The MOST Theological Collection: The Consciousness of Christ
"Introduction: Can we Trust the Gospels?"
There are three chief challenges today to the reliability of Gospel evidence, upon which our knowledge of Christ's consciousness heavily depends. It is said: (1) even the Catholic Church, long one of the strongest champions of the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, has now made significant concessions; (2) if we examine the literary form or genre of the Gospels, we find they were not really meant to be factual; (3) form criticism of the Gospels has undermined their credibility. This introduction will treat the first two problems by way of establishing a basis for the use of Scripture in the central argument of this work. Form criticism is a more cumbersome and technical problem which, if treated by way of introduction, would delay the reader too long in approaching the fundamental question of the consciousness of Christ. I have therefore included a straight forward and concise analysis of form criticism in the Appendix, for those who have been unable in today's confusion to complete an analysis of this exegetical method.
In the encyclical letter Divino afflante Spiritu of September 30, 1943, Pope Pius XII firmly insisted on the inerrancy of Scripture and cited the teaching of Vatican Council I that the books of Scripture, "being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have God as their author." Therefore, adds Pius XII, Holy Scripture "enjoys immunity from any error whatsoever."1 He complains that "certain Catholic writers dare to limit the truth of Sacred Scripture to matters only of faith and morals (and to say) that other things, of a physical or historical nature, or things said in passing (obiter dicta)" are not protected by inspiration.2
These positions of Pius XII and his predecessors are far from fundamentalism; they contain no inkling that the Scriptures are, as it were, to be understood as if written by twentieth-century men. Pius XII, following Leo XIII,3 insists that, "there is no error when the sacred writer, speaking of physical things, 'follows what appears to the senses,' as St. Thomas says."4 Thereby he implies that one need not tale a simplistic view of Genesis 1-3. And among other points the encyclical reminds us that the ancient Semites used "approximations" and " hyperbole".5
However, what most sets Pius XII apart from fundamentalism is his insistence that we not only may, but must tale into account the literary genre or form of each passage before trying to work out its meaning in other ways. An illustration would be an historical novel in English, one on the Civil War. Since we are native to American culture, we automatically adjust to such a novel. We expect the main line of the story to be factual history. We expect the background descriptions to fit the period; there can be telegraphs and steam trains, but no airplanes or television. But when we read word-for-word accounts of discussions held by Lincoln with various officials, we do not assume these to be verbatim truth. We know that novel writers may fill in to make the story more interesting, while keeping their fill-ins in character or in accord with known facts. And if we read of a romance carried on by some minor characters, we do not feel obliged to regard it as historical. It may or may not be so. Thus an historical novel is a blend of fact and fiction. We do not for that reason charge error or falsification; we know how it was intended, and we take it that way.
All peoples and cultures have many and varied literary patterns, forms, or genres. Natives adjust to them automatically; non-natives must male a conscious adjustment. Scripture belongs to a different cultural stream than ours; hence we must tale pains to learn how people in that culture understood each of their many genres.
Failure to do so can lead to many errors. For example, Clement of Alexandria seems to take the worldly-wise advice of Sirach 32:7-8 as a religious precept, not understanding the underlying genre.6 Sirach urged old men to speak at a banquet, but directed young men not to open their mouths unless asked a second time, and men to speak briefly. Again, a person in our own times was relieved when he learned of the existence of ocean currents. He felt that Ps. 8:8, which tells of fishes that go through the "paths of the sea", required him to believe in such things.
In any case, many difficult problems about the inerrancy of Scripture are easily resolved with a knowledge of genres. Thus the genre of Genesis 1-3 can easily leave room for human bodily evolution.7 And it is possible to think of much of the Pentateuch as in a genre resembling Greek Epic, which, as Schliemann showed, did enshrine basic facts.8 Similarly, difficulties associated with the book of Jonas9 readily disappear if we suppose-a matter not really proved at present-that the book is in a genre similar to an extended parable, intended as a means of teaching that since God loves even the Assyrians (the worst of men, to Jewish eyes) He must love everyone.
It is singularly odd that today, when we have so many resources not known to past ages by which vexing difficulties may be solved, scholars remain prone to accept the idea of errors in Scripture. Many a problem that baffled previous generations- who had to tale it mostly on faith that Scripture could not be in error-yields easily to the application of literary genre principles and other approaches now common.
While modern new techniques are most helpful, however, they do expose us to the possibility of rampant subjectivity, especially if someone, without adequate evidence, tries to classify various parts of Scripture as examples of very loose genres. For this and other reasons Pius XII insisted on the need of heeding the Church-not private judgment-in interpreting Scripture:10 "However let exegetes, mindful of the fact that there is here question of a divinely inspired word whose care and interpretation is entrusted by God Himself to the Church-let them not less carefully tale into account the explanations and declarations of the magisterium of the Church, and likewise of the explanations given by the Holy Fathers, and also of the 'analogy of faith', as Leo XIII...wisely noted. "11
At first sight, Pius XII seems to weaken his statement greatly when he adds: "...there are few [passages] whose sense has been declared by the authority of the Church, nor are there more on which mere exists an unanimous teaching of the Holy Fathers."12 It is true, there are not many texts of the magisterium that explicitly point to a line of Scripture and declare its meaning. Yet the Pope also mentioned the analogy of faith. That is, whatever meaning one selects must harmonize with, and not contradict, the entire structure of Catholic belief. Thus, even though the magisterium and the Fathers do not explicitly settle many passages, yet implicitly they often do narrow the range of possible interpretations.
