JRP vs. Bishop Spong vs. Judas Iscariot: Round Two (2 of 3)

Please see here for part 1 of Round Two, where I assess Bishop Spong’s first appeal to silence in Q source, as positive "evidence" for Iscariot and his treachery having been invented no earlier than 70CE (with GosMark).

Going back to the Pauline corpus, after briefly touching on it for his first round of evidence, Bishop Spong notes that the one place where St. Paul gives a brief narrative of the Last Supper (1 Cor 11:23-24), Paul only mentions “betrayal”--not who betrayed Jesus.

This is quite true. In fact, Paul mentions no names at all there other than Jesus, including the names of any other apostles.

Moreover, the form is that of a kerygma, which is primarily aimed at transmitting doctrine in an easy-to-memorize fashion, thus containing minimal amounts of historical information. An excellent example of this would be the accounts of Christ’s death provided in the Apostle’s and Nicean Creeds: crucified under Pontius Pilate. Period. (The last and most theologically detailed of the Big Three Creeds, the Quicumque or so-called Athanasian Creed, doesn’t even have that much detail about the execution.) But no scholar, even the most hypersceptical Jesus Myth proponent, would dare try to claim that the rest of the Gospel narrative details were invented after the Council of Nicea! (Much less that the AthCreed was developed first, at some time before the notion of Christ's execution by Pilate was 'invented'.)

Similar examples can be found in the proclamatic preaching stories of Acts. Extremely few scholars try to date Acts before the composition of the Gospels (especially before GosLuke); and the author of Acts (or the final redactor at the very least) knows about GosLuke (or anyway about the GosLuke prologue address to Theophilus) and is trying to present Acts as a sequel to it. So, where are all the Passion narrative details when Peter and Paul (and Stephen, etc.) are doing their preaching about the death and resurrection of Christ? One way or another the final producer of the Acts text didn’t include them; and if he knew about at least GosLuke’s details (which is of the highest likelihood) then for whatever reason, including possibly fidelity to his source material concerning the preaching, he decided there was no point including those details.

At the very least we know the author/editor/final redactor of Acts (or whatever he was) could have included mention of Iscariot’s treachery per se, in the preaching scenes of Acts, had he thought it necessary to do so: because this is an explicit topic toward the end of what we call chapter 1 of Acts! Instead, it is always the chief priests (as representatives of the people) who do the betraying of Jesus into the hands of godless men. Regardless of whatever composition theory is applied for the preaching scenes in Acts (ranging from total invention by the author to complete historical accuracy in reporting), Iscariot isn’t important enough to mention again for blame. The main reason he’s mentioned in Acts at all is to explain why and how Matthais, not originally chosen by Jesus, was selected as a new apostle.

The lack of historical detail in the kerygma of 1 Cor 11, consequently, means nothing beyond what it doesn’t say. It may be suggestive, but it can only be suggestive in concert with some other theory or theory portion already positively established on its own merits. (Which, notably, hasn’t been done yet in Bishop Spong’s presentation.) Its weight as an argument from silence is marginal at best even as supplemental evidence, and its positive weight for building a theory is zero. Ditto for any other lack of mention in the “pre-Gospel” material.

What does count is the positive content: Paul is passing this along as information that he received and has already at least once passed on to his Corinthian audience (he’s reminding them of it). If the topic of Christ’s betrayal is fictional (and if, to be fair, the term “given up” even means this -- it is used for a couple of other meanings in the New Testament, too), the fictionalizing occurred long before the authorship of 1 Cor. After which, notably, Paul never thinks it worth mentioning again in any other writing which may post-date 1 Cor, however many of those texts in the extant Pauline corpus there are. If we didn’t have the material in chapter 11, we wouldn’t know Paul even was passing on teaching about a Lord’s Supper with a historical origin going back to Jesus, much less about a historical ‘giving up’ -- or ‘betrayal’.

It may or may not be notable that this kerygma is given specifically in the middle of Paul's strong rebuke against those eating and drinking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, as being guilty of the body and blood of Christ. But it would be difficult not to understand the word as meaning "betrayal" in the middle of this strong context. Curiously, Bishop Spong doesn't adduce this as evidence that the concept developed into some kind of "betrayal" happening that night instead of whatever Paul meant to be saying happened. But of course, it might be that Paul already knew about a betrayal and so thought it specially appropriate to mention for this context -- assuming it wasn't part of the kerygma in the first place, for which we have no data one way or the other. The surrounding context may be suggestively connected to the Synoptic contextual implication that Iscariot participated in the Lord's Supper, though.

