in the chapter "Did the Canon and Its Translators Misifre?")

Corky said...

A really neat invention was the ultra-violet light (like they use on CSI on TV). What's so neat about it is that the changes in ancient manuscripts show up under it's glare.

There have been soooo many changes made to the oldest NT manuscripts that it would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragic to so many people who are still fooled by it today.

Cindy said...

I think if you guys argued these things in a less confrontational manner it might profit us all a bit more.
I would love to learn more from everyone.. you, Bob Thiel but the atmosphere sometimes is a bit mean.
If I am misreading I apologize but you have a good chance to teach here and the put downs sometimes make me pass things by.

Ann said...

The quote on side bar that Bama means son of whatever in hebrew is false.
A bama is an altar in hebrew.It is a home altar as opposed to the 'mizbeach' of the temple.

Its also used by blacks as in this:
1. Bama 502 up, 120 down
Originated from Black youth in Washington DC.
1. Original meaning was "cant dress well" or "fashion misfit"

2. Now the word has a more general use meaning "person", as how Whites use "Dude"

1. That bama wearing a coat in the summer

2. Tell bama to meet me at the store.

Robert uses the baby name book for his proof of the meaning of Bama.
Umm, they make things up when they need to Robert. It isn't an accurate book by any means.

But now you know and knowing is half the battle as GI Joe says!

Anonymous said...

I am sure BT is very sincere. But he is kidding himself, about what the OT predicts or how the NT is the amazing record of its all coming to pass in amazing detail.


Since BT does not tolerate any comments on his own site about his ideas, AW is a good place to discuss them. I'm sure he reads it as well as those that read his postings on how it all is.

Leonardo said...

I sincerely hear what you are saying, Cindy - yet this is true of almost any blogsite I've ever actively participated in out on the Internet, as you can't screen out the immature and fundamentalist blatherers - whatever side of the issue they represent.

You know, I once knew a blind Church member when I attended AC - we were roommates together one year (1977-78) in the same dorm. His name was Garth Wardrop. I think he wrote a book on biblical scholarship, but not sure if he ever had it published, as, quite unfortunately, he died at a fairly young age of jaw cancer sometime in the early 1990's I think.

But this fellow Garth had an incredibly brilliant mind, and was extremely well-read. We used to talk sometimes for hours on end about the very same kind of issues that are broached on this blogsite - minus some of the emotional rancor.

Garth was a very deep thinker and very rational in his analysis - I think he could have given Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas a run for their money!

Anyway, I think Garth would have enjoyed posting to this site.

Garth once did a thorough study on the argumentative style of Jesus from the book of John, and taught me how the carpenter from Nazareth dealt with folks who publically challenged him on many different occasions. Much can be learned from such an unusual study.

You find that in general Christ answered people according to their basic attitude in discussion - to the serious and sincere, he responded likewise. To the fools who just wanted to blurt out their unfounded opinions, or asked questions in an insincere kind of manner that they really didn't want an answer to, like Pilate in John 18:38 (What is truth? A good question, but the attitude driving the inquiry is all important), he didn't really give them an answer.

To the argumentative, he sometimes countered them in so powerful a manner that stopped them cold: "And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. (Matt. 22:46)

In my view, these topics are among the deepest and most profoundly important issues the human mind can reflect upon - it certainly beats wondering who's going to win the next Oscar Award for best actor, or the latest adventures of Paris Hilton, or all the other worthless drivel many people waste their time with.

And I suppose because such issues strike so close to the human mind and heart, there is bound to be some disagreement and confrontation. But on the whole, I think if we are willing to humbly listen to what others are saying, we can learn from all.

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine what type of comments would end up on Thiel's blog if he allowed comments?

BT is a cult member, plain and simple.
He has a psychological need to block and ignore criticism, no matter how valid.

Good for him.

I hope he's feeling happy, and that that little thing called "reality" never gets in the way.

Maybe he can learn to stick his fingers in his ears and say, "I DO believe in Rod, I DO believe in Rod!", over and over and over, again.

Byker Bob said...

Regarding Bob Thiel, I have to remember the HWA mold. HWA was never known for his ability to interact with the unwashed masses. He would arrive by limo at church services, on the days that he was conducting the sermon (usually about the two trees). He'd get there, preach his sermon, and leave without visiting with his followers, or having any spontaneous interaction with them. This caused a perception that he thought he was simply above everyone, a perception that was exacerbated by his use of the term "dumb sheep".