Many claim that Vatican Council II changed the teaching of Pius XII and his predecessors on inerrancy. The critical text is in the Constitution on Divine Revelation: "Since all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God. for the sake of our salvation wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures."13 So, it is said, Vatican II teaches that Scripture is inerrant only on matters needed for salvation. One might even claim that certain matters of faith could be in error, namely, points not necessary for salvation.
But we need to note that the italicized words can be taken readily in two ways: as restrictive, or as descriptive. If taken in a restrictive way, they mean only that which is set down for the sake of salvation is inerrant. If taken in a descriptive way, the words merely describe what Scripture does, without making any comment on things not pertaining to salvation.
Now what judgment did Vatican II put into these words? There are two methods of resolving the question. First, when something in a later text is capable of being understood in several ways, it is to be assumed that what is meant coincides with the earlier teaching. After all, to change a teaching, especially one of such great moment as the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, is no small matter. Nor is the Church accustomed to change officially proclaimed doctrine. If the Council really meant to abandon biblical inerrancy, we would find it stated in a clear and unambiguous manner. (The Council could have easily made it clear it meant a restrictive sense by using the Latin qui quidem with the subjunctive-a structure which is always restrictive.)
Secondly, the Council did not leave us without the needed help. It gave a footnote on this very sentence, in which it refers to the very passages cited above from Vatican I, Leo XIII, and Pius XII. Surely, it would be more than slightly strange if a Council undertook to make a momentous change in teaching, did it in ambiguous language, and, to clarify the ambiguous language, referred us to numerous earlier documents all teaching the opposite of the supposed changer
In addition, Vatican II reminded scholars:
Nonetheless, Father Raymond Brown insists that even Pius XII sharply reversed the position of the Church:
As already shown, Pius XII vigorously reaffirmed previous teaching on the Bible's absolute inerrancy. Yet Fr. Brown says that the changes made by Pius XII led scholars to abandon almost all "biblical positions taken by Rome" early in the 1900s. While he is right in saying that scholars no longer took Genesis 1-3 in a fundamentalistic sense, neither had Rome ever taken it in a fundamentalistic sense, for, as we learn from encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XII, cited above, the intent of the sacred writers was not to teach science; rather, they often wrote according to the way things appear to human observation.
The use of literary genre, called for by Pius XII, did open the way to the solution of many problems, including many in Genesis 1-3. Was that approach ever "forbidden" as Fr. Brown says? Not really. On June 23, 1905, the Pontifical Biblical Commission formulated the question whether it was permissible to hold that some "books...that are considered historical (completely or partly) at times do not retell history strictly...but [instead! have only the appearance of history, so as to convey something other?"16 Their answer was guarded, yet it allowed a certain latitude:
Rome was telling scholars that not all which seems to be history in Scripture is such. One must use great care in deciding when different forms are possible. Yet it can be done, under the precautions listed. Pius XII did offer greater encouragement, but it is not at all correct to say flatly that the literary genre approach was "forbidden" previously.
On June 27, 1906, the same commission gave four responses on the Pentateuch, and admitted that we could say that Moses used other persons as writers, that Moses made use of oral and written sources, that if we credit Moses with "substantial" authorship we can hold that over many centuries there were modifications and additions by other inspired authors.17 Have scholars today repudiated this absolutely? Fr. Eugene Maly, a first rank exegete, has this to say in the Jerome Biblical Commentary: "Moses, therefore, is at the heart of the Pentateuch, and can, in accord with the common acceptance of the ancient period, correctly be called its author."18
Moreover, even in the age of the Fathers, the Church never did officially teach fundamentalism. It is one thing, after all, to recount the creation story of Genesis in the same or similar words-quite another to officially interpret that same story. The Church has always done the former, never the latter. We state again the principle of St. Thomas Aquinas, cited with favor by Popes Leo XIII and Pius XII, that, "there is no error when the sacred writer, speaking of physical things, 'follows what appears to the senses', as St. Thomas says."19
Centuries earlier, St. Augustine warned against fundamentalism, when he wrote in his commentary on Genesis: "That God made man with bodily hands from the clay is an excessively childish thought, so that if Scripture had said this, we should rather believe that the one who wrote it used a metaphorical term than to suppose God is bounded by such lines of limbs as we see in our bodies."20 Augustine, as quoted by Leo XIII, also warned that "the Spirit of God, who spoke through them [the biblical authors] did not want to teach these things (the inner male-up of things) which would have no profit for salvation."21
Still further, we must recall that many of the Fathers quite often were not intending to give a literal interpretation; they followed an allegorical interpretation. Therefore, they simply could not teach fundamentalism.
There are, we grant, some positions taken by the Pontifical Biblical Commission which are widely rejected today, such as the statement that Matthew was the first Gospel. Two observations are appropriate here: first, these positions were more disciplinary and prudential than a matter of exegesis (the question of date or authorship is purely historical, and not a point of doctrine at all); second, there is still no proof that Matthew did not write the first Gospel. The ancient sources, external evidence, do say he did. We do not have the Hebrew test of Matthew. It could easily be that our Greek Matthew is later than Mark, while the Hebrew Matthew was earlier. Really, as we shall see, the evidence adduced by the critics to prove the priority of Mark, and other things too, is quite unsubstantial, and certainly never conclusive. Hence, to speak of an about-face by the Church is hardly the fruit of careful scholarship.
