On Unanswerable Theories

November 17, 2011

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s. ~ GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

Martin Rist, in his article “Pseudepigraphic Refutations of Marcionism,” (Journal of Religion 22, 1942) argues that the Pastoral Epistles are directed against Marcionite heresy. He says that “[i]t is largely from… affirmations of faith that the nature of the heresy attacked in I and II Timothy can be ascertained.” (58)

Rist details one such affirmation:

Again, in these epistles, it is asserted, quite contrary to Marcionism, that Jesus Christ is intimately associated with the creator. Indeed, in the affirmation of faith in I Tim. 2:5… he is the “one mediator” between the “one God” and men. Further, unlike the Marcionite teaching, he was incarnate, for in this same verse it is stated that he was “himself man.” Similarly, in what appears to be another liturgical fragment his resurrection as well as his incarnation are affirmed: “Remember Christ Jesus, risen from the dead, of the seed of David” (II Tim. 2:8). Likewise, the hymn in I Tim. 3:16 declares the incarnation and ascension of Jesus, assuming his resurrection: “He was manifest in the flesh….. He was taken up into glory.” Also, in the first line of the martyrological hymn the resurrection of his faithful followers is assured: “If we have died with him, we shall alos live with him” (II Tim. 2:11). It may be objected that references such as these are too casual, too indefinite, to have been intended to form part of a refutation of Marcionism. But it should be noted that in a pseudepigraphic refutation such as the Pastorals appear to be the less obvious the confutations are, the greater their effectiveness. (59-60)

There are two major problems with this argument. The first is a lack of consideration of other contexts in which these affirmations would be pertinent. For example, Judaism. It strains credulity to suggest that something as general as Jesus’ “intimate association” with the Creator was only an important matter in the debate with Marcion. The same goes for the resurrection of Jesus, his Davidic lineage (i.e., his legitimacy as a claimant of the title “Messiah”), and the resurrection of believers.

The other major problem is Rist’s anticipation of this reply. Instead of admitting that other possible contexts for these statements undermine their usefulness for his argument, he instead uses that weakness as a strength. Now, the obscurity of the opponent in the PE becomes evidence for the skillfulness of the pseudepigrapher in concealing his true intentions.

Regardless of one’s position on the authenticity of the PE, I think all reasonable critics should be able to see the problem with this. It is a hallmark of conspiratorial thinking to suggest the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, a pattern of thought that permits controversial opinions to become unfalsifiable.


An Echo from “Testing Pauline Pseudonymity”

February 11, 2009

I found the following thread from Corpus Paul archive written by my friend Dan Bailey. Thanks for the feedback on my paper “Testing Pauline Pseudonymity: 3 Corinthians and the Pastoral Epistles Compared”.

Unconvinced of Pseudonymity

Daniel P. Bailey

DanPBailey[at]aol[dot]com Sun, 20 Feb 2000 16:19:25 … On 04/27/99, “kraft[at]ccat[dot]sas[dot]upenn[dot]edu (Robert Kraft)” wrote:

If time permits, now that classes are over, I may try to argue that a Paul  of the type responsible for the Pastorals also wrote “3 Corinthians” (for a text, see my web page, Paul course, texts) — in hopes that some methodological consistency can be introduced into the discussion!

I know that the above message is almost a year old and I suspect that the corpus-paul discussion has now moved on (…why was I spending a Sunday afternoon reading these archives? you might ask). But Dr. Kraft’s interesting idea of comparing the Pastorals and 3 Corinthians to shed light on questions of authorship has recently been pursued in a paper presented to the Paul group of the Midwest Regional Meeting of the SBL, on Tuesday 15 February 2000 at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. The author was Peter Dunn of Toronto (Ph.D. Cantab.). Peter showed that the heresies in view in 3 Corinthians seem to reflect a later time (ca. 120-145 CE) than those reflected in the Pastorals. Many in the audience seemed to think that Peter had made a good case for dating the Pastorals around 100 CE. However, Peter’s own feeling that they might have been even earlier (perhaps even reflective of a situation not far removed from Paul’s own lifetime) seemed to encounter a lot of scepticism. In any case, I’m sure Peter would welcome correspondence on the topic. Email: [comment below]. Sincerely, Dan Bailey

Daniel P. Bailey (Ph.D. Cantab.) …


Testing Pauline Pseudonymity: 3 Corinthians and the Pastoral Epistles Compared

February 10, 2009

“Testing Pauline Pseudonymity: 3 Corinthians and the Pastoral Epistles Compared” (pdf) Proceedings: Eastern Great Lakes and Midwest Biblical Societies (2000), 63-68.

Jim Leonard writes an encomium for Gordon Fee, for whom we were both TA’s, entitled, “Gordon Fee and Textual Criticism“. In an earlier post on the same page, Jim writes that Fee’s view that the Pastoral Epistles are authentic has had a serious influence on later commentators. He writes,

The impact of Fee’s analysis was so great that my survey of the best six commentaries on PE earlier in this decade showed that four of the six accepted Pauline authorship. In my estimation, the best commentary on PE is by Robert Mounce in the Word Biblical Commentary, which is profoundly indebted to Fee in reconstructing the situation behind the PE.

I here provide my own contribution to the subject, in which I argue that in contrast to an uncontested inauthentic Pauline letter, the second-century 3 Corinthians, the PE most likely belong to the first century. This contrast most clearly comes out of an analysis of the orthodoxy and heresy of the respective documents.