Saturday, August 25, 2012

Order in which the Gospels Were Written (Origen)

Quote from Origen's Commentary on Matthew (Book 1, Fragment)

Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the converts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction of Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, "The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you, salutes you; and so does Mark my son." [1 Peter 5:13] And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composed for the converts from the Gentiles. Last of all, that according to John.

Addressing the Charge of Dualism

A gentleman once accused Jehovah's Witnesses of being dualists. He wrote:

"Perhaps more to the point, the JW (and, indeed, the Platonic approach, generally) association of our being and identity with something that is NOT that dust [of Genesis 2:7] is very troublesome. It's not just the JWs, of course, who do this; unreflective Christians have been doing this since the beginning."

I say that Jehovah's Witnesses believe the body + the breath of life mentioned in Genesis 2:7 jointly constitute the human soul (NEPES). Witnesses believe that humans do not have souls but are souls. According to Witness belief, I am body and the force that animates my being, which must include cognitive and conscious states. My own personal take on anthropology is that the self is neural (i.e. syntactic), as Joseph Ledoux argues. The self is ultimately realized brain activity (synaptic connections or higher-order brain processes). But there cannot be a neural self without the body proper, a point which neuroscientist Antonio Damasio helps us to appreciate.

My interlocutor then writes:

"As for your observation that hylomorphism is a type of dualism: I think you are greatly underestimating the distinctions between Plato's concept of the soul and Aristotle's (and Aquinas'). Applying the 'dualism' tag to the latter probably obscures a great deal more than it reveals, in my estimation."

MY RESPONSE: With all respect, I've taught classes about each one of these thinkers for a number of years and I've used Catholic, Protestant and secular works to do it. I believe that I understand the distinction between Platonic and Aristo-Thomist anthropology well. I don't see how one cannot place the label "dualism" on each one. Now to avoid conflation, I did call Aristotle's theory and that of Aquinas, "compound or holistic" dualism. Kevin J. Corcoran also uses this label. Furthermore, I've seen hylomorphism described similarly in major academic works.

Interlocutor again:
"I think you may be missing the key elements of the Catholic thinking on this question and conflating that thinking with the more casual, 'folk' anthropology. Aquinas, for example, doesn't take the approach that he wants to show we have souls at all -- rather, he agrees with Aristotle that all living things have souls: you, me, my dog, a lion, whatever. The interesting question is: what kind of sould [SIC] do we have and how do they differ from those souls of lower animals. So, the kinds of questions you are asking in this paragraph are not going to be productive, since they are coming from a very different set of assumptions."

MY RESPONSE: In my view, it begs the question to assert that all living things have souls. How do we know (with any degree of objective certitude) that each living thing has a soul? Besides, I believe that Aristotle possibly means something different by the word "soul" than Thomas Aquinas does. Be that as it may, it seems to me that before we talk about rational, nutritive or sensitive souls (or elements of the soul), we should first try to determine whether or not souls (in the relevant sense) exist.

Interlocutor: "Finally, I'm not sure where, exactly, you are coming from. I thought I read you to say that you were in favor of some sort of materialism. If so, then I am confused that you find the body is not essential to identity. These seem to be quite contradictory statements, so I must be missing something."

MY RESPONSE: I do favor some kind of Christian materialism. IMO, Ledoux states matters almost exactly as I would put them: we are our synapses and the self is neural. But identity is a very complex notion. We humans cannot truly be selves without bodies: a brain is not much good if there is no body to accompany it. However, as Nancey Murphy has written, many factors contribute to our identity (memories, personal character, our external relations and human embodiment). In addition to Murphy's list, I might add DNA as a factor in identity (associated with embodiment). So, to answer your question, I think that I need A body to be identical to the person "Edgar Foster" but I don't need THIS particular body to preserve my personal identity. If time goes on, I'll die one day and THIS body will decompose as it returns to the dust. Let us assume that God will one day rearrange my decomposed body with the same atomic constituents that it formerly had, after it has decomposed. Would that reconstituted body be identical with the body that existed during my former lifetime on this earth? I think you run into the problem of Theseus' ship at this point. Either way, I believe it's fallacious to call Witnesses "dualists."