Our task is not, however, so easily finished. Before we can even consider whether the Gospels belong to a genre having anything in common with history we meet with a vigorous challenge from Norman Perrin of the University of Chicago, an ardent admirer of Rudolph Bultmann, the pioneer form critic: "We must strenuously avoid the assumption that the ancient world thought as the modern western world thinks.... No ancient texts reflect the attitudes characteristic of the modern western world."22
As we shall see later, Perrin violates his own principle, for he, following Bultmann, tries to male the Semitic-authored Gospels mean the same as an influential modern existentialist, Martin Heidegger.23 But to return to Perrin's claim that there is nothing in ancient patterns like ours, we must note that while there are indeed differences, Perrin leaps beyond all bounds. We are concerned here with historical thought, for which a reading of the ancient Greek and Roman historians is very revealing. We do not pretend, of course, that they had our technical resources. Yet, they did intend to convey facts, even when they added something to those facts, namely, an interpretation. Modern students of the ancient pagan authors find it quite possible to distinguish the facts from the interpretations.
Let us survey the expressed intentions of some of these ancient historians. The earliest among the Greeks, Herodotus, though not possessing modern critical skill, still wrote: "I ought to report all that is said, but I am not obliged to believe it all-let this statement apply to my whole history."24 Thucydides, in the judgment of classical scholars, 25is much like a modern historian though he lacked some of our skills and liked to include speeches of which he says: "It was hard for me...and for others who reported them to me, to recollect the exact words. Things are expressed according as it seemed to me each person would say the things needing to be said on each occasion. I held as close as possible to the thought of what was actually said."26 Such speeches, then, are comparable to similar passages in modern historical novels.
This presents no problem; they are in character, and are easily distinguished from the factual recital outside the speeches. Thucydides reports: "As for the things that were done in the war, I judged I should not write on the basis of just any informant, nor as I thought [things should be] but with the greatest possible accuracy about things I took part in, and things reported by others. [The facts] were found out with great labor."27 Polybius tells us how he consulted the actual texts of treaties preserved on bronze tablets.28 Diodorus Siculus reports that he spent thirty years going about gathering his data, and gives examples: "I have learned exactly all the deeds of this [Roman] empire, from records kept by them over a long period."29 He knows enough not to trust things too poorly supported: "Of the periods covered in this work, I do not attempt to define definitely those before the Trojans, because no dependable annals have come before me. "30
Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, undoubtedly exaggerates the merits of the writers among his own people, yet he is not entirely wrong in saying: "For words and cleverness in them we must yield to the Greeks, but not for true history of ancient [things or peoples]."31 And: "I made a true written account of the entire war and the individual happenings in it, having been present myself at all events."32 The Roman historian Tacitus comes in for some criticism today, yet we can and do get priceless facts from him so much so that "even his severest critics concede the general accuracy of the facts that he records. "33 The criticism bears really on the interpretations Tacitus makes, rather than on the facts he gives. It is not really difficult to distinguish one from the other.
It would be easy to fill pages with similar statements of the attitudes of ancient historians to their work, but the above should suffice to male our point, namely: The ancient writers of Greece and Rome did intend to convey facts.34 They differed from us chiefly in two things: (1) in lesser technical skill, (2) in their habit of composing speeches that were in character. They did, in addition, add interpretations; but so do modern writers. In any event, it is quite possible to distinguish interpretation from fact.
While making their interpretations, the ancient writers hoped that the facts would teach lessons. Polybius wrote: "There is no more ready corrective for men than the knowledge of past events."35 Obviously, we can separate the lesson-teaching interpretations from the facts.36
Not only Greek and Roman writers could and did record facts: other ethnics were no less gifted. Mircea Eliade takes an almost extreme position when he writes (but yet expresses an important point): "The Hebrews were the first to discover the meaning of history as the epiphany of God, and this concept, as we should expect, was taken up and amplified by Christianity."37 And again: "For Christianity, time is real because it has a meaning-the Redemption.... The development of history is thus governed and oriented by a unique fact, a fact that stands entirely alone. "38 We called his position almost extreme in that he thinks all other peoples held beliefs of eternal cyclical repetition, in a mythical framework. But he is certainly right in saying that Hebrew and Christian thought is non-cyclical: "The destiny of all mankind, together with the individual destiny of each one of us, are both likewise played out once, once for all, in a concrete and irreplaceable time which is that of history and life."39 Even if one thinks cyclical beliefs were absent from people other than the Hebrews,40 it remains true that the Hebrews were indeed very special in their insistence on a strictly factual basis for their beliefs.
Christianity, as Eliade says, shared the Hebrew concern for facts. This is to be expected, for the first Christians were all Hebrews. And the Christians, even more clearly than the Hebrews, knew their eternal destiny depended on the factuality of the reports about Jesus. Many of them died wretchedly rather than deny that factuality. And there was a host of witnesses to the events on which Christianity is based. Many of these witnesses certainly survived to a date later than the latest dates proposed for the Synoptic Gospels.
Quadratus, the earliest of the Greek apologists, writing around 123 A.D., observed:
Quadratus does not say whether they were still around in the year 123, when he wrote, but it would suffice for our purpose that they were on hand in the earlier part of his lifetime, which is later than the latest proposed dates for the compositor of the Synoptic Gospels. And of course, most history is not written by eyewitnesses. It is considered very good if the writer consulted eyewitnesses. That does not prevent acceptance of the history. In the decade 80-90 A.D. many would be alive who had spoken to eyewitnesses, e.g., Pope Clement 1(92-101 A.D.) who says he was of the same generation in Rome as Peter and Paul, and Polycarp, who knew St. John.
This insistence on facts emerges with great clarity in St. Paul, whose writings antedate the Gospels. In 1 Cor. 15:1-18 he stresses how he is handing on facts that he had received, facts that were predicted long in advance by the prophets, i.e., that Jesus died for our sins and rose. See verses 14 and 19, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . if for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied."
St. Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to Rome to be devoured by the wild beasts in 107 A.D., wrote to the Trallians: "But if, as some atheists, that is, unbelievers say, His [Christ's] suffering was only make-believe-when actually they themselves are make-believes-then why am I in bonds? Why do I pray to fight with the beasts? Then I die in vain. Then I give false testimony against the Lord."42 The point is Pauline and clear: a man is saved and made holy if, and to the extent that, he is a member of Christ and like to Him. But Christ went through two phases: first, suffering and death; then, glorification. So too will we be glorified if and to the extent that we imitate His suffering and death.
The Docetists denied the reality of the flesh of Christ, and hence, the reality of His death and resurrection. If Christ did not really die and rise, it would do Ignatius no good to die. In dying, Ignatius would be giving false witness, witness to what did not happen. No fancies suffice for a man on the point of being eaten alive by lions. Yet Ignatius, in the absolute conviction of factuality, could even be glad to face the beasts. So he wrote to the church of Rome: "I fear your love, that it may wrong me."43 He means he is afraid that some influential Christian might be able to get his martyrdom cancelled. Igantius says that would be harmful to him, for it would deprive Him of the chance of following Christ. So he continued:
There are two further proofs for the factuality of the Synoptics. First, the spread of the Gospel message was confirmed by so many miracles. If someone wishes to deny that fact we ask: how then account for the fact that sophisticated Greeks and Romans would accept a set of difficult beliefs and strict morals (and the danger of a miserable death) from uneducated men from a backwoods part (Galilee) of a remote province (Judea) if these men had no better support for their claims than their own bare word? It is true, St. Paul had a good rabbinic education, but that sort of training did not impress pagans. A. Oepke is right in pointing out: "We can see from the Gospel of Thomas and the apocryphal Acts what shape miracles take when they owe their origin to literary imagination. If there had been nothing outstanding in the story of Jesus, the rise of the community would itself be inexplicable."44
Second, such unanimity on the basic facts as found in the four Gospels could not have been reached so early-before 100 A.D.-in communities so widely scattered all over the Mediterranean world, if there had been no control by apostles and other eyewitnesses deeply concerned about facts. Fancy and lies-as any husband knows who tries to fabricate a tale for his wife-do not yield a harvest of delectable fruit.
We may conclude that the Synoptics were intended as an expression of faith and as a basis for faith. But it was a faith founded on historical facts. Hence the Synoptic genre is one that presents facts within a theological framework. We mean, of course, the overall basic genre of a Synoptic Gospel, for we admit that there are sections within a Gospel using apocalyptic, sapiential and other genres. The existence of the theological framework and Gospel interpretation does not change the factual character of its data any more than do the interpretations added by the ancient Greek and Roman historians. Further, just as it is quite possible to distinguish the facts from the interpretation in the pagan writers, so also it is possible with our evangelists.
An important case in point is the Gospel of St. Luke. In the opening lines to his Gospel the evangelist provides a preface which reminds us of the prefaces of the Greek historians; this is not really surprising, for Luke was a well-educated Greek, a physician. In that preface he claims to have carefully investigated the facts and to have checked with eye witnesses and earlier accounts. Since he used earlier written sources, it would not be strange if he consulted documents in each of the three languages then current in Palestine: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. For it is now well established that all three languages were in use as native tongues in various parts of the land of Israel at that period.45
Since Luke was an educated Greek, we should expect he would follow the pattern of the Greek historians, and his preface says he investigated everything from the start precisely (akribos) so that the reader might have the firm truth (asphaleia). Just as the historians added interpretations, so did Luke, namely the theological setting. The historians also added speeches, for which they would use the exact text if available, otherwise the substance. Lacking that, they would compose a speech suited for the occasion. From what follows, we see that Luke did have the substance, ant probably wording that is at least close, for his speeches in the Gospel.
It is generally recognized that Luke's Gospel shows more Semitic traits than do the other Gospels. The most common explanation is that Luke was consciously imitating the language of the Septuagint, the current Greek translation of the Old Testament, to give a sort of "churchy" flavor.46 To evaluate that claim, let us list some concrete features.
First, as Sparks observes, Luke's Gospel is notable for a "continual rephrasing of St. Mark: in order to add Semitisms."47 Thus in the parable of the wicked husbandmen, Mark (12:1-12) is content to say that the master "sent another slave" and later, "he sent another." But Luke (20:9-19) reads: "And he added to send another servant;" and later, "he added to send a third." This is pure Hebrew idiom; the root ysf is not used that way in Scriptural Aramaic.48 On the other hand, in a few places, Mark has pure Hebraisms (6:39 and 8:12) which Luke does not copy, though he has an otherwise parallel account-another indication that Luke did not always copy from Mark.
The most interesting and impressive evidence, however, is Luke's use of apodotic kai-a feature largely overlooked by scholars in studying Luke. For example, in Lk 2:21, a literal translation would read: "And when eight days were fulfilled for circumcizing Him, and they called His name Jesus." Hebrew idiom has an apodotic wau (and), which is used very extensively to connect sentences to sentences. The Septuagint nearly always reproduces this Hebrew wau by an apodotic kai. Johannessohn found that some Old Testament books in the Septuagint use the apodotic kai absolutely every time the Hebrew has it (Numbers, Ruth, Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel). Even those books that sometimes omit it, retain it most of the time, e.g., Exodus uses it 69.23% of the time; Josue 63.63%; 1 Samuel, over 83.33%. The most frequent omissions occur in Genesis, which nevertheless retains it 45.83% of the time. In fact, Johannessohn notes that there are eight passages in which the Septuagint adds the apodotic kai even where the Hebrew lacks the wau.49
There is an additional feature often found in these passages with apodotic kai: the sentence frequently begins with the Greek words kai egeneto (Hebrew wa yehi-of this there is no parallel in Aramaic).50 Further, after the kai egeneto there is usually a time expression, mostly a clause. An example of this is found in Lk 5:1, "And it happened, when the crowd pressed around Him and heard the word of God, and He was standing by the lake of Genesareth...."
