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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

"According to the Scriptures" According to Doherty

There are various Pauline passages that are troublesome for Doherty's Jesus Myth arguments. At first glance, many of these passages speak of a human Jesus, with a human mother, born as a Jew, and credited with saying and doing certain things. To Doherty's credit, he usually confronts these passages directly--though not persuasively. One such passage is Doherty's explanation of 1 Cor. 15:3-4's statement that:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures....

These seem like concrete statements. Christ died. He was buried. He was raised on the third day. Aren't these references to events surrounding a real person?

Doherty says not: "While scholars have always taken this to mean 'in fulfilment of the scriptures'--though this is an idea Paul nowhere discusses--the Greek preposition kata can also render the meaning of the phrase 'as we learn from the scriptures.'" The Jesus Puzzle, pages 44-45. In other words, Paul is not saying that Jesus died to fulfill prophecy, but that Paul did not believe Jesus really died, just that he was supposed to because scripture said he would.

I was interested in what examples Doherty had of Paul, or any other New Testament writer, using the phrase "kata" to mean that something was learned from the scriptures. So I checked the endnote. To my surprise, Doherty's endnote does not refer to Paul's use of the phrase elsewhere. Nor does he refer to another NT writer's use of the phrase. Or to a Lexicon. Or to any other Greek writer using the term as Doherty claims Paul uses it. All that Doherty refers to is an extraordinarily anachronistic modern day example:

For example, "According to the newspaper this morning, the President went to Chicago." The President is not fulfilling the newspaper account, that account is informing the reader of the President's actions. Just as scripture informed Paul about the Christ and his activities.

The Jesus Puzzle, page 332.

Hmmmm. This is his evidence for what the Greek means? An example from an English newspaper in the 21st century. Obviously it is not. Nor do I think Doherty would claim it was. But had I been reading his book and not checking every endnote, I would have thought that the note was a reference to some examples or authority proving his reading of the Greek was likely. Or even possible. This kind of burying a lack of authority is yet one more reason I prefer footnotes in books. Or at least endnotes for each chapter.

In any event, this note raised a few issues for me.

Even assuming the anachronistic example is somehow relevant, how does this make Doherty's case? The President in his example is real. He really did go to Chicago. He did not go to Chicago in some other realm of existence. Whether we saw news footage of the President in Chicago, saw him in person at a rally in Chicago, or read about it in the paper, our belief would be that the President was in Chicago. Yet Doherty takes this to mean that the President was not really in Chicago. The President was only in the second level of Chicago, where the spiritual overlords govern.

If we applied the reality of how the newspaper example works to Paul we would conclude that even if Paul believed Jesus died because scripture said he did, then Doherty's version of the Jesus Myth has suffered a heavy blow. Whether Paul believed Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected because Peter and James told him that is what happened, whether he witnessed a resurrected Jesus himself, or because he believed it happened because it was in scripture, he still believed that Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected. So what Doherty must mean is not that Paul believed Jesus did those things because scripture told him that is what happened. What Doherty means is that Paul believed that it really did not happen, but only occurred in some other realm of existence. Clearly, therefore, neither reading of "according to" adds support to Doherty's case and his newspaper example only reinforces this point.

This flaw in Doherty's reasoning is laid bare by another extreme skeptic: G.A. Wells. Commenting specifically on Doherty's . . . . . unique approach to these Pauline passages, Wells noted the following:

Doherty likewise holds that Paul speaks of Jesus 'in exclusively mythological terms'. I have never in spite of what some of my critics have alleged subscribed to such a view: for Paul does, after all, call Jesus a descendant of David (Rom. 1:3), born of a woman under the (Jewish) law (Gal.4:4), who lived as a servant to the circumcision (Rom. 15:8) and was crucified on a tree (Gal.3:13) and buried (I Cor. 15:4). Doherty interprets these passages from the Platonic premiss that things on Earth have their 'counterparts' in the heavens. Thus 'within the spirit realm' Christ could be of David's stock, etc. But, if the 'spiritual' reality was believed to correspond in some way to a material equivalent on Earth, then the existence of the latter is conceded. In any case, what was the point of Christ's assuming human form (Phil.2:6 11) if he did not come to Earth to redeem us? It is of course true that the source of statements such as 'descended from David' is scripture, not historical tradition. But this does not mean, as Doherty supposes, that the life and the death were not believed to have occurred on Earth. The evangelists inferred much of what they took for Jesus life history from scripture, but nevertheless set this life in a quite specific historical situation.