I don't know Bob Thiel personally, and have never spoken with him. But, it would be not at all unfair to attribute or compare his forum or blog patterns to HWA's example. While I enjoy many of the WCG related blogs and forums, we've certainly all seen some of them that have been started by people who have years long patterns of not being able to survive or relate as simple participants on forums. Seen in such a manner, it would not be unusual for Thiel to set up his site as he has. It's yet another one of Herbie's little time bombs, amongst all the others from which we're all in the process of recovering.


The Third Witness said...

Leonardo, I just wanted to say how much I appreciated your comment. I hope Cindy and others will be encouraged to hang on. We can all learn (“a LOT”, as you said in another comment) from what others have to say, as well as how they choose to say it, if we’re willing to listen through the background noise. For me, it’s much less important whether we (think we) agree or disagree than it is to be able to catch a glimpse of where another human being is actually “coming from”. It doesn’t make things any easier that, as somebody eloquently pointed out recently, some of us are still trying to figure out who we are. (Meanwhile, some of us are trying to figure out what that means.)

I was sad to learn only now of Garth Wardrop’s untimely death several years ago, but fascinated to hear your personal recollections of him.

Your mention of Garth’s (physical) blindness and his intellectual prowess triggered some other powerful associations for me. At the Feast in Scandinavia in the 80s, I met another remarkable blind member from the U.S.—a man named Dick Walmser.

Dick had a great sense of humor. I remember he would talk to people about what they were looking at as if he could see it himself—to see whether they were perceptive enough to notice the incongruity. He also made a superb MC at the talent show. When he announced me, he got everybody’s attention (including mine) by announcing that I was a prophet! (I’d told him, “After they hear me singing, they’ll understand why I stick to playing the piano.”) Today I just think I’m the Third Witness.

I also got to thinking about how much I take the Internet for granted. Back then, Dick used to correspond by cassette tape. He was good with words, and I’m sure he chose his words carefully. Today, I can dash off a quick comment, submit it before I catch my breath—and live to regret it when I realize I got a basic fact wrong. In fact, I just did. (Thanks, Gavin, for responding so fast to my plea for deletion!)

I think I just got a glimpse of where I’m coming from. Instead of dashing off, maybe I should try hanging on…


Leonardo said...

Thank you for your kind words, Graham – sort of rare on this blogsite these days!

Yes, we ALL find ourselves on planet earth - an infinitesimally small cosmic speck against the backdrop of a universe massive beyond human comprehension. And what an adventure it is! And perhaps the most defining characteristic of we human beings is that we have an incredibly powerful NEED to make sense of the experiences we accumulate during this adventure, and sometimes we "get into bed" with all kinds of crazy folks who claim to have “THE answers.”

Aside from those born and/or raised in the Church, and who had no choice, at least during their childhood years, I think this is why most of us locked onto HWA and his explanations - because he addressed cosmic issues, the “Big Questions” of life, and provided “answers” with such a powerful sense of confidence and conviction. Gerald Waterhouse (who I got to knew pretty well, as we would talk on the phone sometimes for hours at a time, before he passed away a few years ago) was the same way.

But I've learned the hard way that just because a person "speaks with authority" (as HWA used to like to think about himself as doing) doesn't make them RIGHT or ACCURATE in their assertions, as good as they may sound to the uneducated and naive, the young, the inexperienced – of which I was all of the above as a teenager when I first became involved with the WCG and AC.

I think I have found certain answers, as provisional as they may be in the ultimate sense, yet still desire many more answers, but at least I’ve come to see (by hard, dear-bought personal experience) where many legitimate answers are NOT found – and that is in fundamentalist religion – in spite of their emotional rantings to the contrary.

Byker Bob said...

I believe that Dr. Thiel would attract considerably less headwind from us all if he would simply allow response to his viewpoints and comments. I'm sure all of us at one point or another would have appreciated the opportunity to simply lock out any negative comments about ourselves, or rebuttal (second opinion) to our cherished ideas, but would we really learn anything that way?

It must be nice to be able to set up a site where you can take potshots at all who disagree with you, and be totally insullated from their responses! I don't mean to tar and feather only the people from an ACOG background for this mentality. I suppose that anyone from any ideology could likewise plug their ears, figuratively or literally. I think we usually call such people ostriches, or worse, mushrooms.