Statistics on these three features-the opening kai egeneto, the time expression, and the apodotic kai-reveal something very significant. By my own count, Luke uses apodotic kai only 20 to 25% of the time; that is, he omits it in about 75 to 80% of the places in which classical Hebrew (which the Septuagint imitates most of the time) would have it.51
We must ask then: Is Luke really imitating the language of the Septuagint to give his composition a church flavor? If Luke intended to imitate the Septuagint, he was doing a strangely bad job of it. The Septuagint uses apodotic kai in nearly every instance where the Hebrew has the corresponding wau. But in similar structures, Luke uses the kai only 20 to 25% of the time. Suppose someone today wanted to give a church flavor by the use of thee and thou, but remembered to do so in only 20-25% of the cases. The critics would think him a strangely dull fellow. So we cannot really believe Luke was using apodotic kai to imitate the Septuagint.
The other alternative is fascinating: he must have meant it when he said in his preface that he made a careful investigation, checking with eyewitnesses and documents. Now a recourse to documents could easily have led to using sources in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. If he was doing that, then we would have a plausible reason why he would employ apodotic kai only a small part of the time; for only at those points was he translating from a Hebrew document. The other sources would have been Aramaic or Greek, oral or written. We know he was using a Hebrew, not Aramaic document, because there was no normal equivalent to apodotic kai in Aramaic.52 This conclusion is reinforced in the many instances in which a sentence opens with kai egeneto, since Aramaic has no equivalent for this expression. And, of course, neither the apodotic kai nor the kai egeneto is native Greek.
Further proof that Luke was not imitating the Septuagint may be derived from the second component of the pattern described, namely, the time expression that appears between the kai egeneto and the apodotic kai. In such combinations the Hebrew Old Testament uses mostly a preposition, such as be, followed by an infinitive with its subject. However, the Septuagint much prefers a more normal Greek construction, namely, a dependent clause with a finite verb introduced by hos, kathos, henika or hose. However, Luke has precisely the reverse preference, that is, he uses a dependent clause with a finite verb, like the Septuagint, only four times, while nineteen times he follows the Hebrew pattern, using a preposition with an articular infinitive, usually having a subject.53
So we find Luke using apodotic kai far less often than the Septuagint, and having the reverse preference to the Septuagint on the time expression that usually comes before the apodotic kai, in a sentence with kai egeneto. It is clear that he was not imitating the Septuagint: any dullard could have done much better. It is also clear that in these cases he was translating from Hebrew, not Aramaic, for the reasons given.
Why would Luke translate so closely, even slavishly? That is easily answered, for we meet the same phenomenon elsewhere, namely, in the early Latin translations of Scripture, made from the Septuagint and from the Greek New Testament, in which the early translators actually brought Greek structures into Latin. They did it out of zeal for fidelity and accuracy. Luke was clearly acting the same way; he was taking great pains to achieve accuracy and factuality. And that is simply what he himself stressed in his preface. Educated Greeks would be concerned about facts, following the pattern of the Greek historical writers as already noted. But Luke had an even greater reason for concern with facts than any ordinary historian: eternity for him and others depended on it.
Although this is a powerful confirmation of our conclusion that the Synoptics do intend to report facts, and to do so accurately, an objection could be raised to our observations that Luke was not just imitating the Septuagint. It is known that his Old Testament quotations usually follow not the Hebrew but the Septuagint. But consider these circumstances: (1) Luke (or his sources) may well have done his own Old Testament reading in the Septuagint; (2) we know today, thanks to the Qumran discoveries, that the Septuagint itself is likely to have been made from a Hebrew test differing from our Masoretic Hebrew text.54 Luke or his sources, obviously, could have used that Hebrew text.
Further confirmation of the fact that Luke is often translating, with painful care, is found in the observation that in some passages he writes stylistically good and proper Greek, as is to be expected from an educated man; but in others his style is foreign and labored. For example, when he describes the baptism of Jesus, he uses language which cannot be reproduced in English, but we can try to convey the effect; thus Lk 3:21-22, "It happened, during all the people being baptized [the preposition en with the article to, with the accusative and infinitive], and Jesus having been baptized and praying, that [accusative and infinite] the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit came down [infinitive] upon Him in bodily form as a dove, and that [accusative and infinitive] a voice from the sky came...." True, each one of these structures is known in the Greek of his day. Yet taken together the result is extremely clumsy; it is not what one would expect from an educated writer, or from someone bent on dramatizing fancies or even merely reporting so great an event. Of course, there are passages in which Luke is obviously not translating, but is writing in good Greek style. For these he must have used oral sources or Greek documents.