Wells is right and wrong. He's wrong about Paul not possessing any historical tradition, but he's right that even if Paul was referring to learning about Jesus from scripture this in no way indicates that Paul believed Jesus existed only on a spiritual plane. It means that Paul believed Jesus existed on earth for different reasons than others assume he did. The difference is the source of the information, not on whether Paul believed Jesus was a corporeal being on earth or not.

Another question that Doherty's supporting endnote raised was whether there was some interpretation of "kata" that would support his theory. That is, whether "kata" would mean that Jesus only died, was buried, and was resurrected in a different realm of existence that was noncorporeal. It is notable that Doherty does not provide any support for his translation. How did he arrive at his conclusion if he had not one example, not one authority in mind? Further, after reviewing a number of Paul's uses of the "kata" phrase, my preliminarily conclusion is that Paul never uses the term as Doherty suggests he did here. Paul almost always uses it to mean that something actually happened, or should happen, in conformity with a standard established by God. I hope to blog a fuller treatment of Paul's other uses of "kata" sometime in the future.


'For example, "According to the newspaper this morning, the President went to Chicago." The President is not fulfilling the newspaper account, that account is informing the reader of the President's actions. Just as scripture informed Paul about the Christ and his activities'

The Gospels are called 'Kata Mark' , 'Kata Matthew' etc in Nestle-Aland.

Would it be fair to say that 'kata' does not mean that the Gospels are fulfilling prophecies of Mark, Matthew, Luke John, but that the Gospel accounts are informing the reader of actions?

Kata Mark, Jesus fed 5,000. Does this mean that Mark informs us that Jesus fed 5,000 or that Mark prophesied that Jesus would feed 5,000?

"The Gospels are called 'Kata Mark' , 'Kata Matthew' etc in Nestle-Aland."

Called by whom? Almost all scholars believe these titles were not the product of the authors, but were added many decades later.

"Would it be fair to say that 'kata' does not mean that the Gospels are fulfilling prophecies of Mark, Matthew, Luke John, but that the Gospel accounts are informing the reader of actions?"

Sure. Somewhat like the newspaper example offered by Doherty. What it would not do is tell me to do is believe that Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, did not really believe these things had happened at all. Or that they happened in another spirit dimension.

But Paul does not say "according to Peter" or "according to James." If he had, then I might think he was passing on events that someone had told him about. But Paul is specifically talking about the scriptures. But not as if he were talking about events described in the OT narratives themselves. He does not say, "according to scripture God gave Moses the ten commandments." So none of those uses are what is going on here.

I think what we see in 1 Cor. 15:3 is Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon definintion: "according to, agreeably to; in reference to agreement or conformity to a standard." Page 328. Probably the best example of this in the gospels is in Mark.

Mark 7:5: "The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?'"

The Pharisees are accusing Jesus' disciples of not doing what the scriptures say they should do. It has nothing to do with how they learned about what the disciples were actually doing. It is a statement that they are not acting in conformity with what scriptures says. The issue is not how the disciples learned how to walk, but whether what happened was in conformity with scripture.

Compare this to 1 Cor. 15:5, "he was raised on the third day acording to the scriptures." There is some dispute about whether "according to" refers to the being raised on the third day, some subpart, or the whole shebang, but the intent is similar though not identical to the passage in Mark. Jesus' being raised on the third day is in conformity with scripture scripture.

Let's check another Pauline passage:

Rom 14:15: "For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love."

Is the focus here on learning, or doing something that is consistent with a standard? The latter of course. The standard is love, and hurting one's brother is not in conformity with that standard. Paul did not learn about Christians eating pagan food from love, but eating pagan food in front of those it offends is not what love would indicate should happen.

Paul is speaking about events that happened being consisiten with what scripture said should happen. It makes much less sense to claim that Paul means to say that he learned these things happened because scripture said they did. It makes no sense to claim that Paul is saying that these things really did not happen hear on earth but in a spiritual plane of existence with no material nature.

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