Bishop Spong certainly points out the term might not mean “betrayal” per se; but, as he puts it, his theory allows for “the concept of betrayal” per se to “enter Paul’s writings” here, as “a dating device”. This doesn’t mean that he necessarily thinks this means “betrayal”; only that his theory allows for the introduction of the concept here.

Obviously, though, it “enters Paul’s writing” as an already established piece of information, which Paul himself received some time prior to giving to the Corinthian audience the first time, however long ago that was. Just as obviously, someone who is already familiar with the story could naturally understand this to be a reference to Judas’ betrayal (instead of, say, Jesus being handed over to Pilate and the Romans by the Sanhedrin) without having to add any further detail. Which Bishop Spong clearly recognizes, since he himself points out that this is precisely how the text was understood (and so translated, using terms specifically meaning “betrayal”) by people who certainly were familiar with the story of Judas’ betrayal! -- and without them having to add extra information to the 1 Cor text, either, such as Judas’ name. (Bishop Spong doesn’t mention this latter fact, however.)

It should be noted that there is no other detail of the Lord’s Supper narrative anywhere in view in the texts, that would indicate Jesus was “handed over” or “raised up” or even “lifted up” as the term can also mean, the night of the Lord’s Supper, other than as betrayal. The Sanhedrin always gives Christ over to the Romans sometime the next day; Pilate and Herod (in one text) give Christ over to one another, back and forth, sometime the next day; the crucifixion always happens the next day; and the Resurrection and/or the Ascension sure doesn’t happen until sometime substantially after the night of the Lord’s Supper. (Also, the word’s grammatic form tends to indicate one person giving something or someone over to another person, not simply that someone or something was lifted up.) None of those potential narrative connections require a traitor for the delay in the narrative chronology, so there is no reason to infer (or even to merely suppose) that the timing was changed for any of them in order to accommodate a traitor. (Not that Bishop Spong tries to imply this; I’m only heading off a further round of rampant speculation at the pass.)

St. Paul is teaching, as part of a kerygma (which the Corinthians have also already received from him), that something happened to Jesus the same night of the Lord’s Supper. The only detail from the narrative that plausibly fits (even if the narratives are considered to have been created after the writing of 1 Cor) is someone giving Christ over to His enemies that night.

Based on what Bishop Spong writes in his next chapter, where he connects the term to Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers, including (most importantly) by Judah, he would probably have to do more than merely allow that this term could mean betrayal in the 1 Cor 11 kerygma -- despite the next tactic he tries.

Bishop Spong allows that the reading at 1 Cor 11:23-24 may mean betrayal, and even that it “enters” the New Testament material here (if only as a dating device); but then he attempts to marshal the resurrection kerygma reported by Paul at 1 Cor 15:1-6, as positive evidence appearing to “rule out the betrayal possibility”.

Really? Deductive evidence there ruling out the betrayal possibility? So Paul says that there was no betrayal but all the apostles stayed loyal!

Uh, no. Paul says that Jesus appeared to “the Twelve”. Who were the Twelve? Paul doesn’t say. Bishop Spong, on the other hand, emphatically states “Judas was still among them when Easter dawned: that is Paul’s testimony!” Now, this is from the same man who not two minutes earlier was adducing the lack of anyone named Judas at 1 Cor 11 as meaning, not only that we shouldn’t suppose Paul was thinking of anyone named Judas, but that he positively wasn’t thinking of any such person. So, why does a lack of Judas’ name but a mention of the Twelve now constitute positive evidence that Jesus appeared to a loyal Judas? -- “ruling out betrayal” by anyone (especially by one or another Judas) along the way? Bishop Spong doesn’t say.

We only know about Iscariot at all, or that any Judas was ever among “the Twelve” (not to say two of them), from the Gospel and Acts material. If the Acts material regarding Iscariot is already established to be wholly inaccurate -- which Bishop Spong doesn’t try to do in this chapter (aside from some simple innuendo later in this chapter) -- then of course it might be that we would have nothing but guesses as to why Paul wrote “the Twelve”. Guesses, though; not positive evidence ruling out the possibility of betrayal per se.