In passing we can also make some observations about the widely held Two Source Theory, according to which Lute (ant Matthew) closely followed Mark much of the time, and for most of the rest of the time followed closely a hypothetical source called Q. (No copies exist: it is merely supposed there was such a thing.) That theory does not explain how it is that Luke so often adds Semitisms to Mark, yet sometimes omits Semitisms which Mark has. Nor does it explain why he uses the apodotic kai far more frequently than do Mark and Matthew. Nor does it explain why Luke employs that kai only 20% of the time, and not at other times. Nor does it explain why Luke very often uses an Aramaic type paraphrase with a form of to be plus a participle instead of an imperfect indicative: of all instances of this structure in the New Testament, Luke has 50%, of which there are 30 examples in his Gospel and 24 in Acts. Yet, where this structure occurs in Mark, Luke usually avoids it-though he does use it in places that he has parallel to Mark, but in which Mark does not use it.55 It seems, then, that Luke did not really follow Mark so much, and that he had more than two sources, sources in three languages, both oral and written. This is, incidentally, the same conclusion Albright reached, for other reasons.56
Similarly, Luke 14:26 has: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother...he cannot be my disciple." Hate is a Semitism for love less. Matthew has instead (10:37): "He who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me."
Some less conclusive but still impressive evidence that Matthew did not depend on Mark appears in a recent study by John M. Rist, a Professor of Classics at the University of Toronto.57 Classicists have learned from long experience that one cannot prove one author depended on another without very detailed agreements in extended passages. Rist examines many passages in which all three Synoptics present the same episode. He notes that there are strong similarities, yet such strong differences that one cannot say there is any proof that Matthew depended on Mark. For example, in the narrative of the raising of the daughter of Jairus, Matthew omits the name, and just calls the man an archon, an official; Mark and Luke give the name, and call him ruler of the synagogue. Mark and Luke say Jairus asked to come because his daughter was dying; Matthew has some messengers come to report she is already teat. One can, of course, show that these things need not involve contradiction, but it hardly looks as though Matthew is using Mark. Again, in the account of the blind Bartimaeus, there are strong similarities, yet Matthew and Mark say the cure took place when Jesus was leaving Jericho; Luke puts it when He was approaching Jericho. Matthew has two blind men; Mark and Luke have just one. Semitic approximation could account for the differences, but again, we have no good reason to suppose Matthew or Luke depended on Mark, when such notable differences occur.
Rist concludes that all three Synoptics used several oral and written sources, which did not have identical wording, but the same substance.
If, then, there were several sources for the Gospels, their very agreement in a multitude of minute details testifies to the care for accuracy and to their authors' precise recollection. Memories then were better than now, for they were exercised more by people who lacked recording machines. Further, the things Jesus said were striking, and accordingly more easily remembered; as Jeremias rightly observes, they were often expressed in antithetic parallelism, a method which lends itself to being remembered precisely.58
In discussing the genre of the Gospels thus far we have treated only of the Synoptics; no mention has been made of John. We do not, of course, reject the testimony of that Gospel. But we think it obvious that it is in a quite different literary genre.
One of the more important differences between John and the Synoptics is that John seems to use retrojection while the Synoptics do not. That is, John seems to present Jesus saying things before His resurrection that He would more likely have said after His resurrection. So we must ask whether, and to what extent, retrojection can be found in the Synoptics, considering their genre of presenting facts as the basis for faith.
N. Perrin states his position bluntly. He asserts that the early community "absolutely identified the risen Lord of fits] experience with the historical Jesus and vice versa.... [Paul] claims, as the basis for his apostleship, to have 'seen the Lord' (1 Cor. 9:1), by which he certainly means the risen Lord...."59 And then he adds, "Luke considers Paul an eyewitness!" Similarly, R. Bultmann points to Apocalypse 16:15 and 3:20 as evidence that things seen in a vision could be attributed to the pre-Easter Jesus.60
A preliminary comment is needed: Bultmann and Perrin reject a priori any possibility of any resurrection, without even trying to offer a proof of that position.61 As a result, they must suppose that Paul, the apostles, and others who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus were deluded visionaries. They would retroject sayings from their deluded visions.
Note too how some critics, astoundingly, seem to forget the question of genre. They seem to suppose, without examination, that the genre of the Synoptics is the same as that of the Apocalypse. No serious exegete would dare to say that. The Book of Apocalypse is obviously in apocalyptic genre. Within the freedom of a such a genre, things could easily be retrojected; it is likely that the genre of John is likewise free enough for retrojection. In contrast, the genre of the Synoptics is a factual genre, aimed at presenting the basis of faith. The use of this factual genre was called for by the very life situation (Sitz im Leben),62 by the need to present that factual basis. Such a genre and need rules out fiction; it also rules out a mere collection of anecdotes "in character", such that one cannot tell if any given story is actually historical.
Since the genre of the Synoptics is such, we can determine what sort of retrojection is possible (it is a separate question what retrojection is likely):
1) a prophecy cannot be retrojected. For a prophecy not made in advance is not a prophecy at all. A prophecy has no point unless it was made beforehand. Even in a modern historical novel-a genre looser than that of our Synoptics-the rules would not permit the author to place the details of Lincoln's death on the president's lips by way of retrojection.
2) clarity cannot be added to a genuine prophecy if the added details would entail falsification. To use again our comparison with Lincoln in a historical novel, suppose it were historically true that Lincoln did express a vague premonition, and the novelist made that into a precise and detailed prediction: such would be beyond the limits even of a historical novel.
3)to retroject an actual saying of the risen Jesus to the period before Easter would not be a substantial falsification, for He would have really said it; chronological exactitude is not always intended by writers and speakers. Yet, though such a thing is possible in the Synoptics, it is not likely. The Synoptics paint Jesus, and the apostles too, as quite different in the two periods. Actually, the chief instances in which the critics suggest retrojection of this sort is on things they have decided, a priori that Jesus did not know before Easter.
4) to make a pre-Easter teaching clearer, or to express it in different language, adapted to the current audience, would not be falsification, provided that the substance of the clarified or reworded saying was really expressed by Jesus. We note that Lk 24:45 reports that Jesus did open their hearts to understand the Scriptures after His resurrection.