Friday, August 24, 2012

Stephen Smalley on 1 John 5:20

From Stephen Smalley's Word Commentary on 1 John:

"the most natural way of construing hOUTOS in v 20 (which need not refer to the nearest antecedent, and may allude to the main subject of the preceding statement as a whole; cf. 2:22; 2 John 7) is to take it as a reference to God: the God whom we recognize as genuine through the insight given us by his Son, and with whom we are in fellowship through Jesus Christ. 'This is the real God.' It is precisely through knowing him, as the Gospel [John 17:3] maintains, that eternal life itself becomes a reality" (p. 308).

Smalley does go on to write that if hOUTOS in 1 John 5:20 in fact refers to Jesus, then "we are presented with a NT christological witness which is rare in the NT." He cites John 20:28 as clear proof that Jesus is called God. Romans 9:5 is disputed, he says, and "Titus 2:13 is uncertain, since the Gr. can either mean, 'our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,' or 'the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ' " (Smalley 308).

Lastly, Smalley concludes that the writer of 1 John 5:20 may be ambivalent in this passage, but all of these remarks must be considered in the light of the initial statements I cited: the most natural way to construe hOUTOS is with TON ALHQINON.

A friend who uses the name "Martin Smart" provides these remarks on 1 John 5:20:

Zerwick, page 733 In A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament by Max Zerwick, Mary Grosvenor (4th edition) they say regarding 1John 5:20 with regards to hOUTOS

"the ref. is almost certainly to God the real, the true, op. paganism (v21)."

I have confirmed this quote in my personal copy of Zerwick and Grosvenor.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

John 1:18: The Best Reading According to Textual Criticism

F.J.A. Hort played a major role in bringing the textual problem associated with Jn 1:18b to light (F.J.A. Hort. Two Dissertations. London: Macmillan, 1876). These variants are discussed further in Elizabeth Harris' Prologue and Gospel: The Theology of the Fourth Evangelist (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994). She outlines three readings of this controversial text as follows:

(1) ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός

(2) μονογενὴς θεός (ὁ μονογενὴς θεός)

(3) ὁ μονογενὴς

The Byzantine text (including A and C) contain variant (1). The Western tradition likewise has this variant in the OL, Syriac and "what came to be called the Caesarean tradition, fam 1, fam 13" (Harris, Prologue and Gospel, 102).

Harris also notes that there is evidence in the Fathers for this reading, although the patristic corpus is difficult to evaluate since there are times when it is not clear if an early writer is citing Jn 1:18 or not (Ibid.).

Number (2) is the variant contained in Sinaiticus, B and C and L, P66 and P75 (hO MONOGENHS QEOS), the Peshitta, the Harclean margin, the Coptic boh., Ethiopic and the Arabic Diatessaron (Ibid). Irenaeus likewise claims that some Gnostics such as Valentinus preferred the lectio, MONOGENHS QEOS.

The problem with option (3) above is that there is "no Greek MS support" for this variant (Ibid). J.N. Sanders and B.A. Mastin (A Commentary on the Gospel According to St John. London: A & C Black, 1968. Page 85) note that hO MONOGENHS appears in the Latin Vulgate, Ephrem, Aphraat, Cyril of Jerusalem and Nestorius. Despite such lack of Greek MS support, however, they think that this reading is "to be preferred," and Sanders and Mastin translate it: "No one has ever yet seen God; the only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, is the one that revealed

The rendering of Mastin and Sanders appears to sidestep the problems that usually accompany this verse. But is this reading truly to be preferred? After a stringent analysis, Elizabeth Harris concludes that MONOGENHS QEOS, if correct, would not only round off the statement made at the beginning of the prologue (KAI QEOS HN hO LOGOS), but it would also prepare the way for other so-called divine prerogative motifs in John's Gospels. While I prefer to bracket the question of John's ontological teaching vis-a-vis the Son in this submission, it seems clear that the MS evidence supports reading number (2).