(Actually, there is no clear reason in 1 Cor 15, or anywhere else in 1 Cor, or anywhere else in Paul’s epistles, or anywhere else in any of the Epistles, about what “the Twelve” would mean. If we didn’t have other narrative data, and a passing mention in RevJohn 21:14, the Corinthian Resurrection kerygma might mean there were Twelve Original Witnesses not including Peter who was first -- and whose ‘first appearance from Jesus’ is barely hinted at anywhere in the Gospel material -- and then an appearance to five hundred other people besides Peter and the Twelve Whoevers -- which is even less clearly denoted anywhere in the Gospel material -- and then seen by James Whoever, not one of the Twelve nor one of the over-five-hundred -- an appearance not even hinted at anywhere in the Gospel material! -- and then afterward by all the apostles. Whoever they were; not necessarily any of the previously mentioned persons.)

But Acts, which is one of the ways we even have reference to Judas Iscariot (and Jude-of-James, the other apostle!) being among “the Twelve”, tells us first that two more guys were nominated for Iscariot’s lost role, based on their being eyewitnesses of the Resurrection (and also able to witness to Jesus’ life and deeds from the baptism of John until the Ascension); and that once one of them was chosen (Matthais) they were thereafter called... the Eleven? the Thirteen? No, the “Twelve”. (Acts 6:2.)

This usage fits perfectly fine into the kerygma form being used by Paul in 1 Cor 15. It also fits entirely well enough with various narrators calling the group “the Eleven” after the defection of Iscariot; not only in Matt 28:16, but far more notably in Luke 24:9, 24:33 and -- behold! -- Acts 1:26 and 2:14.

Those latter two references are of chief importance, because they show that an author (i.e. whoever was finally responsible for Acts as we have it, completely aside from whether he also authored GosLuke) could easily call the group “the Twelve” for authoritative purposes yet also call them “the Eleven” before then for narrative purposes. (An observation that carries even more weight when one realizes that aside from a brief mention in the late Markan coda material, all but one of the references in the whole New Testament to the post-Judas apostles as “the Eleven” come in the Luke/Acts material. In fact, the word “eleven” is coincidentally never used for any other purpose in the canonical NT except to designate the apostles after the death of Iscariot--and before the choosing of his replacement from the disciple pool.)

The kerygma of 1 Cor 15 is not primarily concerned with narrative (as even Bishop Spong would have to admit), but with authoritative witness testimony to the Resurrection. Matthais in the narrative is chosen for precisely that purpose, and thereafter counts in that same narrative as one of “the Twelve”.

Bishop Spong’s tactic with 1 Cor 15 can only have a hope of getting off the ground by first undermining any relevant accuracy on this topic from Acts (not to say the Gospels). Which, aside from simply not having been done in this chapter, would also eliminate some of his own evidence for a non-traitorous Judas in the group (since that information is given in a portion relevant to Judas Iscariot in Acts). If Acts is merely ignored, on the other hand (not directly dismissed), then it might or might not prove handy later for explaining the meaning of 1 Cor 15. Until material from Acts or the Gospels is applied, though, there’s a near-total gap of referent knowledge just by looking only at 1 Cor 15. But then, so much for using it against a claim of Iscariot’s historicity and/or treachery, too.

Bishop Spong needs some carefully selected details (but not too many of them!) already accepted, in order to make a lack of mention of betrayal (or of Iscariot for that matter) yet a mention of “the Twelve”, come out to positive testimony that “Judas was still among them when Easter dawned”, or come out to “perfectly clear” evidence that “Paul did not know about this tradition [of someone named Judas as a traitor].” To put it mildly, he hasn’t established yet in his chapter why we should accept a few of those details as being historical but absolutely not others.

(Or, to be fair, maybe he established these things before the comprehensive chapter excerpt provided by John Loftus; see the first entry in this series for a link to that page. I think I can be excused for being suspicious that such conveniently and finely detailed semi-scepticism about this very particular textual data set, has already been established by this point in Bishop Spong’s The Sins of Scripture, especially considering the wide topical spread and general thematic focus of the preceding material in that book.)

[Part 3 of 3 for this Round, next: were all the original apostles promised thrones in the kingdom to come, as loyal-and-only-loyal followers? And the recap for this round.]


Jason Pratt said…
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