5) in a similar way, the Church after the resurrection could create a different title, e.g., Son of Man, to express some aspect of the earlier self-revelation of Jesus. Whether or not this is likely needs to be considered in detail for each title.
6) in the early Church, as today, there could have been false visionaries, even though the resurrection did tale place But if such visionaries attempted to falsify in any substantial way the teaching of Jesus, there were many who could and would have objected.
What some critics envision is a gradual idealization leading to the Divinization of Jesus. But such an evolutionary process is incredible. First, the time between Christ's death and the earliest writings, the letters of Paul, and even the Gospels, is much too brief; much more than 20 years would be needed to idealize a person into a transcendent God (it would be different were Jesus made only into the type of "god" known to pagan Greece and Rome). But second and more importantly, in the vagueness of claims about idealization there is a factor that is often overlooked: at a certain point such an idealization would become pure and conscious fraud. For example, Jesus was reported to have cured a man born blind. He either did or did not work such a cure. There is no half-way stage that could be exaggerated.
Such fraud, however, is ruled out in the Gospels, by the concern of the witnesses for their own eternity and other factors mentioned above. Hence, the claim of idealization in the case of Jesus can survive only if one caters to vagueness and refrains from analyzing concrete instances. The critical question is this: were there certain steps from one claim to another, steps so gradual that people could go from one to the other without dishonesty? Or, is there but one great leap, in which case, only conscious fraud could bridge the gap? For example, if people see a springboard diver do a difficult dive beautifully, someone might say: "He can do any dive." That would actually be a reasonable assumption. It could be made without dishonesty. But if someone claims to see Jesus give sight in an instant to a man born blind, there are no gradual steps. The claim must be either true or evidently false.
A further objection could be raised to the Gospels and to any and all history, even that given by eyewitness reports, on the basis of a recent scientific experiment reported in Science News.63 Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington in Seattle reported at an American Psychological Society meeting on an experiment in which 100 students viewed a short film showing a multiple car accident. They then filled out a 22 item questionnaire. It was found that there was considerable disagreement on what they saw, and also that suggestion could play a part in what they thought they saw.
But this does not mean that we must scuttle all eyewitness reports, and, as a consequence, everything in history. For we need, as always, to make distinctions in dealing with problems. It is one thing to see a car accident and quite another to recall if one saw a broken headlight, how fast a certain car was going, whether a stop sign was there or not. Loftus admitted that "the wording of a presumption into a question asked immediately after a recently witnessed event can affect the answer to a question." Such method clearly amounts to deliberate suggestion. But we must be more specific. For example, what if a space ship landed in the middle of the street at a busy intersection in the downtown area of a city? While there might be disagreement on some details-due to the shock itself-it is not conceivable that anyone present could fail to report correctly the ship's landing, something of its appearance, and whether or not living beings came out of it. Similarly, the miracles of Jesus were so utterly striking that no one could fail to recall and to report the essential facts.64 And His sayings, at least the major ones that carried with them the burden of life and death for His hearers-how could persons forget that message?
A final concern relates to our own understanding of ancient cultures, on which there are two faulty schools of thought. First, the fundamentalists believe in ignoring cultural differences and taking everything as though written by a twentieth century American for twentieth century Americans. The results are partly ludicrous, partly tragic, e.g., some think Jesus commanded children to really hate their parents! The other school believes little in the Gospels, yet concurs with the fundamentalists in imposing modern ideas on ancient texts-but in a different way: they force the Gospels to mean the same as what the modern German existentialist Heidegger thinks. We will see details of their proposals in the appendix.
Common sense rejects both these methods. Common sense neither believes in a simplistic fundamentalism nor twists the whole New Testament into a current philosophy. Chiefly, we refuse to impose modern ideas, existentialist or other, on the Gospels. We see the need of making distinctions, of taking up individual facets separately. At the end, we add up the results.
First, there are numerous details on which the differences of times and cultures have no bearing, e.g., when the Gospels report how a man called Jesus came to the town of Capharnaum. Time and culture do not change the reality. Next, suppose the account tells how Jesus cured a man blind from birth. Here not so much time and culture as the reader's presuppositions or prejudices can make difficulties. Thus the older rationalists, Bultmann, and many of his followers deny a priori the very possibility of any miracle. They have a naive confidence that science will eventually explain everything. They ignore well-attested, documented proof of miracles happening even today. But persons who are free from prejudice against the possibility of miracles can readily see if the man whom they have long known as blind from birth, is presently enabled to see. The absence of prejudice to the contrary is all that is needed. A man witnessing such a cure simply cannot deny that the person formerly blind is so no longer.
There are other things in an older culture, especially ideas and beliefs, which it may in fact be difficult for us to correctly understand, but hardly impossible. We begin by noting how a native learns the words and concepts of his language and culture. He does not take classes, he is unlikely to use a dictionary even if one is available. Rather, as a young child, he meets things in varied combinations. For example, suppose little Marcus is playing outside his house in Rome, on the street. Mother sees a horse coming, and shouts in Latin: "Equus venit." Marcus probably does not know whether the thing galloping along is an "equus" or a "venit"-but he gets the message. As time goes on, he meets these same words, and others, in many combinations. From the intersecting possibilities, as it were, he gathers that a certain four-legged animal is an "equus". The case is similar for him with less concrete things, or abstract ideas. He hears words like amor, iustitia, pietas. At first, he does not get much more than some vague notion, gathered from the setting of the word among other words that he does understand. But as time passes, from meeting the same word frequently and in different combinations, he discovers more and more clearly and precisely what it stands for. And if he learns to read, his understanding will be greatly sharpened, for then he will meet words as used by educated writers who are more careful in their use of language than boys on the street are. In this way he develops a good and accurate vocabulary.