Note what J.H. Bernard also writes in the first volume of his critical commentary about John's Gospel (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St John. 2 vols. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1928):

"This [MONOGENHS QEOS] is the reading of aleph, B C *L 33 (the best of the cursives), Peshitta, Clem. Alex., Origen, Epiphanius, etc., while the rec. hO MONOGENHS hUIOS is found in all other uncials (D is lacking from v. 16 to 3:26) and cursives, the Latin vss. and Syr. cur. (Syr. sin. is lacking here) Chrysostom and the Latin Fathers generally. An exhaustive look at the textual evidence was made by Hort, and his conclusion that the true reading is MONOGENHS QEOS has been generally accepted. There can be no doubt that the evidence of MSS., versions, and Fathers is
overwhelmingly on this side" (Bernard, page 31).

But vide Edwyn Clement Hoskyns. The Fourth Gospel (Volume 1). London: Faber and Faber, 1940. Consult pp. 150-152.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Joseph Priestley on Using the Divine Name in the New Testament

Interesting data!


Thursday, August 09, 2012

Henry Alford on Matthew 5:48

Here is the quote from Alford's Greek Testament:

"No countenance is given by this verse to the ancient Pelagian or the modern heresy of perfectibility in this life. Such a sense of the words would be utterly at variance with the whole of the discourse. See especially vv. 22, 29, 32, in which the imperfections and conflicts of the Christian are fully recognized. Nor, if we consider this verse as a solemn conclusion of the second part of the Sermon, does it any the more admit of this view, asserting as it does that likeness to God in inward purity, love, and holiness, must be the continual aim and end of the Christian in all the departments of his moral life" (Volume I:48).

Luke 18:14 (NIV)

Luke 18:14 (NIV) reads: "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God" rather than the wording "justified by God."

But knowledge of the NIV's theological orientation suggests that NIV is not trying to say the tax collector was proved righteous by his actions. With all due respect, I believe that it's attempting to convey the idea that God (as the implicit agent of the verb DEDIKAIWMENOS) justified the tax collector. I also checked my commentary on Luke written by Alfred Plummer and he writes concerning the Greek wording KATEBH hOUTOS DEDIKAIWMENOS: " 'This despised man went down justified in the sight of God,' i.e. 'accounted as righteous, accepted'" (see p. 419).

Studying this verse has also helped me to understand what the NWT is doing in Luke 18:14: it is treating DEDIKAIWMENOS as a reflexive passive whereas other translations appear to construe the word as a simple passive. A comparison of the verse in Luke with Genesis 44:16 and Revelation 22:11 is interesting. The KJV and the NWT both render Genesis 44:16 in a way that suggests the brothers of Joseph want to know how they might justify themselves (i.e. prove themselves righteous). But see BDAG for information on Genesis 44:16 and Luke 18:14.

None of these remarks should be interpreted as me taking issue with the NWT rendering. I'm simply reviewing translational possibilities for this verse.

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Short Bibliography for "Sheep and Goat" Studies (Matthew 25:31-46)

Cope, Lamar. "Matthew XXV: 31-46: 'The Sheep and the Goats' Reinterpreted." Novum Testamentum, 11, Fasc. 1/2 (Jan. - Apr., 1969): 32-44.
Published by: BRILL.
Article Stable URL:

Evans, Craig A. Matthew. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. (See page 423ff)

Michaels, J. Ramsey. "Apostolic Hardships and Righteous Gentiles: A Study of Matthew 25:31-46," Journal of Biblical Literature , 84.1 (Mar., 1965): 27-37.
Published by: The Society of Biblical Literature.
Article Stable URL:

Via, Dan O. "Ethical Responsibility and Human Wholeness in Matthew 25:31-46," The Harvard Theological Review 80.1 (Jan., 1987): 79-100. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Harvard Divinity School.
Article Stable URL:

See also