Linguistic studies show that we can do the same across the centuries. For example, the ancient Hebrew concept of covenant was almost lost in the history of early Christianity. We need not go into the possible reasons, but a major one was the fact that the Greek word diatheke used to translate the Hebrew word berith carried multiple meanings. The Greek term could stand for either a covenant or a last will and testament. The latter meaning was the one that was favored; so still today we speak of an Old and a New Testament. Another part of the problem was the Hebrew word hesed, which highlighted the bond between parties to a covenant. Since in Greek there existed no equivalent for hesed, the Septuagint translators usually used eleos (mercy). Now it is true that at the most fundamental level, all that God does for His people is an act of mercy, for they cannot, in a basic sense, generate any claim against Him. Yet, on a secondary level, He could and did allow them to acquire a claim by fulfilling covenant conditions. When God honored such claims, He was acting basically in mercy, but also, secondarily, in moral rightness, for He had pledged His word.
Latin could have chosen a better translation for hesed than Greek, with its pietas, but since the Latin versions were translated from Greek, which had lost the hesed concept by the eleos translation, Latin rendered hesed-eleos by misericordia (mercy). And so the covenant concept largely disappeared.
In spite of that, we today can recover, and actually have recovered, that lost idea.65 For we can read the Old "Testament" in Hebrew; we can gather, especially with the help of a Hebrew concordance, all occurrences of hesed and related words. We can learn from the way the word was used in Hebrew parallelism, in which two halves of a poetic line each say the same thing in different words. We can find help in the choice of Greek words made by the ancient Hebrew translators of the Septuagint. That is, we find that at times (e.g., Exod. 15:13) the Septuagint uses Greek dikaiosyne (moral rightness) to reproduce Hebrew hesed-a clear indication that the ancient translators understood that for God to observe hesed was a matter of moral rightness.
By such means as this we can obtain a more precise knowledge of an ancient Hebrew concept than that had by many an ancient Hebrew who could not read. So instead of nebulously staring at the problem of whether modern readers can understand ancient texts, we need to examine concrete cases and see what can be done. The illustration just given shows that even where an ancient concept had been virtually lost, its rediscovery is not too difficult. Further, there was a real continuity of language and culture between the Greek Fathers of the first centuries and the New Testament authors who were coversant with two cultures, Hebrew and Greek. Paul, for instance, was well versed in both cultures, Hebraic and Hellenic; and we know from Galatians chapter 2 that he compared notes with the original Apostles, who lived in the company of Jesus. The evidence to the contrary is so compelling that it becomes ridiculous to maintain that twentieth century man is unable to understand documents from a bygone age.
Being endowed with reason, the ordinary man tents naturally toward objective evaluations in his thinking unless prejudice or bias distorts sound judgment. Some observations obviously should not be affected even if a person is prone to prejudice, such as the report that Jesus came to a town called Capharnaum. Further, prejudice can hardly prevent a man from seeing that Jesus cured a man born blind. Bias or prejudice can operate only if the person who hears the report has already made up his mind there can be no such phenomena as miracles.
The slowness of the disciples to understand and to believe is excellent evidence they were not biased in favor of Christ's claims. They were slow to realize who He was, slow to comprehend His teaching, slow to accept His resurrection even when confronted by witnesses from the empty tomb. In a way we might even say that they were prejudiced against accepting the miraculous. Could this report of their attitude be faked? No, for there were too many witnesses, witnesses whose life and death were at stake, witnesses who for their insistence on the facts had to risk opposition and often suffered persecution, ostracism, imprisonment, discrimination, martyrdom.66 Further, the apostolic preaching was confirmed by many miracles, and the same honesty and concern for eternity precludes false reports of these.
Finally, how much do we need to strictly establish from the Gospels to reach a basis for faith? Rather little, and that little does not include difficult ideas, long lost, which must be recaptured through patient research, such as we described for the covenant idea. Nor does it include things on which presuppositions are apt to control a man's view, except of course if a man is committed in advance to denying divine intervention. The required facts would be merely these: that a man called Jesus claimed to be a messenger from God (we did not say yet that He was divine), that He proved this claim by working miracles in such a way that the miracle was expressly done to prove a claim (as when He cured the paralytic to prove He had power to forgive sins), that He gathered disciples, formed an inner circle of twelve, commissioned them to carry on His teaching, and promised them that the work in His name would be divinely protected.
In establishing these points we do not, of course, appeal to the Gospels as inspired or sacred, but only as ancient documents whose credibility is determined in much the same way we use in checking other ancient authors.
Anyone who can accept these few fundamental points has inescapable grounds for believing what the continuing, on-living teaching group, the Church, proclaims about God and about Jesus. In fact, we not only may believe it, we are intellectually compelled to do so once we work to the point described.
Incidentally, the most basic, recurring pattern in the speeches in Acts reflects precisely the sort of process we just sketched, except, of course, that the speakers could use their own testimony instead of that of a book. Thus Peter, after healing the cripple (Acts 3:12-26) said in substance: We did not do it-God is glorifying Jesus, whom you killed, the author of life. But Got raised Him. Faith in Jesus has healed this man. This is really the same as saying: Jesus was a man approved by Got. Got manifested His approval by working miracles through Him; ant finally God raised Him up gloriously from the tomb-all this to male us believe, to male us put our faith in Him.